Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Thursday (July 11) that Ansonia will be receiving $483,000 from the state’s “Main Street Investment Fund.”
The money will be used to pave and beautify the West Main Street parking lot near the Metro-North train station.
In addition, the city will rebuild the sidewalk from Kingston Drive to Bridge Street and add new granite curbs, brick paver strips, a concrete sidewalk, grass planting strips, ornamental rail fencing, trees, and street furniture such as benches.
The money is aimed at smaller communities that are trying to strengthen commercial centers and attract business, Malloy said in a prepared statement.
Grants from the state’s Main Street Investment Fund are not easy to obtain. Ansonia was one of just 14 communities to receive money from the program, Malloy said Thursday.
The grants are designed to help cities struggling with economic development, so the money has to be used for specific economic development projects.
The Ansonia application was approved because of the city’s efforts to revitalize its downtown, which has been crippled by manufacturing job losses.
Local officials hope to greatly improve the West Main Street area in order to support potential redevelopment happening a stone’s throw away on Main Street.
As it stands, West Main Street is not what one one would call “welcoming.”
The woefully under-used West Main Street lot offers about 185 parking spaces, but it is is filled with cracks, potholes, crumbling concrete and weeds.
There’s a long-abandoned guard shack at the lot’s entrance that looks like it was stolen from the set of “Evil Dead.” A faded painted sign warns motorists that parking is “reserved,” but it isn’t.
The sidewalk heading toward Target is a crumbling mess in spots, too.
The idea is to make the area attractive, let people know there’s a ton of parking, and complement other attempts at redevelopment happening downtown.
“This is a part of the foundation that helps support redevelopment downtown,” said Vinnie Scarlata, chairman of the Ansonia Economic Development Commission. “Downtown is the heart of the city. Whatever happens at the base of the tree radiates out.”
The city had requested $495,000 for West Main Street, so the state grant leaves them $12,000 short of what they wanted. But Ansonia has other grants in the works — such as this one for trees on West Main Street.
In addition, the city is still considering asking voters to approve money to mill and pave the West Main Street lot, instead of just paving it, said Eileen Krugel, the city’s grant writer.
“We want people to realize, first of all, that the parking lot exists,” Krugel said. “People say there’s no parking downtown, but I never see the West Main Street lot packed. If it looks more pleasing people won’t mind walking that short distance to the restaurants and shops.”
Unemployment is still high in Ansonia compared to the rest of the state, but there has been a flurry of new businesses downtown, including Antonio’s Cafe 252, Hot Tamale, Kaptan Pizza, Koi and Chez Lollipop.
They joined downtown stalwarts such as Crave, Eddy’s Bake Shop, L2 Innovate, Seccombe’s and Spector Furniture.
Still looming — the potential redevelopment of 400,000 square feet of space formerly owned by the Farrel company downtown.
Moustapha Diakhate paid $1.9 million for the properties and he is currently developing a site plan that would see retail and residential units on East Main Street. He hasn’t submitted formal plans, but he’s been in touch with City Hall several times to float ideas.
Ansonia is also looking for buyers for two city-owned buildings — 497 E. Main St. and 153 Main St.
The new grant, the new development plan, coupled with the potential redevelopment projects is precisely why Ansonia needs a capable economic development director — and the city has made an offer to a candidate, Mayor James Della Volpe said Wednesday.
“An announcement will be coming shortly,” Della Volpe said.
The mayor said the state grant is critical to Ansonia because it could get more people to the Ansonia train station. The state has been pushing “transit-oriented development” for years.
“As far as the train station itself, we have to work with Metro-North and the DOT to make improvements there,” Della Volpe said. “First and foremost we need more service.”
Malloy announced a total of about $5 million in Main Street Investment grants Thursday. Ansonia was the only lower Valley city to receive money.
State Rep. Linda Gentile and state Sen. Joseph Crisco issued press releases Thursday applauding the grant. Della Volpe thanked them for helping to secure the cash.
“This is another step in creating a vibrant downtown community,” a statement attributed to Gentile read.