MERIDEN — Representatives from Havn Ventures outlined an ambitious plan this week to turn five Colony Street buildings into a lifestyle community for millennials and young adults.
The Colony Street Project will feature studio apartments facing the Meriden Train Station and Meriden Green, a restaurant, coffee shop on the train platform, fitness center, gaming room, laundromat, food court and bike storage.
The buildings are of different heights and styles, but all are vacant. They are 1-3 Colony St., 9-11 Colony St., 13-17 Colony St,, 21-23 Colony St, and 51 Colony St.
“This is an effort to redevelop these five parcels, bring them into the 21st century,” said attorney Dennis Ceneviva, who represents Havn Ventures. “We want to build market rate units...We’re hoping the proposal will benefit the city.”
Jonathan Perlich, chief operating officer for Havn Ventures, introduced the plan Tuesday to members of the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. The presentation was a preview to gather feedback and suggestions before the entity files for any approvals with the city.
Mendel Paris, CEO of Havn Ventures, and his partner Johnny Grunblatt were the high bidders in a December auction for 9-11 and 13-17 Colony St. A federal bankruptcy judge authorized the sale of the buildings, which drew three other bidders.
Paris and Grunblatt’s $275,000 offer was approved by the bankruptcy court. The partnership also purchased 51 Colony St. for $210,000, 1-3 Colony St., for $980,000 and 21 Colony St. for $800,000, according to city land records.
After doing some research, the partnership learned that $220 million in public and private investments had been made downtown, including the Meriden Green, Meriden Commons I and II, 11 Crown St., and infrastructure and flood control, Perlich said.
It also reviewed a survey of what residents and local businesses wanted to see downtown. Breweries topped the list, with sit-down restaurants also finishing high.
The art deco 9-11 Colony St. building was identified as one that didn’t lend itself to residential uses on the first floor so retail is planned, possibly a restaurant. The plan also calls for the building to have some apartments.
The former Fischer’s Fine Foods at 21-23 Colony St. has potential for a coffee shop along Railroad Avenue, next to the train platform. A food hall featuring a variety of vendors is also planned. The lower level will have a game room and laundromat.
But first, The Colony Street Project wants the city to reconsider changes to the transit-oriented district regulations that would allow the developer to build apartments on the first floors of the rear portion of the buildings. TOD regulations now require commercial uses on the first floor and residential units on the upper floors. It is also asking for onsite parking and density changes.
Perlich reassured committee members the partnership had the financing in place to complete the work. Havn Ventures has worked on mixed-use projects on Finch Avenue in New Haven and is developing the Quinnipiac River Marina on Front Street in New Haven.
“We made some suggestions of what we would like to see,” said city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest. “Some were followed, some were not. It’s still a fluid plan.”
According to documents given to committee members, the proposal calls for 73 studio units in the five buildings, many fronting Railroad Avenue. Two one-bedroom units would be at 1-3 Colony St., which also includes space for a gym.
“Colony Street is the perfect transition out of suburbia,” Perlich said. “It has unique features and a symbiotic relationship with the railroad and the park. We want to bring in tenants at market rate, increase foot traffic and bicycle traffic.”
Given the pandemic, and seeing trends throughout the region, the goal is to utilize commercial spaces that are viable, Perlich said.
“We want to cater to a smaller, localized business,” he said. “We are looking at amenity spaces that will be shared throughout. We have every intention of utilizing the historic symbolism. We looked at pictures, it kind of inspired our vision. We want people who want to live in a very cool district. We’ll have large windows overlooking the park and incorporate that into the design.”
Committee members responded favorably to much of the presentation. Republican City Councilor Dan Brunet was apprehensive about utilizing commercial space, given the 10,000 square foot commercial vacancy at 24 Colony St. He also said that reliance on train travel is misguided as the platform tends to have only a few travelers at any given point of the day.
“It’s not happening,” Brunet said. “The train station is barren. Commons I and II, there’s not enough parking and causes adversarial relationships. People need cars. Public transit is not really happening.”
The committee also heard another pre-application review for Silver City Apartments, which includes 45 units of market-rate housing at 162,171, 177 Pratt St. and 103 Twiss St. The property is currently a vacant building that will be demolished and rebuilt for 27 one-bedroom and 18 two bedroom units.
The applicant,163 Pratt LLC, is seeking a text change in the density laws to increase the number of units allowed and ceiling heights in the zone.
City Councilor Yvette Cortez, a Democrat, asked the developers and committee members to consider the impact of gentrification on minorities and the poor when approving market-rate and one-bedroom or studio apartments on both projects.
But Committee Chairman Michael Rohde, also a Democrat, countered that gentrification occurs when people are displaced. These projects involve vacant buildings, he said.
Gentrification is the process of changing the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses. Gentrification often increases the economic value of a neighborhood, but may result in demographic displacement.
Rohde added that affordable housing units are available in more than 200 new units surrounding the Meriden Green and the proposed Colony Street Project is located directly across from 24 Colony St., whose tenant mix is 80 percent low income.
Rohde welcomed The Colony Street project for investing resources to one of the most depressed, but promising parts of the city.
“We’ve been waiting for projects like yours to take us to the next level,” Rohde told Perlich. “For too long people have looked at downtown and seen a loser.”