Developer Buys Former Molto Bene Property

ethan fry photo A businessman who successfully redeveloped a section of Pershing Drive in Derby just purchased land in Ansonia once home to Molto Bene restaurant and John J. Sullivan’s.

Woodbridge resident Jerry Nocerino purchased 557 Wakelee Ave. Feb. 8 for $200,000, according to land records.

Sheila O’Malley, Ansonia’s economic development director and grant writer, said Nocerino is now looking to revive the property as banquet hall, restaurant, and possibly two new floors of up to 50 luxury apartments.

The building is currently three floors.

O’Malley announced Nocerino’s purchase at last month’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

No plans have been formally submitted to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission for approval yet.

O’Malley said the developer wants to meet with the city’s planner, David Elder, for an “informal” review first.

Price Tag

The $200,000 Nocerino paid for the property is a far cry from the $1 million price tag the owners of John J. Sullivan’s paid for it in 2005.

City officials put the drop-off in the property’s value down to a number of reasons.

For one — the real estate bubble that burst in 2008.

Also, a 2016 fire in an apartment above the restaurant space that forced the closure Molto Bene damaged the inside of the building extensively.

“It was pretty wrecked,” Mayor David Cassetti said.

In addition, O’Malley said new construction on the 1.33-acre property isn’t allowed within 50 feet of Route 8, which is next to it.

“If you were to completely remove that structure, you’d probably have no land left to develop,” she said.

O’Malley said Nocerino was thinking about building “business incubator” space at the property but the idea was scotched by the prohibition.

The New Property Owner

Nocerino has a successful track record with recent projects.

He redeveloped the former Valley Bowl property on Pershing Drive in Derby, which was sold for $9 million last year. In that project, an under-utilized property was transformed into a Panera Bread and an Aldi’s grocery store.

In Ansonia, he’s the owner of several Main Street properties downtown, including the locations of new eateries like Lulu Pazzo Italiano, Copper City Bar & Grill, DiGiovanni’s Cafe and Catering, and Warszawa Polish Restaurant.

The mayor said he hopes Nocerino will bring the property back to its heyday, when Frank and Doris Rapp ran it for more than five decades.

“Rapp’s Paradise Inn was very popular,” Cassetti said. “I remember in the 60s and early 70s how popular that was. Everybody was there . . . He’s going to clean it up.”

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