Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti said Monday (July 28) that the problems plaguing the city’s long-stagnant downtown extend far beyond mere cosmetics.
“Main Street doesn’t just need a facelift,” he said. “It needs a heart transplant.”
To that end, he said he and other officials are scrubbing up for the operation.
Cassetti joined state Rep. Linda Gentile, state Sen. Joseph Crisco and other officials outside the city-owned Palmer building at 153 Main St. Monday morning to trumpet the State Bond Commission’s approval of a $500,000 grant to the city for downtown redevelopment.
Once the center of a vibrant industrial district, with factories and mills humming day and night, downtown Ansonia is now plagued with acres upon acres of the same factory buildings, now sitting fallow or dilapidated in the wake of the exodus of manufacturing jobs nationwide in recent decades.
Some of the properties are now owned by the city — 153 Main St., for example, or the nearby “Ansonia Technology Park” building at 497 E. Main St.
Others are in the hands of private developers, like the former Farrel Corp. buildings along the north end of Main Street, bought early last year for nearly $2 million.
Others remain in the hands of industrial owners, like the Ansonia Brass and Copper complex, comprising nearly 40 acres of land off Liberty Street and Riverside Drive.
Regardless of who owns them, all the sites have one thing in common, Economic Development Director Sheila O’Malley pointed out — they’re not attractive to the type of people that finance large-scale redevelopment projects.
“The sites that are left in Ansonia are difficult sites or they wouldn’t be here,” she said.
For example, the city had reached a deal to sell 497 E. Main St. and 153 Main St. to a developer for $1.5 million with an eye toward the old factories being reborn as condominiums.
But the developer eventually bailed on the plan without so much as a phone call.
Since then, the city has been trying, without success, to sell the buildings.
Likewise, the former Farrel Corp. buildings were sold more than a year ago, and no plans for their redevelopment have been put before the public while the property’s owner searches for a way to finance the project.
The $500,000 grant will help “level the playing field” for such properties, O’Malley said. “You need to make them more attractive, and this is exactly what this funding will do.”
By way of example, she said the two city-owned buildings could attract interest from a developer if ample parking were available for the site, which some of the grant will go toward figuring out.
Cassetti said the money will be used to “remediate, repurpose, even demolish structures that don’t fit with the future needs of our city.”
An outline of the city’s planned spending of the grant emailed to a reporter by O’Malley Friday gives the following breakdown:
- $410,000 Infrastructure improvements (demolition, acquisition, cleanup)
- $55,000 Engineering, design and inspection
- $25,000 Planning
- $10,000 Administrative and Legal
Click the play button on the video above to see a portion of the mayor’s remarks.
Cassetti stressed that downtown Ansonia isn’t an impossible place for a business owner to turn a profit, pointing to popular downtown restaurants like Crave and Antonio’s.
“For those willing to take the chance, there is success to be had here in Ansonia,” he said.
Gentile said the city applied for the grant in March four days after she met with O’Malley to discuss redevelopment issues in Ansonia, crediting Crisco with helping to secure the funding.
Crisco said at Monday’s press conference the city receiving the grant was “an outstanding example of teamwork” that has to continue if the city is to get the same attention as larger urban centers.
“Our challenges here are just as great as Bridgeport and New Haven and Waterbury,” he said. “We are always looking for equal treatment.”
Article continues after video.
Still, the grant officials lauded Monday is the latest in a long line of state money showered on Ansonia in recent years, from $3,780 to plant trees throughout the city to $175,000 for new street lights to $483,000 for work on West Main Street to $700,000 in “Small Cities” grants for housing rehabilitation.
Yet downtown Ansonia has yet to be reborn as a shining example of renewal.
So what will this grant do that all those others didn’t, the Valley Indy asked at Monday’s press conference.
“Grants always come with terms and stipulations,” Gentile said Monday. “This particular grant request was written with enough flexibility . . . it’s not exactly limited to one theme.
“It can address blight, it can address brownfields assessment, it can address demolition, rehab, reconstruction, so it gives the city a lot of flexibility to be able to do whatever it is they think needs to be done to meet their goals,” Gentile went on, noting that one can’t just snap his or her fingers and transform 60 acres of problem properties.
“It’s a first step,” Cassetti said. “There’s several buildings in town I want to take down and demo. I also want to work with Ansonia Copper and Brass to do whatever we need to do. This is a first step towards this.”
Click the play button on the video below to see officials answer questions.