December 28, 2014 01:00AM
By Andrew Ragali
MERIDEN — A Colony Street building owned by John LaRosa has been targeted for redevelopment into apartments by an organization that helps revitalize downtowns.
The building at 21-23 Colony St., listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was for years home to Fischer’s Fine Foods. It is now vacant aside from a financial company on the first floor.
LaRosa, co-owner of Meriden-based LaRosa Construction, bought the building for $412,000 in 2012 and invested over $200,000 in a new roof, interior improvements and preliminary architectural work. He hopes to convert it into a dozen apartments and commercial space on the first floor, according to Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski. LaRosa couldn’t be reached for comment.
Through Connecticut Main Street Center’s “Come Home to Downtown” program, LaRosa will receive architectural help and cost analysis, said Connecticut Main Street Center President and CEO John Simone.
LaRosa has already gutted the building in preparation for redevelopment.
“We can provide him some guidance and expertise,” Simone said.
Simone’s organization piloted Come Home to Downtown in 2012 along with the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority. Property owners receive free architectural services to develop mixed-income housing. In 2014, Meriden’s downtown was chosen for the program because of its proximity to the rail line.
Initially, 1-3 Colony St. was selected for Come Home to Downtown. Since March, the organization worked with the city and property owner Christine Bonito to create a plan for apartments and commercial space in the five-story building at the corner of Colony and West Main streets. But Bonito recently leased vacant space in her building and has dropped out of the program. Come Home to Downtown is now focusing on 21-23 Colony St., which is a “great candidate” for the project, Burdelski said.
“Unlike Christine Bonito’s building, it’s empty,” she said.
LaRosa has also been a big part of downtown redevelopment, Burdelski noted. LaRosa Construction is the general contractor on the project that will turn the Meriden Hub into a park.
The organization will begin working with LaRosa in January.
Most historic redevelopment projects are stalled because the profit a building is estimated to create won’t cover the cost of rehabilitation, Simone said.
The city partnered with LaRosa in October to help him apply for grants and tax credits, as well as to oversee the affordable housing aspect of the project, Burdelski said.
Six of the 12 apartments planned for the building will be considered affordable. In the Meriden-New Haven metro area, a family of four that makes up to $63,900 or an individual making up to $44,750 per year would qualify for affordable housing. The other six units will be market-rate.
The project has been deemed important to downtown because of the building’s proximity to a planned new train station. In October, the city submitted a grant application on LaRosa’s behalf to the state Department of Housing. The city is seeking $800,000 through the Community Investment Account, which supports affordable housing.
The building at 21-23 Colony St. was built in 1877 for the Meriden YMCA and was converted for commercial use in the 1920s.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the downtown historic district.
Because of the historic designation, redevelopment costs can be offset by the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program. Since the project includes an affordable housing component, it qualifies for a 30 percent tax credit for rehabilitation expenses. Tax credits can be sold to corporations that use them to offset large tax bills.