Market-rate housing to attract professionals downtown. Ground-floor retail. Solar arrays. A roof garden.
Those are just a few of the ideas being mulled for the redevelopment of the former Farrel Corp. properties in downtown Ansonia a developer bought early this year for $1.9 million.
Since the purchase, there hasn’t been much said about the properties — at least publicly.
But their new owner has been busy with surveying work, lining up financing, and preparing a rough conceptual outline for a mixed-use redevelopment of the site, his real estate agent said Tuesday (Sept 24).
And come mid-to-late October, the public will get a chance to see how he wants to redevelop the property — and get its own chance to weigh in on the plan — before proposals are formally filed with city land use boards.
If all goes as planned, shovels could go into the ground by spring 2014.
The properties were purchased in January by Moustapha Diakhate, through Hamden-based Washington Management, LLC.
Diakhate purchased a total of about 10 acres of Farrel Corp. properties straddling both sides of the northern end of Main Street.
The company will concentrate its redevelopment work on the properties on East Main Street, which total just over 3 acres and about 150,000 square feet, Diakhate’s real estate agent, Vance Taylor, of Torrington-based Commercial Real Estate Group, said.
The picture below shows the properties envisioned for the first step of the redevelopment — Taylor said initial efforts will focus on the two white buildings to the south of the parking lot in the middle of the property, as well as the brick building to the north of the parking lot (also pictured above).
The northernmost building outlined in red in the picture, next to the Eagle Hose Hook & Ladder Co. headquarters, is envisioned as possible office space to be revamped once the mixed-used redevelopment of the other properties gets underway, Taylor said.
‘Give Us A Little Taste’
At the time of the purchase, Diakhate said his first priority for the properties would be to redevelop the building and parking lot on East Main Street into a mix of retail stores and office space, along with market rate condos and apartments on the upper floors.
In the months since, Taylor said Diakhate has been working with architects, surveyors, environmental engineers, and financiers to develop conceptual plans.
Residents, meanwhile, have been wondering what’s going to happen there.
For instance, Charles Stowe, a Second Ward Alderman, said at a meeting of the city’s Economic Development Commission Monday (Sept. 23) that he’s been hearing a lot of questions while campaigning for re-election.
“I’m knocking on doors and a lot of the people I’m talking to are asking me ‘Hey, whatever happened with that?’ The public is yearning to be involved with something that’s going to move us and charge forward,” he said.
“The public are like ‘Wow, whatever happened?’ I think it would be a great thing if he could come out, even if he’s not fully prepared, if he could just give us a little taste of what’s looking forward,” Stowe added later.
‘Charrette’ In The Works
Peter Kelly, who was hired as the city’s director of economic development in August and began work this month, said Monday a public meeting at which preliminary plans will be unveiled for the properties is tentatively scheduled for mid-to-late October.
Called a ‘charrette,’ Kelly said the meeting would bring together Diakhate, his architects and engineers, city employees and officials, and, perhaps most importantly, the public.
The idea, Kelly said, is to involve as many people as early as possible to formulate a plan before actually finalizing it and asking for approvals from the city’s land use boards.
“You don’t want to come in and force your idea on what should be on a community,” Kelly said. “You need to solicit their feedback and try to create something that fits, that’s harmonious. It sounds like (Diakhate) wants to do that.”
Kelly was formally introduced to the Economic Development Commission Monday by its chairman, Vinnie Scarlata, who guided commission members through an hour-long Q&A with Kelly on the Farrel Properties and a range of other issues.
Taylor echoed the new economic development director’s sentiments during an interview Tuesday (Sept. 25).
“Before we go in with a proposed plan to be considered by the city, the first step is what to do to make sure that before we roll something out, what we roll out is something the community truly wants to see,” he said.
For that reason, he said he didn’t want to divulge too much about the plans for the properties before members of the public weigh in themselves.
“We want to start more with a blank slate to give others more of a chance to suggest things,” he said.
But in broad terms, Taylor said Diakhate noticed a building boom of multi-family residential complexes in Shelton and farther south in Fairfield County that are “not exactly cheap” for tenants and saw an opportunity to create “a very attractive urban setting only a few miles further north” that, while not inexpensive, could be very attractively priced.
The size of the properties — which Taylor said form a “crucial and dominant” part in the heart of the city — make it a necessity that the community buys into the plans form the onset, he said.
“As goes this project, so might go the whole downtown,” he said.
Mayor James Della Volpe, who is organizing next month’s meeting, agreed Tuesday (Sept. 24).
“I think it’s important to get professional people downtown, spending some discretionary income,” Della Volpe said. “It’s important to get that (property) developed as soon as possible, get it back on the tax rolls and get it functioning.”
The mayor said that in his own door-to-door campaigning, people haven’t been asking about the properties very much.
“They’re concerned about taxes, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “Hopefully a project like this will stabilize our tax base and increase our grand list. That’s what we need right now.”
Transit-Oriented But Where’s The Transit?
Taylor stressed the importance of the project being “transit-oriented,” because the properties are just across Main Street from Ansonia’s Metro-North train station.
There are also bus routes on Main Street, and Route 8 is just over the Naugatuck River.
But how transit-oriented can the development be when only a handful of antiquated trains are moving — slowly — up and down Metro-North’s Waterbury Branch through the lower Naugatuck Valley every day?
The West Main Street train station itself isn’t the most inviting area, either. There isn’t even a ticket machine there.
Della Volpe said he and others have been lobbying to get trains moving through more frequently.
He and others pointed out that MTA may be more receptive to upgrading service if more demand for it could be demonstrated — say, in the form of a massive mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.
“For several years now myself and the other mayors in the Valley have been asking DOT to get more train service,” Della Volpe said. “It’s moving, but it’s moving slowly.”
Kelly, during Monday’s economic development meeting, also pointed out the city is receiving nearly $500,000 from a state grant to spruce up the area of West Main Street.
“We’ve got the $483,000 grant to do improvements to the parking lot and the roadway infrastructure — sidewalks, curbs, gutters — for the train station,” Kelly said. “How do we, if at all possible, integrate that with Moustapha’s plans to develop the Farrel properties?
“Transit-oriented development is a critical component of what Moustapha wants to build off of,” he went on. “Is there some way that we bring him into the conversation and say ‘We’ve got $483,000, can we dovetail this with what you’re planning on doing on the north end of Main Street?’ And then how can we integrate that with any other projects or initiatives?”