MERIDEN — The city received $3.5 million in state brownfield remediation grants that would clear the way for future economic development at two troubled properties.
Developers of the former Aeolian Co. on Tremont Avenue were given $1.49 million to remediate and abate the 2.9-acre mill complex. The former player piano factory has been selected by Trinity Financials to build 82 units of mixed-income housing
The second $2 million grant is for cleanup and demolition of a former medical office building at 116 Cook Ave. The city-owned building suffered heavy damage in a fire last year that rendered it unsuitable for redevelopment. The demolition clears the way for the city to market the property unencumbered.
The two grants are part of a $24.6 million in state Department of Economic and Community Development Brownfield Remediation and Development Program. The current round will assess and remediate 41 blighted properties in 16 towns and cities. The state assistance is expected to leverage approximately $625 million in private funding, according to the state DECD.
“Cleaning up blighted properties that have been vacant for decades and putting them into productive use will ultimately generate private investment equal to many times these state grants,” said Gov. Ned Lamont in a prepared statement. “If we remediate these properties now, we can turn an eyesore into an asset, revitalize neighborhoods, and transform otherwise unusable property into new space for businesses and residents.”
The City Council voted in September to back Trinity Financial’s application for the state funding under its adaptive reuse program. Trinity, which has offices in New York and Boston, had earlier received city Planning Commission approval of its plan to gut and rebuild the four-story former factory. The city’s adaptive reuse program was created in 2019 to benefit buildings that are at least 50 years old, at least 15,000 square feet in size and must be “no longer productivity utilized” or severely “underutilized.”
The site is the former home of the Aeolian Organ and Music Co., established in 1887. The company at its height employed 500 people, manufacturing automatic organs and a successful line of player pianos called pianolas.
Meriden Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said Tuesday the city was pleased to receive the grants.
“The 116 Cook is for the demo of the building, and the Tremont Project is for cleaning up the property to transform it into apartments,” Feest said. “Both are great wins for the city to help transform both properties.”
Feest told the Record-Journal in September the city was approached by Trinity representatives more than two years ago “to upgrade this building and make it into beautiful homes for people.”
The apartments would benefit lower to moderate-income tenants, Feest said.
“I really think it’s going to be an upgrade,” he said, describing the designs, including the exterior, as “a huge improvement to what you see now.”
Feest said the company has a “very good track record” repurposing under-utilized buildings, including repurposed buildings in Norwalk, Boston, and Providence, Rhode Island, according to Trinity’s company website.
“They’re very well versed in how to rehab a building of this sort,” Feest said.
When approving the city’s partnership with Trinity, City Councilor Michael Rohde, who chairs the council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee, similarly described the proposal as “a good reuse” of the factory building.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, like Rohde, has indicated his support. In July, Scarpati said the proposed reuse would “help turn around that whole neighborhood.”
Dan Drazen, Trinity’s vice president of development, told the Planning Commission in February that the company was drawn to the property because of the historical significance of the building and the Aeolian company.
“We were excited to see the city had an adaptive reuse zoning district,” Drazen said. “We think we fit right into the framework you folks established.”
He estimated the cost to be $52 million.
Drazen could not be reached to comment Wednesday on the grant approval or other potential funding sources.
The 116 Cook Ave. office building came into city hands when a former owner was foreclosed on for owing back taxes and water and sewer costs.
The 76,000-square-foot medical office building was built in 1920 and sits on 2.8 acres. It was also attached to the blighted Factory H, a brownfield site, which was later demolished and cleaned. City officials, who were crafting a flood control plan for the downtown area, eyed the property as part of the plan.
The city has since removed an underground storage tank at 116 Cook and completed remediation and asbestos removal at the hospital. But the building’s size makes any redevelopment project a “daunting task,” Rohde said in March.
As flood control progress continues with the completion of the Cooper Street bridge and planned demolition of 100 Hanover St., city officials envision a park and skate park at the former Factory H site. Senior or veteran housing, similar to that built on Hanover Street by the Meriden Housing Authority, could help solve a senior and veteran housing shortage identified in the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
“That could be a nice little neighborhood in there, if we can get that cleaned up,” Rohde said.