MERIDEN — A Boston-based development group hopes to convert the former Aeolian Co. factory at 85 Tremont St. into 80 apartment units under the city’s adaptive reuse program.
Trinity Acquisitions LLC is seeking a special exception permit and site plan approval to gut and renovate the former factory on 2.2 acres in the city’s adaptive reuse overlay and R-3 zones. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the request on Wednesday.
"They’ve done this type of project before,” said City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest. “We’ve met with them several times. They are a very well-versed group. We were Impressed with their sketches and property designs. It’s definitely an improvement. That building is in need of some TLC.”
The city’s adaptive reuse overlay zone was created by the City Council in 2019. It applies to select buildings and reduces the restrictions and obstacles developers face in a rehabilitation project.
To qualify, buildings must be at least 50 years old, "no longer productively utilized" or "severely underutilized," and the site must have a principal building with at least 15,000 square feet. There are about 40 eligible buildings in the city, mostly former factories warehouses, including those on Britannia, Center, Pratt, Colony, Cambridge, High and State streets.
The Aeolian Co. was established in 1887 as the Aeolian Organ and Music Co. and at its peak employed 500 people. The company manufactured automatic organs and music rolls. It expanded in 1895 to include a successful line of player pianos known as pianolas, according to the Connecticut Historical Society.
By 1906, the Aeolian Company had acquired a number of its competitors and operated seven factories throughout the United States, including New York City, New Jersey, and Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Meriden factory manufactured the majority of music rolls used on all brands of automatic instruments in the United States and abroad at the time.
By 1918, the company produced phonograph motors, parts and records. The popularity of player pianos and similar automatic instruments grew significantly through the 1910s before reaching an apex during the 1920s. Meriden was home to two of the most prominent American producers in this period, with the other being the Wilcox and White Organ Co., located on the north side of Cambridge Street opposite the Aeolian Co. plant.
After the Aeolian Meriden plant closed in 1930, the Tremont Street complex was occupied by a variety of businesses, including the General Electric Co., which leased the factory during the early 1950s, according to state records.
The plant is now largely vacant, but there are a small number of commercial tenants operating out of the building. The tenants will be moved to other commercial spaces in the city, Feest said. The planned apartments will be leased at a variety of rental prices, he said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati met with the developers two months ago.
“It (housing) is probably one of the only viable uses for that building,” Scarpati said.
“It’s taking a building that is in rough shape and help turn around the whole neighborhood. That’s the objective reuse, contributing to the neighborhood and make it an asset and revitalize a community.”