If Ansonia follows the recommendations of a new economic development plan, the hope is that the city could see 72 new businesses in the next five years.
The five-year projection is part of the 57-page report issued by Bartram & Cochran, a Hartford-based real estate consulting firm.
Consultant Richard Stoltz gave an overview of the report to the Board of Aldermen at a special meeting Thursday, June 27.
“I think Ansonia is on the verge of some significant success at this point,” Stoltz told the Aldermen.
How will Ansonia get there?
The recommendations are laid out in the plan.
It includes everything from beautifying downtown Ansonia with banners and benches to cleaning up Brownfields (contaminated sites) and redeveloping old factory space.
The report highlights a city in transition. Ansonia, a once-bustling factory town has been trying to come to terms with the loss of industrial work over the years.
Stoltz acknowledges that there are some negative aspects of Ansonia’s economic development — large, blighted properties, the perception that Ansonia is a tough city to do business, and articles in local publications about crime and “improprieties involving the City Tax Collector.”
“Some may be more perception than reality,” Stoltz wrote in the report.
Negative impressions about the city’s business growth are wrong, according to Bart Flaherty, a member of the economic development steering committee, as well as a member of the Economic Development Commission and the chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“Ansonia has had a tremendous amount of economic development over the last ten years,” Flaherty said, listing new businesses such as Target. “Good things have been happening.”
Flaherty said Stoltz’s report is not waking a sleeping giant up. It’s just helping the city complete a path it is already started on, he said.
“What this is going to do, is bring us through the full transition from a mill town to a 21st century city,” Flaherty said.
The report notes the ongoing economic development efforts, but says they need to be better organized.
“A resounding theme that describes the past few years is that economic development to the extent that it has occurred has happened by accident,” the report states.
Hiring a new economic development director — a move that is expected in the next month — will help.
The top three finalists for the job have been given copies of the economic development plan, according to Alderman Charlie Stowe, who is also on the steering committee.
“We’ve got a lot of assets, and a lot of work to do,” Stowe said after the meeting.
As part of the report, Bartram & Cochran created a five-year analysis of potential business in town. The 72 new businesses mentioned earlier come from that section of the report.
Among Stoltz’s proposals for the city’s business development:
- A 120,000 square foot “warehouse club/superstore” at the Healey Ford site.
- 20 artist lofts in the Palmer Building downtown
- Six new restaurants and six new clothing stores in existing empty commercial space
Some of the ideas are echoes of past discussions for economic development.
For example, Stoltz recommends using the buildings at 153 Main St. and 427 East Main streets for community college space, or some other educational training — a proposal city officials were toying with in April 2012.
The report also suggests starting a tax incentive program from new businesses and creating a loan program for downtown storefronts to use for improvements — two items the Board of Aldermen and Economic Development Commission are finalizing.
To make the plan work, Stoltz recommends several action steps. They include:
- Communicate the details of the economic development plan with the public
- Provide information about tax incentives, available properties and other information on the city’s Economic Development website (which is still being created)
- Make it clear who the primary contact is for development in Ansonia
- Invite regional real estate brokers to a “red carpet tour” of Ansonia properties, and create marketing guides about the city
- Create clear environmental condition reports for all brownfield properties for review by prospective developers
- Establish a year-round set of events for Ansonia to constantly draw people into town
- Improve downtown buildings and signs
- Create signs for both ends of “Old Main Street” and hang banners throughout downtown with the city’s new branding logo
- Create a mural of Ansonia’s history on the large concrete wall next to the West Main Street parking lot
Long term goals include improving the train station, bringing more “destination” restaurants to the city, and addressing blight problems downtown.
June 27 was the first time Aldermen saw the proposal, which has been much anticipated since the city hired Bartram & Cochran in September 2012.
“It sounds very attractive,” said Board of Aldermen President Eugene Sharkey. “It sounds like something we need to do.”
The board plans to meet with Stoltz again in August to more thoroughly review the report, and ask questions.
The goal is to have the new Economic Development Director be part of the discussion, Sharkey said..
The city plans to hire a new director in the next few weeks, according to Mayor James Della Volpe.
“I really think the plan of action is the meat and potatoes of the report,” said Tara Kolakowski, a member of the steering committee and government liaison in the mayor’s office, as well as the city’s acting personnel director. “Our new Economic Development Director can really take that plan and implement it.”