MERIDEN — Representatives from the city, Making Meriden Business Center and the Meriden Housing Authority introduced the city’s Opportunity Zones to investors this past week.
About 500 people turned out for the conference at the Omni Hotel in New Haven on Wednesday. Some were representing the state’s 72 Opportunity Zones while others were researching potential investments.
The Opportunity Zone program, part of the 2017 tax reform act, allows investors to unload capital gains to redevelop struggling cities.
“We can say clearly that if you invest in our zones, we will be right there with you,” said David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest, David Cooley, business recruitment specialist, and Matt DaCorte from MHA were ready with a 62-slide presentation touting the potential opportunities in the city’s three census tracts
approved for the program.
Priorities for the city include many of the properties near the railroad tracks on Colony Street.
“The (Meriden) Green was a big focus,” Feest said. “The governor liked it, and it shows Meriden has done some complicated projects.”
“The Green and the train is our ace,” Cooley added.
The most shovel ready project the group pitched is a $43 million mixed-use commercial and residential complex at 143 W. Main Street that includes an 800-seat music theater. Project partners are seeking a $21 million investment.
The housing authority is behind the plan, which utilizes a former library and is eligible for historic tax credits. The “143” project is part of a transit-oriented development based on increased commuter rail service.
The authority believes customers will travel by train and walk three blocks from the Transit Center or drive and use the TOD parking lots.
MHA has partnered with a music producer from the Midwest and a team that has built three successful arts-oriented districts in three Michigan cities, according to the MHA.
Selling the city to investors hoping to defer or avoid taxes also means convincing them the city has the quality of life to support development. Cooley and Feest shared information about nonprofits, schools, Meriden Markham Airport and parks.
“We want to show not only is it good for business but it’s good for employees to live here,” Feest said.Competition
Meriden is competing with 26 other communities in the state with opportunity zones. Bristol is hoping to get millions for a 17-acre redevelopment site in its downtown. Middletown has three lots near the Connecticut River to develop and New Britain is planning a $1 billion-plus Energy & Innovation Park.
Despite the promise to revitalize cities at little cost to the municipalities or the state, there are critics of the opportunity zone program.
Some of the concerns include driving out lower-income residents because of the price of new market rate housing.
Many of the investors came from the greater New York City area, Feest said. There were also some from Fairfield County,
“We told them to take the train to the city,” Feest said.
Feest said there is interest in several buildings, including 116 Cook Ave., a former medical office building pegged for apartments.
Making Meriden Business Center and the city have invited potential investors for an “Imagine This!” event on Nov. 14 that highlights the investment opportunities.The event will be at the Silver City Ballroom, 16 Church St. Speakers include Feest and Cooley; Charlie Adams, vice president of Pennrose Companies; Lynn DiGiovanni of Luchs Consulting Engineers/DeCarlo & Doll Architects; Mark Masselli, CEO of Community Health Center, Inc.; and Tom Maziarz, state Department of Transportation. Kooris is also scheduled to speak.
“We want to get everybody here to talk about opportunities,” said Lisa Biesak, of Making Meriden. “We want to get some imaginations working downtown.”
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