Those were the words of Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski. And what she said is the truth. So many government funds have been passed off to Meriden for everything to build up and get to this point.
Close to $15 million just to redevelop the Hub. That doesn’t include previous studies, knocking down the Hub building, etc.
Millions for a train station and improved rail services.
More than $1 million to purchase properties in downtown and put together new zoning regulations.
Over the years, money was used to purchase other buildings or taxes were “eaten” while foreclosing on others.
Tax credits will be used on a Colony Street development along with other money that comes from the state government.
The bottom line, a lot of governmental dollars are being invested in order to send the downtown in a new, better direction. Now it’s time to see if what is going on will interest private developers.
People have been critical for the city not already attracting private developers. The question is: what is here to attract them? Prior to the zoning regulations, it was close to impossible to develop something manageable. You’d need an absurd number of parking spaces in a downtown that doesn’t have the space. So a parking garage would be attached to any project anyway. You have a train system that forces you to board multiple trains - while not completely inconvenient, people HATE the idea of any inconvenience. There still aren’t a ton of shops and such in downtown, but there was also a large area known as the Hub that was completely empty.
Not mentioned earlier, but the flood control has had millions invested in it, as well. If you don’t fix the flooding, the private investors just aren’t coming. Why? Investors and businesses aren’t dying to jump into a place where there is a possibility of flooding that will wipe out what they build or own.
That’s a long way of leading me to this point: the city is now open for business. Nine properties in the downtown are on the open market. The city is requesting qualifications for private developers. That’s a complicated way of saying, “show me what you’ve done, what properties you’re interested and what you might want to do with them and we might consider you.” From there, they will be reviewed, shortlisted and then they will ask for proposals from the developers, basically saying “tell us exactly what your plan is and we will go from there.”
So here’s a list of the nine properties and what to (maybe) expect.
(All photos courtesy of Justin Weekes l Record-Journal)
116 Cook Ave.
It was a former factory turned medical office building. Now it looks like this. It was a heavily criticized purchase by the city because it was so early on in the process of recreating the downtown. By early on, I mean it was voted on in 2009, which wasn’t all that long ago, but still five years ago.
I’m told it’s not in wonderful shape inside, but can be rehabbed if there is interest. Plans have been drawn up to turn it into some type of housing-offices mix, which I could see. Again though, I’ve never been in.
It wouldn’t be as complicated a project as the former hospital, but it wouldn’t be easy either. It could also be demolished, which would be far easier (but still costly) and built from the ground up.
25-33 Colony St.
In some cases city officials just want interest, in other situations they’ve got a pretty good idea. In this case, they’ve got a pretty good idea. I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence the new train station is being built directly across from this empty lot. The station has a bridge that connects over to the lot. This essentially means State Street is now connected to Colony Street. For convenience purposes, it’s great. For expanding the downtown, it’s even better. You know longer have to stand in front of this lot, look over toward Pratt Street, and say “yeah, not gonna happen.”
That’s more or less what happened a few months ago when some elected officials were visiting downtown and opted originally not to go over to Prentis Printing because it was inconveniently located. It would have taken a walk down Colony Street, heading east on East Main, through two major intersections and then over to Prentis. With the bridge (not that everybody is running over to Prentis, but perhaps other businesses will open up in the area) it creates a straight line and allows people to use the train bridge and the Hub bridge. Essentially, it just makes a more walkable downtown.
Back to this lot.
If you have a walkable area and then this lot and a housing development/office space/parking garage across Colony Street, it doesn’t make sense to leave the lot open. You could have people parked at the parking garage and force them to walk through a building to get to the train on any given day. Force them to walk through and then put a cafe in the building and suddenly people need that coffee in that morning or a sandwich at lunch. Why? Because it’s convenient. So create the business downstairs, build up a few floors, and suddenly you’re collecting rent, too.
This one is a little more complicated. Again, government dollars went into the cleanup oft he site and demolition of the building. The problem now will be reusing it.
Preliminary plans called for some type of park on this section and another parcel owned by the city. Along with the park/green area would be townhouses and likely some replacement units for Mills Memorial Apartments.
This plan would not only require Harbor Brook improvements to deal with flood control, but probably for Butler Street o be extended to connect Hanover and Cooper Street. The parcels are mostly boxed in by 116 Cook Ave., apartments to the north, and housing on the east and west. Oh, and train tracks in the northeast.
It’s nice for an interested developer that there is no building to rehab, but it’ll be interesting to see if anybody is interesting in dealing with the challenges of the site.
What a comeback story it would be for the Hub if something is ever rebuilt on this site. For a while there, it seemed like it would forever be a parcel of grass and broken pavement.
But in the northwest corner and along the east side of the property, there stands two sections that will be removed from the flood plain and saved for economic development.
The ideas, again, have been mixed-use for office and housing. It would make sense and overlooking the Hub park would be a real advantage.
This one will take creativity. I’ve worked here four years and am still finding rooms in this building.
It’s built on a slope and the back parking lot is elevated higher than most of the building. So it’s a complicated site. I sit here at my desk sometimes and wonder how you’d even go about doing this.
City Manager Larry Kendzior suggested demolishing part of the building and then building something new. That may be what has to be done.
Groups have come through to look at the building, but it’s got a lot of challenges. Then again, when you come in every day and see it as an office it becomes difficult to see it as anything else. So perhaps some creative minds can figure it out. There’s plenty of space though and the location is pretty good.
Former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital
Again, some creativity (and a good amount of money) needed. This one will be a project. And yet, it has drawn some interest.
Walking through the building, it’s not tough to imagine offices or housing in here. But the building is old. Some of it probably needs to be demolished. A lot of it will need a serious rehab. All of it will need to be abated.
Still, it’s a nice-sized structure and it’s already been a hospital so the offices and rooms are there. And it’s just outside of the real downtown area.
69 E. Main St.
A smaller parcel, this has been empty as long as I can remember. Pretty literally. I was born in 1988, this building came down in 1993. But it’s in a nice spot for a new building.
There’s a parking lot next to it. There are buildings across the street (including that one that’s still not being used) and it’s always an area I’ve liked.
You won’t need a massive developer for this lot, just somebody willing to build a smaller building only a few stories high. Office/housing/business space obviously makes sense.
32 W. Main St.
Kendzior remembered this site pretty well when I mentioned it to him. Grant’s, a former store, was in this site for a long period of time. Back in the 1960s, Kendzior worked here and remembered it well.
Now, it’s just grass and a spillover area during the annual downtown brewfest. I really can’t think of many other reasons this lot is here. Few people walk on it, it stands between an unused property and the police station.
But with some creativity, a new building can be put in place. Of course, it would have to fit the characteristics of the area, but something can be found.
88 Grove St.
If you’re looking at this site, the left was a former bowling alley. The right was a house. Now there’s nothing.
Situated across the street from a parking garage, you’d think some type of office building could be situated here. Or housing. Again, this isn’t a very large property, but it’s empty so it wouldn’t take much to develop on the site.
This property could help expand the downtown just a few feet more, as well.