I would like to start by saying that I’m very proud of the city’s police force, particularly as we see communities around the country struggle to maintain a healthy engagement between the police and residents, and I tell people all the time that we are very lucky to have officers that do a wonderful job engaging the residents of our city.
Whether it’s playing basketball, helping a kid change a bike tire, or responding to dangerous situations and keeping our community safe, our officers do a great job, and I see our police force as a group of good people and as a tremendous asset to our community.
It’s in this context that I believe strongly that our police force needs the necessary facilities to carry out their mission efficiently and in accordance with state and federal laws and guidelines, and we have already heard from Chief Hale, that this is not currently possible with their existing space on Elm Street.
I also believe that it’s important in this conversation to discuss and make public the significantly favorable lending terms under this USDA facility that the City is considering, where I am told that interest rates are offered at far below open market rates for the city of Ansonia’s bonding in general, and I am also told that this loan has no prepayment penalties and only begins accruing interest at the drawdown of the loan.
If these two features of the loan are true, then it presents a rare and excellent opportunity for our city to secure funds for a long term investment such as creating a new police station.
With all that in mind, I do think that it’s important to recognize that a new police station is not a revenue generating investment for our city, which makes evaluating the nuances of the investment rationale of this development more difficult. The currently proposed new police station budget at $12 million represents one of the largest real estate developments that this city has seen in recent history.
To put this into context, the proposed re-development of the ATP buildings on Main Street, which constitutes 100,000 square feet of space, with a proposal for 100 residential units and commercial space, would be carried out at a significantly smaller budget, the proposed developer Jerry Nocerino has quoted a figure of $10 million for renovations. I am also concerned about some of the practical challenges with development of the new station at the proposed Olson Drive location.
For example, I’ve heard concerns about the retaining wall to the rear of Riverside Plaza being compromised and needing to be replaced at significant cost, and what if the owner of Riverside Plaza decides to hold out rather than sell to the city, is the city prepared to bring an eminent domain case against the owner? There are also logistics complications associated with the fact this property is owned by HUD.
These concerns make me worry that possible cost overruns and timing delays of this particular site could jeopardize the investment in such a way that may either request greater funding from the taxpayers, or leave our police department without the facilities they so desperately need.
In my opinion it’s worth considering whether there’s an alternative building site available that could meet the needs of the police department, provide greater construction certainty, and invest these funds in a way that most efficiently gives the City the greatest return on our investment. The site I would like to propose to the boards, commissions, and officials reviewing this matter, which meets this criteria is 75 Liberty St., the old Ansonia Copper and Brass offices.
I am intimately familiar with this property as I have looked at this property twice for private investment and have personally assessed the condition of this building. As it stands, this property is heavily blighted, with graffiti, broken windows, overgrown weeds, and I also know that the interior of the building would need to be completely renovated down to the bare walls and floors, including some possible asbestos and mold remediation.
In its current state, this building which historically served as symbol of this City’s strength is now hurting the North End by attracting vandalism and hurting local property values.
Building a new police station on vacant land would do nothing to change the blighted status of 75 Liberty St., but by renovating 75 Liberty St., we would be taking advantage of this rare opportunity to not only provide a beautifully renovated and historically significant new police station, but would fully remediate this blighted property and restore it to its former glory and once again make this building a symbol of our community’s strength. 75 Liberty St. would additionally have the benefit of being located in one of the City’s challenging neighborhoods in the North End.
I have full confidence that this building can meet the needs of the Police Department and could possibly do so at nearly half the currently proposed budget. The building features 43,400 square feet of space, poured concrete floors, large open space floor plans, brick walls, it’s a solid building.
At 43,400 square feet, 75 Liberty St. is just over 2.5 times bigger than the current police station (16,966 gross square feet), and is currently listed to accommodate 90 parking spaces on the property, with more potential for street parking. The building itself has the beauty, class and stature of a stately police building.
If we apply a reasonably assumed renovation cost per square foot of $150 to convert this building into a state of the art police station, that would bring the renovation budget to approximately $6.5 million.
Finally, given the historic importance of this building, being built in 1948 and making it more than the generally required 50 year old threshold, it may be possible to have this building listed as a federally registered historic building, and therefore make it eligible for both federal tax credits, which offer a 20 percent rebate of eligible renovation costs, as well as CT State Historic Preservation grants, further reducing the cost burden of the build.
To summarize, this proposal for 75 Liberty St. could more than double the space for the police department with room for future expansion, more than double the parking spaces, remediate a significantly blighted building with significant property taxes in arrears, provide a greater police presence in one Ansonia’s at risk neighborhoods, restore a historically significant piece of Ansonia’s history, and most importantly provide the greatest certainty for our police to get the new facility they so desperately need, all at possibly half the cost of the proposed new build at Olson Drive.
I sincerely hope that the respective boards, commissions, residents, and city officials consider the many benefits that selecting 75 Liberty St. as the new police station location may bring to this city and its residents.
The writer is an Ansonia resident.