MERIDEN— Over the objections of one commissioner, the Meriden Housing Authority is moving head with a plan to purchase a two-family home at 35 Maple Ave. to add to its holdings for a proposed development.
The two-family home at 35 Maple Ave. is adjacent to Maple Branch, where the MHA purchased several properties and the city abandoned the road several years ago. The plan calls for market-rate apartments and commercial activity in addition to an 800-seat black box theater at 143 W. Main Street. MHA commissioners voted 3 to 1 to purchase the home.
MHA Executive Director Robert Cappelletti proposed the sale at a meeting of the housing authority’s board of commissioners, saying the property owner had recently died and project architects recommended the purchase for $329,000. Commissioners asked that a contingency for hazardous materials abatement be included in the agreement should the MHA have to provide cleanup before demolition. The added property would allow for an improved building layout and added parking.
Funding for the purchase would come from Maynard Road Corp., the development arm of the housing authority, Cappelletti said.
Three tenants would have to be vacated and demolition is estimated to cost $50,000, he said.
But not all commissioners supported the purchase.
“I don’t think we should be acquiring property for a project that isn’t funded,” said Commissioner Lawrence Kendzior, who voted against the purchase at the Monday meeting.
Kendzior, a former Meriden city manager and corporation counsel, has been consistent with his challenge to the decade-old plan which has seen funding setbacks.
The original plans called for 45 market-rate housing units, 50,000 square feet of commercial first-floor space and the black box theater. But the entertainment partner, citing a lack of revenue in the entertainment industry, is seeking other revenue sources for the space that could be filled later.
A lack of commercial leasing activity in the local market has the developer asking to reconfigure the layout to double the residential component to 80 units and shave $25 million off construction costs.
“There are a lot of ifs in that plan because of current unknowns of commercial space,” Cappelletti told commissioners last year. “It still includes space for a black box theater but it doesn’t include fitting it up.
“Without the revenue, and a tenant we have to reduce overall construction costs, based on the loss of potential income,” Cappelletti added.
The complete development will require layers of financial subsidies, including theater, film, and historic tax credits. In 2018, the MHA, its development arm Maynard Road, and Private Energy Partners promoted the development as an Opportunity Zone project for $32 million, but had no takers.
At that time, Kendzior expressed concerns over the future of the 143 W. Main St. project and the money already allocated, given the MHA’s and Maynard Road Corp’s debt load and overdue receivables.
“When did you start this project Rob?” Kendzior asked. “There is a hope and prayer. You don’t have the financing. We owe over $2 million and no way to pay for it. How the hell do we get out of this situation without losing a whole bunch of money?”
Cappelletti said the increased residential units would generate income quickly, and developer fees and other income will be paid during project closings.
Maynard Road Corp. earned more than $500,000 in developer fees for Meriden Commons II, a mixed use transit-oriented development project on State Street.