After two and a half years, a California-based company is “bowing out” of plans to redevelop downtown Derby, Mayor Anthony Staffieri said Monday.
Though a contract between Derby and Eclipse Development doesn’t expire until Thursday, Staffieri said he received a letter last week from Douglas Gray, Eclipse’s president, which the mayor characterized as Gray “graciously bowing out.”
“It’s a done issue with Eclipse,” the mayor said.
Though Gray said in an e-mail Monday that he hasn’t given up on Derby, Staffieri said Eclipse’s time is up.
“The economy has caused prospective tenants to be sitting on the sidelines for quite a while,” Gray wrote. “I intend to keep speaking with prospective tenants about Derby as we work on other projects in hope of still bringing Derby to fruition.”
The Valley Indy requested a copy of Gray’s letter under the Freedom of Information Act.
The City of Derby has been trying for years to spur new activity in its redevelopment zone, an area that stretches along Main Street next to the Housatonic River from roughly the Derby-Shelton bridge to the former Lifetouch property.
Eclipse Development of California is the city’s preferred developer. They have a contract with Derby giving them first shot at a project within the development zone — until Thursday, when the contract is due to expire.
Meanwhile, the city’s Redevelopment Agency has met just twice in 2012 — and Eclipse missed one of its own stated goals to get development started.
Given how the process has dragged on, Staffieri said Monday that Eclipse was out of the picture.
“We gave him two and a half years,” Staffieri said. “That’s it. It’s time to move along.”
The mayor said the city’s Redevelopment Agency will meet — for the first time since last August — to discuss options on how to get downtown development going again.
The agency’s next regularly scheduled meeting is May 14.
He said the city has been contacted by other developers interested in the site, but couldn’t have “meaningful communication” with them because the city’s contract with Eclipse, the city’s “preferred developer,” prevented it.
Despite the experience, Staffieri said the city might adopt another preferred developer going forward.
The city is in “exploratory talks” with some developers “just looking to see what’s out there,” he said.
Or Derby might look to other ways to develop downtown, he said, without revealing details.
“There might be a better way to do this where we can get results,” he said.
Asked how, the mayor said: “I can’t tell you that.”
Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director, said she’ll outline alternatives to the Redevelopment Agency about how Derby will move forward.
“We have other options,” she said. “We feel pretty good about them, and comfortable.”
Asked if the city would go with another preferred developer for the site, she said, “I don’t think that that’s going to be possible.”
While the city likes the concept, she said, other developers have inked options to purchase some of the properties within the redevelopment zone, which would make it difficult for one to have control over the project.
Members of the Board of Aldermen last week said the city should offer to buy the remaining properties it doesn’t control in the zone, and use an upcoming referendum to pay for it.
O’Malley said that while owning all the properties would make her life easier, “I don’t know that that’s the answer to our prayers.”
Staffieri also doubted whether the necessary appraisals and other paperwork could be completed in time for a referendum.
“For the city to go into the real estate market, to be buying properties, it’s very difficult,” he said. “You’d be jumping into a swamp.”
The mayor predicted the area will be redeveloped in stages.
“Developers are still moving in a positive way, but they’re moving slowly,” Staffieri said. “Instead of trying to do one big project all at once, they’ll do bits and pieces of it.”