Image courtesy of Dave Zajac l Record-Journal
Whenever I write a story about this situation, I never know if people fully get it. My thought process is based on the feedback when the stories are posted to various Facebook pages.
Meriden has been down this road before. They take empty buildings and vacant parcels and try to find a developer that can come in and rehab them or redevelop the property. I walked through the building above, I’ve walked through the old hospital, I see Factory H, I work across from the Hub and I work in the Record-Journal building. I know the properties. I know what condition they are in. I’m not an expert. But it’s clear there are challenges no matter what.
So I get the concern. I know why people are worried. I have read countless articles about people who had grand plans for most of these sites only to have them fall through.
So what has changed?
For one, every article about 116 Cook, the Hub and the hospital - they all seemed as if they were passed off to the first person interested. How much research was done prior, I’m not sure. But if you had a plan or an idea, you can have that property.
116 Cook hasn’t improved. The Hub is undergoing redevelopment paid for by the state and federal government because nobody else could take the project on. The hospital owner fell wayyyy behind on taxes and Factory H was a mess for a longtime. And here in the Record-Journal building, it’s just another city-owned building. The business and industry changed and we have a building too big for the company.
Back to my point.
People are either hesitant to believe there is interest, don’t understand the interest or don’t want the interest in the form it’s coming.
The hesitation comes from the reasons listed above. Why should people believe after years of projects being put off? Why should people care that yet another group of people have some interest. The city has been down this path before, isn’t this the same thing?
Not quite. Yes, it is a developer showing interest. This time, however, there are multiple developers. And they all have qualifications. They all have money and financial backing. And they are all committed.
This isn’t one person, it’s a team of people. They have the financial wherewithal to make something happen. At least, that’s what their qualifications tell me.
Another thing: the developers submitted their qualifications. City officials are being incredibly hesitant to hand these properties off. Some people want these to be handed off ASAP. But it’s in City Manager Larry Kendzior’s nature to go through a careful, thoughtful consideration process. He is at the helm and my guess is that is what is going on here.
If you clicked the link at the top, you’d know a first round of interviews for four firms has been completed. In the end, it’s my guess that two firms will be selected across the five major properties. I have a guess as to which two firms will be selected and which properties they will have. But now is not the time for that. There is still a process to be followed. More in-depth plans will be submitted. More in-depth interviews will happen. And then, at some point, a selection will happen. So I don’t have all of the facts, I just know what can be pieced together through talking to city officials, the firms and reading through their submissions.
There is likely a group of people who just don’t understand what’s going on. And I get that. I understand. This is a complicated process - as are most governmental processes - I’m just working my way through this.
In one way or another, the city acquired these five properties. Purchase, auction, foreclosure, whatever…Now they have to do something with them. It’s not in the city’s best interest to own property. I know that, the public knows that and they know that. Ideally, a private owner owns them and does something productive with them. That was not the case with all of them.
The city’s purchase does a few things. It erases any unpaid taxes. It gets them out of the hands of owners who can’t handle the buildings. It (in the Record-Journal’s case) helps out a business who needs it and keeps them in the downtown where city officials are working to revive the area. It controls the process as things move forward. And it opens up doors for funding to help with environmental remediation/demolition/etc.
Think of what the city did as an advertisement. It posted something in the newspaper (and elsewhere) asking for responses. It said “show us what you’ve done, we want to work with you and we want your help.” So some companies respond, show their work, look through the buildings and interview. They see potential.
The city will review, then ask for specific projects. So the companies go back, draw up their best plans, do some studies on the area and then respond. Then city staff will select which firms they want for specific projects based on what was presented and submitted.
The properties likely won’t be handed off without question from there. Some contract will be worked out. Plans will have to be fine tuned, the city will continue applying for state and federal funds, etc. in order to help with the redevelopment.
But what you’re looking at is a real plan to redevelop these properties. Something much more firm than “I think this would look nice as a medical office building,” which is quite literally what got the buildings off in the past. Not that the buildings were handed from the city to private owners - it was typically private to private - but people were reassured it was a possibility with these grand schemes that never panned out in most cases.
Those who have done their homework, know what this will lead to and many don’t like it. Most of these buildings will have low income housing units in them. They won’t entirely be low income units, but there will be some.
There are 140 units at Mills. In order to take Mills down, you need to replace all 140. Not wanting them all to be in the exact same location, they will be spread out throughout the downtown. About 25 are going to the 24 Colony St. project. The building there will house people of all different incomes, including 7 market rate housing units.
The goal for the rest of the downtown developments is to get more market rate than just 10% of the building (like 24 Colony).
Anything but market rate is not good enough for some people though. I agree, it would be nice to get 100% market rate units in downtown Meriden, which is what Mayor Manny Santos has made a push for.
I’m not sure what it will take. The city hasn’t seen it yet. I’m not sure it will. It certainly would take more business in the city and that’s something still lacking.
But through different funding sources, these private companies can have an easier time building or rehabbing these city-owned buildings. They might even get a tax break when it’s completed. So they use the public funding they are eligible for through low income housing and figure out the rest of the cost.
You can’t blame people for wanting luxurious, market rate rental units. Everybody wants a nice place to live and a thriving downtown. Certainly people will disposable income would bring just that. It’s just a matter of how that happens.
Now that I’ve explained all that - I just wanted to make something clear. I cover each step, whether it’s understood or not, because it’s an important time in the city’s history. Every big project is a story. It can either boom or bust, flop or succeed. Or do much of nothing and remain what it is. Either way, I read old stories and see a lot of nothing. Projects that never occurred and that the time, that was important. It creates a record at the very least. We will see what this record shows.