The Valley Indy reported yesterday that a redevelopment project in downtown Ansonia hit a snag after the property owner was hit with a foreclosure notice and the city sent out a letter saying the rundown building is violating Ansonia’s blight law.
In this case, the developer is trying to breathe new life into a former industrial building — something that is simply not easy.
In Derby, the city’s plans for transforming the downtown redevelopment zone along the Housatonic River have gone nowhere.
Yet in Shelton, a stone’s throw away, old industrial buildings have been successfully converted into housing.
The Valley Indy reached out to John Guedes of the Primrose Companies, who has redeveloped buildings along Canal Street in Shelton, for insight on the challenges faced in Ansonia and Derby:
For the most part, I believe it is a combination of factors that attribute to the problem that all of the old industrial river towns faced and continue to face.
The wealth of these towns came from the industrial base that was developed along the rivers. The rivers provided a cheap source of energy through the hydraulic generation of electricity.
However, the industries that made these town prosper, because of modern technology and the cost of labor, were slowly lost — first to the south and central areas of the U.S. and then, with the adoption of NAFTA, to Central and South America, and then to Asia.
As the decline of the industrial base occurred, the more educated, white collar population moved with the industry, relocating to other areas in the state and country where similar jobs where available.
This left old obsolete buildings that provided a decline in tax revenues which created a decline in services that could be provided by the towns.
Citizens that were left behind were less affluent, with less extra spending money to support business which created the deteriorating and collapsed downtown areas.
This is my opinion of the decline.
As for Shelton, the Shelton downtown of seven years ago was no different.
However, I saw in Shelton an opportunity. I had the belief that Shelton, through the efforts of other visionary developers such as Robert Scinto, Blakemen, Da Silva, Botti and many others, had gone through a transformation that provided the support for the commencement of the downtown redevelopment.
So that you know, when I began with my development program on Canal Street, many doubted its success. I was successful in proving them wrong and now, it has taken on a life of its own and will continue to transform.
The hard job is done.
As for the problems and expectations for the development other river towns, such as Derby, Ansonia, Seymour and Naugatuck: I believe with time the transformation will occur.
In many cases the biggest obstacle is the expectations of local government officials.
Derby and Naugatuck have both gone through false expectations. Derby with two major preferred developers and Naugatuck with one.
In the downtown Derby area the unemployment rate is 12.5 percent. The unemployment rate in the downtown areas of the other river towns is similar. In Ansonia, a low income housing project adjacent to its downtown are compounds the problem.
In all cases the programs these developers offered where not realistic. The biggest obstacle to all development programs is the ability to convince lenders of a successful program, especially when the demographics do not support it.