MERIDEN — The lack of a commercial tenant at 24 Colony St. has city officials demanding a strategy from Westmount Management Co. and the Meriden Housing Authority.
More than three years after Westmount signed its first residential lease for the upstairs apartment units, the entire 10,000 square feet of first floor commercial space remains empty.
The $22 million project was a partnership between Westmount, the Meriden Housing Authority and city and state governments. The 63-unit apartment building at the corner of Church and Colony streets overlooks the new train station in the heart of downtown.
The deal came with a 17-year tax abatement that city officials are now trying to use as leverage to fill the commercial space.
But according to Rick Ross of Westmount, the abatement was derived by determining tax for the affordable rental units. The commercial space was considered taxable in the calculation.
City leaders are frustrated.
“It’s unacceptable,” said City Councilor David Lowell, chairman of the council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. “My desire is the city holds these two entities accountable to come up with a strategy...”
Lowell pointed out that Meriden Commons I, another mixed-use development in the downtown transit district, brought in NY Deli and Krispy Krunchy Chicken last year to fill a portion of its first floor commercial space at the corner of State and Mill streets.
The developer and management company Pennrose Properties worked with the new tenant on fitting out the space.
City officials expect Westmount and the Housing Authority to make the same investment in a potential tenant.
Lowell has asked city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest to engage in talks with them and draft a report incorporating a marketing strategy.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati has expressed similar concerns about the vacancy and how the city can pressure Westmount and the MHA.
“I don’t believe their efforts thus far have proven to be in good faith,” Lowell said. “The feedback is that interested tenants would be subjected to exorbitant build-out costs. That would make it prohibitive for many businesses.”
"I don’t believe their efforts thus far have proven to be in good faith. The feedback is that interested tenants would be subjected to exorbitant build-out costs. That would make it prohibitive for many businesses."
City officials said they have heard prospective tenants complain about estimates of $100,000 to $200,000 to build out the space.
“The city doesn’t really know what I am asking for or what I am offering,” Ross said. “The fact is that building a restaurant, as an example, is an expensive proposition.
Even if we pay half of the cost for a prospective tenant, which we have offered, we haven’t been able to find anyone who is willing to make that kind of investment.”
Chicken or egg
The city hopes other property owners downtown will benefit from filling the space at 24 Colony St. Ross said investors won’t come until there is more commercial activity.
Robert Cappelletti, executive Director of the Meriden Housing Authority, referred all questions to Ross.
“Westmount and MHA have actively marketed the space since 2017,” Ross said in an e-mail. “While we’ve had interest...Tenants cite that lack of economic activity in the downtown area as the primary reason for not wanting to invest.
Westmount and MHA have the greatest interest in leasing the entirety of the commercial space as it will contribute greatly to the long term financial health of the building.”
Ross said the property is listed on major commercial marketing platforms. The building has 8,000 square feet of commercial space on the corner of Colony and Church streets and another 2,800-square-foot space that fronts Church Street.
Two taproom operators, and a breakfast/lunch restaurant have expressed interest. Parking is available in the upper level of a parking garage directly behind the building.
David Cooley of Making Meriden Business Center has been working with potential tenants, Westmount and the MHA to fill the space.
"The lack of progress at 24 Colony has helped create the perception that downtown Meriden is not coming back."
“While the property management team has been open to allowing us to activate the space for pop-up events like YuleFest and a job fair, we believe a better business development approach is needed to secure permanent tenants,” Cooley said in an e-mail “The lack of progress at 24 Colony has helped create the perception that downtown Meriden is not coming back.”
Cooley and his partner Lisa Biesak have provided a number of leads to the management team. Deterrents are the lack of a “plug and play” kitchen and the high build-out costs, Biesak said.
24 Colony St. in downtown Meriden, Thurs., Jan. 16, 2020. Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
“While we are happy to assist making connections, we have encouraged the city and the 24 Colony management team to review pricing and procedures and to adopt a more flexible and creative approach to filling the space,” Biesak said.
Lowell and Feest said the city has encouraged economic development downtown through outreach and zoning changes that allow breweries and tattoo salons in the transit district.
Feest has asked for regular marketing updates and expects to have more meetings with Ross and the MHA. He will compile a report to present to the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee.
“There are more conversations to be had,” Feest said.