Meriden’s Colony Street well-positioned for growth

Meriden’s Colony Street well-positioned for growth

Record-Journal


MERIDEN — Although it’s considered an artery of downtown Meriden, just a few years ago Colony Street was quiet. It lacked not only prospects, but people walking the street to promote business activity, said Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski.

But in the past two years, there has been growth, enough so that city officials, property owners and businesses are excited about the future. Much of the change came with the approval of a transit-oriented development district in August 2013, bringing with it regulations to promote residential and commercial development.

The section of Colony Street closest to West Main Street is considered “the bull’s-eye of Meriden’s transit-oriented development,” Burdelski said.

With the state preparing to build a new train station as part of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail upgrade, the city is well-positioned for downtown growth. With a transit hub in place, a successful downtown plan includes “walkable” streets, Burdelski said.

“That’s a very walkable stretch,” she said. “People are excited because there are more people down there, and people want to be around more people.”

Once the new train station is completed, there will be access to Colony Street storefronts from State Street, she said. There will also be a walkway connecting Colony and State streets for people taking the train or bus.

Colony Street isn’t just seeing “speculative activity,” Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Sean Moore said. “This is real activity happening.”

Having businesses along the east side of Colony Street accessible from the front and back is valuable and rare, Moore said. When the Meriden Hub project is completed, Colony Street could cater to restaurants that want to offer a view of the park.

Christine Bonito owns 1-3 Colony St., where the chamber is located, as well as several other businesses. Bonito was recently able to lease additional space in her building, which is on the corner of Colony and West Main streets. She could not be reached for comment.

Ross Gulino, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, owns the building next door at 5 Colony St., which includes a mix of businesses and apartments. The building is almost full, he said, adding that he is encouraged by the development of Colony Street.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “I’ve been here for over 15 years. In the last two years, there’s been more development than the previous 12 years. With that respect, I’m happy.”

Gulino said he is supportive of the Meriden Housing Authority’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area as well. The housing authority recently purchased 16 Church St. The building, which also fronts Colony Street, is home to the Reserve nightclub. In addition, the housing authority is working with the city, state and a private developer on a joint project on Colony Street. Plans include the construction of apartments and a parking garage across three properties: 24, 38 and 44 Colony St.

Regarding the housing authority’s development initiatives in Meriden, Gulino said, “In my opinion, they’re our saviors.” It’s difficult to attract private developers to take on projects in downtown Meriden due to the high cost of renovating old buildings, he said. But the housing authority is stepping up, he said, “and everybody should be thanking them.”

Across the street from the 24 Colony St. project, John LaRosa, co-owner of LaRosa Construction, is working with the city to develop 21-23 Colony St. into apartments and commercial space. LaRosa owns the property, but the city is applying for grants and tax credits to help LaRosa finance the project.

City-owned lots at 25-33 Colony St. will be developed through a request-for-proposal process that is underway. Several private development firms have been asked to submit proposals for six city-owned properties throughout downtown Meriden. The 25-33 Colony St. lots will be grouped with the proposal process and developed privately.

An unknown in this section of downtown is 13-17 Colony St., owned by Paul Edwards. Before the recession, the city sold the property to Edwards for $1 with the promise that he would improve the building facade. Edwards had plans to develop the property into apartments and a jazz club, but the project never came to fruition.

“The city had high hopes for that property,” Burdelski said. “It hasn’t come together. We’re learning from that experience. Before transferring property to someone, there are now milestones that have to be met.”

Edwards said by email that he has spent “over $428,000 on property improvements, but has “no announcements at this time” regarding the property.

City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior and City Planner Dominick Caruso could not be reached to comment on the property.

Edwards complied with the conditions put into place, gutted the interior and improved the facade, which is now “presentable,” said Deputy Majority Leader Brian Daniels, chairman of the Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee.

With all the development surrounding the property, there should be interest in it, and Edwards should be able to finance a project or sell it, Daniels said.

But other than 13-17 Colony St., the city is seeing the progress it expects, Daniels said. “These are real projects downtown addressing flood control and making it a much more attractive place.”

Chris Webster, president of Gallery 53, at 53 Colony St., said the art gallery is “busier than we have been in a very long time.”

“For the longest time we didn’t see a soul walking around this area,” she said. Now, people are walking around and often stopping into the gallery, which is operated by the Arts and Crafts Association of Meriden. Webster said the group is “delighted that the city is trying to reinvent the downtown area.”

It’s not only the city working to transform Colony Street, Burdelski said. “Things are starting to happen spontaneously, not just city projects,” she said.

People are starting to understand how to take advantage of the transit-oriented development district, she said.

While there are several projects planned for the south end of Colony Street, there are also signs of life on the northern part of the street. The downtown transit-oriented development zone on Colony Street ends at Columbia Street before the Interstate 691 overpass.

A restaurant may soon open at 105 Colony St., Burdelski said. The owner is working to obtain his final permits, she said.

Moore said the C-Town supermarket that recently opened at 160 Colony St. is “beautifully positioned” to attract commercial traffic from the north end of Colony Street and residential traffic from the south end.

Burdelski called C-Town “a nice anchor tenant on the north side” of the street. The property is owned by John and Joseph LaRosa. Burdelski said they have the option of putting in a bakery next to the supermarket. They also own 128, 138 and 152 Colony St., and have proposed combining the properties into one contiguous parcel if a larger tenant is interested.

The property at 138 Colony St. remains a parking lot, while across Foster Street, 128 Colony St. remains the vacant Home Club property. The Home Club, one of the best-known social clubs in the city, closed in the 1990s due to financial problems. Attempts have been made to restore the three-story building, but nothing has come of them.

“That’s definitely a potential redevelopment site,” Burdelski said.

On Oct. 23, the building at 212 Colony St. was labeled a blighted property by the city. According to city records, the property is owned by Avery Watson. In May 2013, a fire badly damaged the building. Moore said that being named to the blight list is the first step in advising a property owner “that it’s time to make improvements.”

If improvements aren’t made, liens can be issued, and the property can be put through an accelerated foreclosure process by the city, he said.

aragali@record-journal.com (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz


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