MERIDEN — The City Council voted in favor of purchasing the Record-Journal Publishing Co. building at 11 Crown St. by a wide margin at Tuesday night’s meeting. The city staff and some councilors have been eying the property for mixed income housing and commercial space that could be developed by a private company.
Nine of the 11 councilors in attendance voted in favor of purchasing the building for $495,000 with a two-year lease agreement, allowing the local media company to keep its operations in the building with an option for month-to-month leasing after two years. In lieu of taxes, the Record-Journal would pay $2,000 per month and cover the costs of utilities and other upkeep.
“This keeps a longstanding business in Meriden with about 100 jobs in downtown,” said Deputy Majority Leader Brian Daniels. “We are purchasing this for less than the appraised value. There is development potential for almost 40,000 square feet of office and retail space and for 40 to 80 residential units.”
Opposed were Deputy Mayor Bob Williams, who admitted to “being on the fence” about the purchase, and Republican councilor Lenny Rich. Rich had voted in favor of the purchase at the previous Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee meeting. Not in attendance Tuesday was Deputy Minority Leader Walter A. Shamock Jr., who was excused.
Also speaking in opposition was Mayor Manny Santos, a Republican. Santos explained that he thought it would be a “considerable conflict of interest” for the city to own a property where an independent media company that covers the city would conduct business.
When the possible sale was announced last month, Record-Journal Publisher Eliot White said he was confident the Record-Journal and the city would be able to continue their relationship from both a business and journalistic standpoint, remaining fair and balanced when writing about city affairs.
Santos also opposed the purchase because tax dollars would be used to buy the building. The purchase is planned through federal funds from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Challenge grant.
“You can’t just buy properties because it’s free money or it’s not costing the city anything,” Santos said. “It’s still impacting the taxpayers quite a bit in state and federal funds.”
Last week, speaking to a group of students and professors at Middlesex Community College, Santos suggested the college buy the property for expansion, encouraging a work-study relationship between the media company and the school. The move would likely remove the building from the tax rolls or significantly decrease the amount of taxes paid on the building.
In other business, the council and mayor had a lengthy discussion about Santos’ recommendations to boards and commissions. Since it was not on the agenda and did not have a resolution attached to it, the appointments were not voted upon. Santos attempted to convince the council to accept them and table them for the next council meeting. Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn explained that because it was only a communication and not a resolution, a vote could not be taken.
The discussion carried on for more than 45 minutes with some councilors bringing up past issues like the project labor agreements attached to the high school projects and others tying Santos to recent lawsuits filed against the city. Majority Leader Matthew C. Dominello said that it was within his power to set the council agenda and he had chosen to remove the appointments from the agenda because they had not previously been discussed. Dominello added that there has been excessive “nitpicking” and “nonsense” in recent months that needed to stop.
The debate ended when Democratic councilor Miguel Castro called for the meeting to be adjourned and Santos noted that there was still more on the agenda to discuss. Santos will likely formally submit a resolution at the next council meeting on March 3.
In other business, the council unanimously adopted the expansion of public comment sessions to any topic that residents want to discuss at a public meeting, not just those on the agenda.
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