Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti said last month that downtown needed a “heart transplant.”
On Thursday he made his first incision.
Using the Ansonia Copper & Brass Company’s long-dormant smokestacks as an evocative backdrop, the mayor announced a deal the city struck to forgive a portion of the company’s massive tax debt in exchange for partial demolition commencing there.
After lamenting the bygone days when booming factories downtown “provided the lifeblood and pulse” of the community, the mayor said that pulse is now a flat-line.
“What was once a thriving manufacturing company and the city’s economic engine now lies fallow,” Cassetti said. “These walls are now crumbling and have remained silent for many years.”
Cassetti said he has a long-term vision for the area, currently filled with decrepit factory buildings.
Perhaps it could be a destination convention center, for instance.
But he and other officials also conceded that vision is many years — and millions and millions of dollars — away from fruition.
He said the agreement announced Thursday — which calls for the company to clear 30,000 square feet of old buildings from its property off Liberty Street over the next few months — is a good start to creating a “new and exciting site pad for redevelopment.”
“I have a vision for this site and we are taking the first step today to make this once great manufacturing site a new site that will provide economic growth and prosperity for our community,” Cassetti said.
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Ansonia Copper & Brass has a Dec. 15 deadline to complete the demolition work.
Gary O’Connor, a lawyer at the Hartford-based firm of Pullman & Comley, which represents Ansonia Copper & Brass, said the agreement was the best way to get the property back into “productive reuse.”
He said his client is “extraordinarily pleased” with the deal.
The deal now goes to the Board of Aldermen, which will consider the matter at a meeting Monday night.
Cassetti’s Republican party has a 9-5 majority over Democrats on the board, so in all likelihood it will pass, and Phil Tripp, the president of the board, took to the podium Thursday to assure the mayor he had the votes for approval.
The agreement calls for Ansonia Copper & Brass to deduct the costs of environmental assessment, remediation, and demolition on 30,000 square feet of former storage and packaging space against the roughly $577,000 in taxes it owes to the city.
Combined with its sewer fees, the company owes the city more than $800,000.
As part of the deal the company must provide documentation proving its costs are reasonable.
Ansonia Copper & Brass, which is no longer operational but has workers at the site salvaging equipment, would also be allowed to scrap $15,000 per month from the property, under the watchful eye of Tax Collector Tammy Blackwell.
The full proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and the company is also posted below.
What About The Rest Of The Property?
The area where demolition will occur was chosen, officials said, because they believe there isn’t much environmental contamination there given its previous use for storage and packaging.
The assumption is that besides some office space, most of the other land — the site of industrial-level metal manufacturing for more than a century — will be far more contaminated.
Cleaning up that mess — even finding out how much of a mess there is — will need to involve more than the city and the property’s current owner.
The prior owner, British Petroleum, who have a complicated indemnification agreement with Ansonia Copper & Brass, as well as the state and federal governments will all be asked to chip in some of the millions required.
Answering questions from reporters Thursday, John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, said that given all the question marks, “it’s difficult to say what the final use of the property will be.”
The mayor has brought up a convention center, he said as Cassetti nodded in agreement.
“The general idea is we envision this as a hub for the Valley, to restore Ansonia to its rightful place as the heartbeat, the pulse of the Valley area,” he said. “Exactly what form it would take it’s too early to say.”
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Marini also said the city would consider revisiting the agreement announced Thursday to extend it to other parts of the property.
‘This Isn’t A Tax Break’
But given the fact that the city still has one of the highest mill rates in the state, does it send a good message to taxpayers to ask them to pay up while giving a company that owes hundreds of thousands of dollars a tax break?
Marini said that’s not what the city is doing.
“This isn’t a tax break, this is essentially a trade-off to get to what we know is the essential goal of this property,” he said. “The goal of the property is remediation and that’s what’s in the best interests of the taxpayers and residents of the city.”
If the property is redeveloped, he said, it will provide more tax dollars to the city long-term and spur other investment downtown.
“Everything the mayor is intending with this agreement is towards the goal of reducing taxes for the residents by stimulating economic activity,” he said.
O’Connor said the agreement should be seen more as an “inducement to get the private sector to start the process.”
“And quite honestly, the process is only going to work if there is a partnership with the city and the state and federal governments in coming up with funds to make this work,” he said.
O’Connor highlighted the property’s positives, a large, contiguous tract of land with nearby rail access close to Fairfield County — a refrain officials and investors have long repeated in recent years.
“It’s probably the next area for growth,” O’Connor said. “With a lot of hard work and cooperation I think this property really can be a poster child for what can be done with redeveloping these old brownfield sites.”