MERIDEN — The boarded 50-year-old Mills housing project stood in stark contrast Tuesday to the adjacent four-story, newly-built Meriden Commons I.
State and local leaders and developers celebrated the completion of the $25 million mixed-income Meriden Commons I project and the start of construction on Meriden Commons II.
About 100 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the amphitheater on the Meriden Green.
“This is the next step in the process to overall the transformation of downtown Meriden,” said Charlie Adams, regional vice president of Pennrose Properties. “That vision and that excitement of creating two truly mixed-income developments where people of all incomes will have an opportunity to reside. With 7,000 square feet of retail, it’s a great opportunity for some shopping and economic development.”
Pennrose Properties partnered with the Meriden Housing Authority and Stanford Cloud to secure the funding and develop Meriden Commons I and II. About 30 units have been leased to date, and management has signed a lease with a convenience store owner to occupy part of the retail space on the first floor. Pennrose is also in talks with a deli owner and another possible tenant.
Tenants vacated the Mills apartments last year and the three low-rise and two high-rise buildings will be demolished by the end of the year. Adams and others have said the demolition won’t interfere with Meriden Commons II construction.
About 60 Meriden Commons phase one units are income-restricted, meaning potential tenants can earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income. The remaining 15 apartments are market-rate units. The units range from one- to three-bedroom apartments.
Phase II will have 76 units with a similar income ratio.
Speakers at the ceremony included representatives from the city, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Meriden Housing Authority, and the General Assembly. Many praised Gov. Dannel Malloy for his investment in affordable housing, the CTrail Hartford Line and transit-oriented developments around train stations.
“This is just another step in that long road to recovery,” Malloy said. “This has been a problem in Connecticut for a long time. We tended to punish our small urban areas, expect them to cut it on their own and did not allow for appropriate asset sharing to make sure those communities had the resources they needed to succeed.”
State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, said she initially had concern for tenants in the Mills, and she wanted a “respectful and dignified relocation where they were part of the process.” Santiago, whose district includes downtown Meriden and who once lived in the Mills, said Connecticut and HUD were both “a great partner.”
The city’s transformation began more than 10 years ago, with other lawmakers and city administrations planting the seeds to request funding for the Mills demolition and rebuilding the former HUB site, now the Meriden Green.
HUD began its involvement in the project with a TOD feasibility study grant, a Choice Neighborhood planning grant of $500,000 and a 30-year commitment of $29 million to keep the units affordable, said field office director Suzanne Piacentini.
The Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority provided another $3.2 million in low-income housing tax credits that generated $32 million in equity.
Guests were invited to a tour of model units and the Community Room at Meriden Commons I, located at State and Mill streets. The building has a fitness room, a retail area and offices for resident coordinators and supportive services. These services will be provided through the combined presence of an onsite resident services coordinator, employed by the management agent, and Columbus House, a state-based supportive services provider.
Each unit has granite countertops, a washer and dryer, and central air conditioning.
“We’re not done yet,” said Timothy Henkel, senior vice president of Pennrose LLC. “We will continue to do our part because now we’re neighbors.”