Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti climbed into the cockpit of an excavator Tuesday morning, took the controls of the giant machine, and wrested down the corner of a dilapidated building used for decades to store lumber at the Ansonia Copper & Brass Company.
Seconds after a rusted steel beam clanged onto the ground along with a shower of crusty corrugated metal fragments, the mayor surveyed his work with satisfaction.
“I had to take the first girder down, guys,” he said.
The photo op marked the beginning of demolition at the sprawling, 44-acre property, which city officials hope will prompt an economic growth spurt downtown.
The site was once a hub of industrial activity downtown, with hundreds of workers shouldering each other out of the way on Main Street’s sidewalks during shift changes.
But only a handful of employees still work there, basically a skeleton crew to supervise salvaging and demolition as the company moves forward in a deal with the city to demolish seven acres of buildings in exchange for the city forgiving $400,000 of its tax debt.
The deal was struck in August.
Since then, the company has been prepping the site for demolition and investigating possible environmental contamination.
It’s a slow process.
Bringing down buildings isn’t as easy as 1-2-3, as the mayor found out the hard way Tuesday. Press and local officials waited two hours to get the all-clear from Metro-North Railroad, whose tracks bisect the site, to begin knocking down the building.
The delay gave Cassetti and his cadre of advisers — Economic Development Director Sheila O’Malley, Alderman Lorie Vaccaro, and Corporation Counsel John Marini the chance to survey the site, reflecting on what it once was — and what it may be in the future.
Vaccaro recalled the summer of 1969, when he earned $2.85 per hour straightening metal in the factory’s “brass rod shop,” and peered in the window of the building to jog his memory.
Article continues after photos.
Cassetti greeted employee Wally Hartsburg warmly and the two spoke about the company’s glory days.
Later, the mayor, who founded and ran a construction business before entering politics, got a quick refresher course on operating the excavator from Ron Granteed, a site manager with DeNovo Constructors, the demolition firm hired by Ansonia Copper & Brass.
O’Malley’s thoughts were in the future — she said she’s gotten a couple of calls from developers indicating they might be interested in the property.
She said one developer was interested in the possibility of bringing a mixed-use project to the property, comprised of a “mid-sized grocer” and residential units on about six acres of land.
Another, “a manufacturing company,” was looking for about 150,000 square feet on about 15 acres, she said.
Any movement on the property would be welcome after years of stagnation there, she said.
And prompt more interest.
“If you start redeveloping on a small parcel, it kind of spurs on activity for the rest of the parcel,” she said.
The mayor said Tuesday’s demolition marks a “new beginning” for the site.
“Blighted industrial space is being transformed into a blank canvas on which the future of economic development can be painted,” Cassetti said in a statement.
The land is still owned by Ansonia Copper & Brass, but the company and the city are discussing the possibility of enlarging the area contemplated in the demolition-for-taxes deal, O’Malley said.
Tuesday’s demolition was a good beginning to that process, she said. “This demolition will clean and level a site pad for future redevelopment growth.”
Aphoto provided by the city showing the buildings to be demolished is below.