CHESHIRE —The Ball & Socket Arts project is one of the biggest art and historic revitalization projects ever embarked upon in town.
The facility, which used to be a button manufacturing plant, has been undergoing a massive change over the past seven years and Phase 1 is almost ready to be unveiled to the public.
Cheshire High School graduate Ilona Somogyi and her team purchased the property at 493 West Main St. in 2014 with the hopes of turning it into a world-class arts center. Recently, Phase 1 of the project was approved by the Cheshire Planning and Zoning Commission. Phase 1 will include a space for tenants to rent and use the facility.
“We are really lucky to have been able to get a deal with Sweet Claude’s set,” explained Ball & Socket Arts Board of Directors member Corey Nash. “It all happened really nicely. I was chatting with the girls over there for my town podcast and realized that they were looking for a space to build out their operation. We thought, what a better business to have than something as quintessential as Sweet Claude's work with us?”
Sweet Claude’s, a local ice cream parlor, has agreed to move into Building 2, which is part of the Ball & Socket Phase 1 plan. The goal of Phase 1 is to attract multiple tenants in order to fund the rest of the arts project.
“The first phase of this project is to finish the interior construction of Buildings 2 and 3 and the site work in the front,” said Somogyi. “We have commitments from two tenants to occupy both floors of Building 2 and Building 3 will be Ball & Socket Arts headquarters with a gallery space downstairs and an office and meeting space upstairs.”
The second tenant is The Social Learning Center, which is currently located on Highland Avenue. The center works with a range of individuals who have neuro-developmental disorders, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities.
“What we really want to do is present the people of Cheshire with a cultural center,” said Ron Bergamo, a local business owner and member of the Board of Directors. “We want people to come to the center for one thing and leave with so much more than that. This is going to be a space for people of all ages, all backgrounds, and all walks of life.”
In addition to the new tenants, the project would like to begin incorporating the ever-popular Farmington Linear Trail, which runs right through the property.
“The Trail has always been a part of our story,” said Ryan Roth, another Board of Directors member. “We have hopes for a bike shop that can be accessed directly from the trail, and we know that there is a demand for things like this. Trail users will be able to access the facility from all sides and hopefully be able to ‘hop on and off’ as they enjoy both the trail and the Ball & Socket facility.
Despite all the recent success, it has taken almost a decade of hard work to get where Ball & Socket is today.
“Some parts of these buildings are over 100 years old,” said project architect David Arai. “It’s no doubt that it’s been a challenge. There are a total of six buildings on the property and they all have their own unique issues, but we are really excited to say that, as of now, there are no environmental factors impacting any part of Phase 1. It’s slowly going from a brownfield site to a greenfield site.”
Prior to Ball & Socket Arts acquiring the property, it was determined that the factory site was classified as a brownfield due to the chemicals and processes used. Fortunately, the project has been able to apply for multiple grants to receive funds to address the issue, and they have been successful in cleaning the site.
While Ball & Socket Arts has come far in their construction process, they still have much further to go, and that’s where they need the help of the public.
“In order to meet our goal of opening Phase 1 (this summer), we need an injection of funds from the people who will benefit the most from this project — the residents of Cheshire,” said Somogyi. “In March, we are starting our pledge drive with the goal of raising a minimum of $750,000, of which we’ve already raised $200,000.”
Donations to the Ball & Socket Arts project are being accepted online at https://ball-socket-arts.networkforgood.com/projects/103709-main-giving-page.