MERIDEN — City officials have approved The Colony Project LLC as the top qualified bidder to purchase 9-11 Colony St. and 13-17 Colony St. The city approval was forwarded to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York at a hearing last week.
Partners Mendel Paris of Havn Ventures and Johnny Grunblatt of Malbec Enterprises were the high bidders at the Dec. 15 auction downtown. Together, the New Haven developers formed The Colony Project LLC and plan to pay $275,000, including fees, for the two properties.
The city established a set of qualifications criteria, including whether The Colony Project had the financial resources to remediate the two buildings, which have fallen into serious disrepair. The review team included City Planner Paul Dickson, Economic Development Director Joseph Feest and a representative from the city’s legal department.
“The legal department determined the qualifications,” Feest said. “They met the qualifications for the city of Meriden and we look forward to working with them for the benefit of Colony Street, Meriden residents and their own best interests. We want the development to be something that works well for the city of Meriden, Colony Street and their business model.”
"We'll be bringing some life back to Colony Street," Grunblatt said after the auction. "Some of the buildings here are beautiful and historic. You have the beautiful new train station and the beautiful Green. With the updates and new management, it's going to be beautiful."
The sale, which is expected to close at the end of the year, will repay nearly $100,000 in taxes, water and sewer and maintenance liens owed to the city. The remainder will go to the seller CBD & Sons Ltd., which claimed a former trustee had purchased the buildings at the inflated price of $750,000 and defrauded the trust. Those matters are preceding in courts in New York and New Jersey.
Grunblatt and Paris said at the auction they intend to build apartment units in the buildings’ upper floors with workers from Grunblatt’s construction company. They are also expected to meet with additional city officials over their plans for 1-3 Colony St., 21-23 Colony St. which they are also purchasing. Havn Ventures has been involved in large-scale projects on Chapel Street and Front Street in New Haven and also owns the former Lincoln College in Southington.MEDCO
The Meriden Economic Development Corp. has a deep interest in The Colony Project, said MEDCO President Thomas Welsh.
“Since MEDCO also has plans for downtown revitalization, including the co-working center proposal now pending before the ARP Committee, we have an interest in these plans and in potentially using the ground floor commercial areas for ‘spin off’ of businesses from the co-working center,” Welsh said in an email. “I expect that the city will eventually involve MEDCO in evaluating these plans and potentially partnering with the city and these investors to try to stimulate greater economic activity there.”
The city’s economic development office and MEDCO have submitted an application to the committee evaluating the use of American Rescue Plan Funds for city projects. It is seeking $1.6 million over three years to operate a co-working space out of 24 Colony St. Much of the funding would go toward a fit-out of the now vacant space.
The recommendation follows a $90,000 study paid for by the city and MEDCO on the need for co-working space downtown. The study identified 24 Colony St. as the best suited location for business startups to share office space and equipment. Cost to rehab?
The auctioned buildings are across the street from 24 Colony St. in the city’s Transit-Oriented District and are considered key properties in any downtown renovation. TOD zoning allows commercial uses on the first floor and residential on the upper floors.
“Residential uses on the upper floors would be consistent with these plans – and is very similar to the revitalization of Hartford, New Haven and other Connecticut cities,” Welsh said. “The close proximity to the transportation/train center is an added benefit.”
However, a central problem with converting the existing buildings to residential use has been the extreme cost of restoring, upgrading, and refitting the existing commercial buildings to residential uses.
Welsh points to a study performed by the city and MidState Chamber of Commerce several years ago that showed the costs of renovating one of the large buildings on Colony Street to residential use would be prohibitive.
“Due to the poor condition of this particular structure, however, a new building may have to be constructed – which might actually be less expensive – so I look forward to see the proposal of the investors in this case,” Welsh said.