It’s official: Private developers see potential in downtown sites
It’s official: Private developers see potential in downtown sites
August 29, 2014 08:23PM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Some city officials said they would be pleased if just one private investor showed interest in each of the city-owned downtown parcels that were recently made available for redevelopment. To their delight, six private developers submitted their qualifications by this week’s deadline and nearly all of the major sites have multiple groups interested in redevelopment.
The developers showed interest in six different sites: the Record-Journal building, the Hub, 116 Cook Ave., the Factory H property, the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital, and a vacant lot on Colony Street. City officials had recently requested qualifications from interested developers as plans for the downtown, including a park at the Hub, flood control improvements, and a new rail system, move forward.
“It’s encouraging that there appears to be a developer or developers for each of the major sites that are capable of carrying out the project,” City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said. “They all have experiences with similar types of projects, they’re well financed and they bring years of experience. We were hopeful there would at least be one qualified firm for each of the major sites. For some of the sites, there was a great deal of interest.”
The Record-Journal building at 11 Crown St., which was purchased by the city earlier this year, drew the most interest. Five developers said they would be interested in redeveloping the 39,204-square-foot building with a lot spanning more than an acre. The $495,000 purchase by the city drew some criticism at the time of the deal, but Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said the property fared better under city ownership than it had previously done on the private market due to the potential for additional state and federal aid.
“There is better access to state and federal funds for environmental assessments and remediation, whereas it’s more of a risk sometimes with private developers because they don’t know if they will be able to get that money,” Burdelski said.
Environmental assessments of the property brought little concern after close to 100 years of newspaper printing on the site. The city is applying for environmental cleanup funding for contaminants like asbestos and PCBs in construction materials, which could ready the site for redevelopment.
Westmount Management, a Branford-based firm, was one of the companies expressing interest in the Record-Journal property. All firms submitting qualifications were required to list which properties they had interest in and briefly describe the interest. Westmount is a co-owner and property manager of Chamberlain Heights and has been working with the Meriden Housing Authority and other entities in building a mixed-use, mixed-income housing development at 24 Colony St.
The company noted the “central location and pedestrian-friendly access” to the planned train station as primary reasons for its interest. For the same reason, Westmount also expressed interest in a vacant lot across the street that would connect to the train station once a bridge over the tracks is built. Westmount was the only firm expressing interest in the lot and city officials have said they envision the property becoming a mix of residential units and some type of eatery. Westmount also said it wanted to develop on the Hub site.
Because the city bought 11 Crown St. with a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, some affordable housing would have to be constructed in the building. At least 20 percent of the housing units would have to be reserved for households with incomes of 50 percent or less than the area median income or 40 percent of the housing units would have to be at 60 percent or less than the area median income. As of 2013, the area median income was listed as $80,500 from New Haven to Meriden.
Middletown-based Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development Inc., a non-profit affordable housing development firm, also showed interest in 11 Crown St. The company said the topography of the site presented a “wonderful opportunity for creative design” and envisioned 45 to 60 housing units with one or two bedrooms. The company also expressed a desire to be involved with the redevelopment of 116 Cook Ave., suggesting the possibility of 100 rental apartments of mixed-income housing on the site along with various amenities and community space.
JHM Group of Stamford listed the Record-Journal property as one of five properties it had interest in. With a focus on affordable housing and distressed properties, among other types of projects, JHM also expressed interest in the former medical office building at 116 Cook Ave., Factory H, the Hub and the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital.
JHM has already formed a partnership with housing services company Imagineers LLC for the purposes of potentially taking on a Meriden project. That company is known as Meriden Revitalization GP.
“This development will be approached in a collaborative manner that will provide for all stakeholder issues to be addressed in a process that will ensure economic viability and sustainability,” the company wrote. “Meriden will truly establish itself as Connecticut’s model city for the 21st Century.”
JHM did not list specific proposals for each site, but listed some significant possibilities for the downtown area including a sports and entertainment complex that would include an indoor ice skating facility, a swimming pool, gymnastics space, and an indoor field for soccer, rugby, lacrosse, and football. The company also proposed designating at least a portion of the Hub as a farmer’s market.
A Port Chester, N.Y.-based firm, Poko Partners, also expressed interest in 11 Crown St. and 116 Cook Ave. Poko has experience with developing, building and managing residential, retail and commercial properties in the area.
“They both would be adaptive re-use projects, where we would be taking an existing structure and re-positioning it for a use that brings the property back to a vibrant and useful existence,” the company wrote.
A nationwide development firm, The Michaels Organization, submitted its qualifications with interest in 11 Crown St. and the Hub. The New Jersey-based firm focuses on property development and affordable housing.
“Downtown Meriden is in the beginning stages of creating a destination market for new housing and retail development,” the company wrote, stating that the location’s proximity to the new train station spurred its interest.
Pennrose, a Philadelphia-based multi-family housing development firm, expressed interest solely in the Hub site. Pennrose is working with the Meriden Housing Authority as the developer for Mills Memorial Apartments, with the goal of razing the five buildings containing 140-low income housing units and relocating the units around the center of the city.
“The team believes that the Hub site, especially given the sitework and planned public spaces underway as part of the flood control project, make this site an especially attractive location for a mixed-use development that will build off of the enhanced market that will come with the rail service improvements and expanded (rail) station,” Pennrose wrote. “The redevelopment of Mills will also pave the way for an exceptional development on this key site for downtown Meriden.”
With qualifications submitted, Kendzior said a committee of staff members will review the submissions and begin interviewing interested developers. If any of the firms are selected, they will be asked to submit an in-depth proposal with more specific details. Burdelski said she estimates having developers signed on by early 2015.
Three smaller parcels drew no interest and Kendzior said he was not surprised. In the future, the properties will likely be sold separately or the city will wait for offers. The properties are 32 W. Main St., 69 E. Main St. and 88 Grove St.
Interested in: 25-33 Colony St., the Hub, 11 Crown St.
About: Westmount is co-owner of the housing authority’s Chamberlain Heights and developer for 24 Colony St., a planned mixed-income housing project.
Company: Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development.
Location: Middletown, Conn.
Interested in: 11 Crown St., 116 Cook Ave.
About: Non-profit organization created in 1981 to provide housing and economic development programs in the greater Boston area through collaboration with other non-profits, public agencies, and community groups.
Company: JHM Group.
Location: Stamford, Conn.
Interested in: 116 Cook Ave., Former Factory H site, the Hub, 11 Crown St., former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital.
About: Specializes in affordable housing, as well as redevelopment in distressed real estate markets, and renewable energy projects.
Company: Poko Partners.
Location: Port Chester, N.Y.
Interested in: 116 Cook Ave., 11 Crown St.
About: Develops, builds and manages residential, retail and commercial properties throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut inner-city communities.
Company: Pennrose Properties.
Interested in: The Hub.
About: Pennrose is the Meriden Housing Authority’s development partner for the Mills Memorial Apartments demolition and resident relocation project.
Company: The Michaels Organization.
Location: Marlton, N.J.
Interested in: The Hub, 11 Crown St.
About: Privately held group of eight companies specializing in affordable, mixed-financed, military, and student housing.