CHESHIRE — The Ball & Socket Arts project has been underway for almost 10 years now, and at a Town Council meeting earlier this month the project’s co-founder, Ilona Somogyi, announced that residents will begin to see the fruits of their labor this year.
The project, which began in 2011, is dedicated to turning the old Ball & Socket Factory on West Main Street into a arts and retail hub, with everything from galleries to restaurants.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, Somogyi said plans are beginning to take shape with the announcement of a partnership between Ball & Socket Arts and the popular local ice cream establishment Sweet Claude’s, which has been a community staple since it opened in 1988.
“The occupant of the first floor, (of building two) will be a beloved local business that could not be a better fit for our site,” she said. “Sweet Claude’s would like to move their ice cream parlor, and have the space to expand their operations for manufacturing and distribution.”
Somogyi did not provide an exact timeframe for Sweet Claude’s move.
This year, the project has also presented plans to the Planning and Zoning Commission for the opening of buildings two and three to begin this year.
Somogyi, along with Ron Bergamo and David Arai, who serve as the head of Ball & Socket Board of Directors and project architect respectively, also walked the Council through the long history of the project.
“The plan for the site was to have retail shops and dining establishments, whose leases will provide the income that covers a large part of the arts operation,” Somogyi said. “… The arts component would have multiple gallery spaces, a performance space which can have about 130 people, a learning kitchen, and an expansive arts education wing with classrooms, library, and a hall suitable for dance and movement classes.”
She then went on to explain what recent improvements have been made to the site, as well as what is in store for 2021.
“At the recommendation of the Town Council, we directed a large part of our funds (towards improving) the exteriors of buildings two and three and, after a very amenable collaboration, we’re finally able to re-side, and paint, our wooded buildings,” she said.
The project, Somogyi explained, has not been without significant challenges, many due to the extended period of time during which the site sat unoccupied. The group has also had to deal with work connected to a contaminated brownfield and requirements that come from having to complete extensive historic restoration work.
“Because of the many challenges … these plans (to renovate the facility) have not happened quickly,” she added.
But the Ball & Socket Arts project has had the backing, both financially and politically, of the community from the start, something for which Somogyi remains grateful.
“Over 90 percent of our donors have come from Cheshire, and 834 people have made donations to our organization since we’ve begun,” she detailed.
After Somogyi’s presentation, each Town Council member expressed their overall excitement that the project appears to be moving forward, and Chairman Rob Oris reiterated his belief that the area in which Ball & Socket is located provides numerous possibilities for growth.
“(The project’s) success is Cheshire’s success in my opinion, and this is an area that this Council, and probably prior Councils as well, have identified as maybe one of our shots to create a downtown here, and Cheshire doesn’t have that,” he admitted. “We have a lot of great businesses that are (on West Main Street) now, and we’d love to enhance them and create synergy for them.”