City, developers scrap plans for building behind Meriden Green amphitheater

reporter photo

MERIDEN — The City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee approved a one year extension of a developer agreement with Pennrose and the Cloud Co. to build on the Meriden Green.

Plans still call for a mixed-use development along Pratt Street, north of the pedestrian bridge. But the new development plan eliminates a proposed mixed-use building behind the popular amphitheater near the corner of State and Mills streets which the public and a number of city officials opposed. 

The extension now goes before the full City Council for adoption.

Pennrose and the Cloud Co. built and now manage Meriden Commons I and II, 151 units of mixed-income housing and commercial space north of the Green that is 97 percent occupied. The pandemic stalled discussions with city leaders and forward movement on a final plan, company officials said. 

“They heard us loud and clear,” said City Councilor Michael Rohde, who chairs the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee. “People are used to having all that green space at the concerts and pop-up markets. They got used to it and now they like it. They (Pennrose and Cloud) really cooperated with us.”

The agreement allows the city to hold onto its right to build another project on the State Street side if it chooses to in the future. The extension is for one year. 

In a presentation before the committee, Pennrose Regional Vice President Charlie Adams took committee members through a timeline of the projects since it became the preferred developer in 2014. The original plan for the Meriden Green included not just a flood control component but provisions for economic development. Design engineers included three pad sites for commercial development on the Pratt Street and State Street sides.

Blocking the view

But as the city worked its way through the Plan of Conservation and Development in 2019 there were outcries from city officials and the public against the State and Mill street development. Architects worked on scaling back the size of the building, adding a cafe and courtyard and folding the parking onto Mill Street. But in the end, there was no way not to block the view of the Green at Meriden Commons I and they agreed to shelve the development.

“People would prefer to not have a building behind the amphitheater,” Adams said. “We get that. So we will move forward with the one building. We’re willing to commit to doing one of these two buildings and we think this is the one.”

Pratt Street building

The proposed building north of the bridge will be 86,000 square feet, four stories tall and house 61 one- and two-bedroom units. The first floor will consist of 5,000 square feet of commercial space and 4,000 square feet of fitness, office and resident community space. Eighty percent of the units will be market rate and the remaining 20 percent will be affordable. The project is estimated to cost $20 million.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati and Economic Development Director Joseph Feest praised Pennrose for continuing talks with the city over the proposal for the green and for their development and management of Meriden Commons I and II, which are predominately subsidized housing. Pennrose also included commercial tenant fit outs and a range hood for an eatery during construction of Meriden Commons I.

City officials credited these details for Pennrose’s success in finding commercial tenants in its development and compared it to 24 Colony St., another newly constructed mix-used project that has struggled to fill commercial space.

Rohde said after the vote that many tenants applying for homes at Meriden Commons I and II are above income limits and will be able to find housing in the new development. According to city officials, the market rate units will mean residents with more disposable income to spend in the city’s downtown.

“We will create some additional mixed-use market rate apartments to be an economic development driver,” said Sanford Cloud, president of the Cloud Co. “This will encourage other businesses to continue to follow. This is part of your TOD Transit-Oriented District. We think this makes an awful lot of sense.”

Rail service

City Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet questioned the need for more apartments near the train station given that rail ridership has been anemic during the pandemic. Rail ridership was 38 percent lower during the pandemic and trains along the Hartford Line were significantly reduced from 229 trains per week to 156 trains.

The state Department of Transportation announced Monday that it was fully restoring all trains to the Hartford Line and expects commuters to take advantage of rail service as it ramps up highway infrastructure projects. Feest explained the city is ideal for commuters to New Haven and Hartford who don’t wish to live in those cities.

“We are perfectly in the middle between Hartford and New Haven,” said Feest. “The Green is an asset to us. We’re going to add four more acres on the Green. It’s a net win of three acres. It’s a beautiful plan that will enhance all the buildings.”

City Councilor Yvette Cortez questioned whether more housing downtown was in the city’s best interest. City officials explained the Plan of Conservation and Development included provisions for a variety of housing types in the downtown area and market rate is currently in short supply.

“We listened carefully to the needs and wants of the community,” Adams said. “We’re going to bring additional people. We’re excited to be here and we obviously need the extension to make this vision come true.”

mgodin@record-journal.com203-317-2255Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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