MERIDEN — Investors who attended a development conference Thursday questioned a panel of development professionals on the occupancy rate and costs of downtown market rate apartments, whether Yale New Haven or any other large bio-tech or manufacturing employer has shown interest in the city, and what the city has done to attract millennials.
About 80 people attended a preservation and development conference at the Silver City Ballroom to ask questions about the city and its opportunities. The event was sponsored by CT Main Street Center, the Meriden Economic Development Corp. Making Meriden Business Center, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center and Midstate Chamber of Commerce.
“Meriden has done a phenomenal job partnering with the state and conveying to the marketplace where it wants to have public sector investment,” said David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
The creation of the train station and the flood control park project sends a clear signal to the market that Meriden is committed to downtown investment, Kooris said.
“And we’re seeing the market respond,” Kooris said. “They’re looking for a partner who has a clear direction.”
Charles Adams, regional vice president of Pennrose Properties, the developer of Meriden Commons I and II, explained that prices can run as high as $1,400 for a two-bedroom at market rates. Adams added that increased construction costs have slowed down development of market rate housing until the rents are high enough to cover the costs.
Mark Masselli, president of Community Health Center Inc. told the audience the city is well positioned along the I-91 corridor to cover back-end bio-tech services and supply-chain manufacturing. Large learning centers such as Quinnipiac University are also nearby.
“Corporations are coming in,” said Making Meriden Business recruitment specialist David Cooley. “We’re taking a regional approach to bringing them in. We’re getting there.”
Craft breweries and arts opportunities will attract entertainment investment and millennials to the city, panelists said. The city has taken steps to allow breweries in its transit-oriented district.
Kooris outlined the state’s commitment to the Opportunity Zone program which allows investors to defer capital gains taxes if they invest in one of the state’s 72 designated opportunity zones. He also outlined the types of projects that could be fast-tracked.
Julie Carmelich, of the state Historic Preservation Office discussed ways to capitalize on historic district designations.
Tom Maziarz, chief of policy and planning for the state Department of Transportation, provided an update on Hartford Line rail service, which performed 10 percent over expectations in its second year. The DOT estimates 750,000 to 800,000 riders in its third year.
The DOT outlined some improvements over the next couple of years that are included in Gov. Ned Lamont’s CT 2030 transportation plan. They include adding two trains to the Hartford Line making a total of 19 round trips from New Haven to Hartford and completing double tracking from Hartford to Enfield to allow a greater number of Connecticut trains to continue to Springfield.
Other service improvements mean three non-stop trains from Hartford to Stamford and eventually to Penn Station in Manhattan.
The plan would require new electric/hybrid locomotives and cars that would switch from diesel fuel to electric when they reach New Haven.
“The initial plan was 25 trains a day,” Maziarz said. “We’re starting to rethink those 25 trains and enhance service in another way. All of that is dependent on additional financing.”
Attendees were also taken on an Imagine This! walking tour of available downtown properties along Colony and West Main streets.