August 8, 2014 05:20PM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Representatives from one of the five companies that expressed interest in redeveloping downtown properties got a closer look at two of the buildings Thursday morning. City officials are in the process of selecting firms to reshape the downtown area with housing and other projects.
POKO Partners sent two officials to inspect the Record-Journal building at 11 Crown St. and a former medical office building at 116 Cook Ave. Both of the buildings are city-owned, but in very different conditions.
Kenneth Olson, founder and chief executive of the Port Chester, N.Y.-based firm, toured the properties along with the company’s managing director, Andrea Kretchmer, and an architect from Antinozzi Associates. City Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said she was pleased the firm had additional interest in the properties and wanted to take a closer look. Two other firms also expressed interest in touring the same two sites before all six companies have interviews with city officials next week.
“We did a site tour with all of the firms, but because we didn’t go in the buildings on the tour, we offered them a chance to walk through another time,” Burdelski said. “POKO took advantage and a couple others have also expressed interest.”
The walk-through of 116 Cook Ave. revealed plenty of damage and signs of intruders. The building has been largely vacant over the last 15 years and remained unoccupied after the city purchased it in 2010. The building was also once attached to the Factory H building, which has since been demolished, and served as offices for the International Silver Co.
The main entrance to the building had the least amount of damage, but still contained fallen ceiling panels, broken glass and scattered debris. The second and third floors had more significant damage with broken windows, damaged walls, and more fallen ceiling panels.
Despite the damage, Olson said his firm remains interested in the property. Olson said he’s intrigued by the state’s plan to create commuter rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield with a stop in Meriden and expects it to significantly help downtown Meriden.
“We are big backers of urban revitalization and with the train we think this area is ripe for commercial development. The only way you do that is by increasing density,” Olson said. “We think there is an opportunity for that here.”
The group spent a few minutes walking through the occupied space on the first and second levels of the Record-Journal building, while also briefly taking a look at some areas used for storage space. Olson noted that additions to 11 Crown St. had been built over the years using different materials, as with 116 Cook Ave.
The group took a quick look at a large storage area, as well as the area that once held the printing press. The group then went upstairs to look at the available space before making its way downstairs and outside to view the property. The Record-Journal visit was much shorter than the trip to 116 Cook Ave.
Other interested development firms include Westmount Management of Branford, Stamford-based JHM Group, Pennrose Properties of Philadelphia and the Michaels Organization of Marlton, N.J. Three of the firms indicated interest in 11 Crown St. when submitting a list of their qualifications in June, while two said they were interested in 116 Cook Ave. Some companies also showed interest in the Hub site and the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital, among other properties.
“We will have them go through the interview process next week just to have us meet the team(s),” Burdelski said. “We will be asking them to talk a little more about their vision for each site.”
Members of the Middletown-based Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development said they were interested, but the nonprofit group was not selected to be involved, Burdelski said. The firm could work with the city on some smaller projects, she added.