The developer who helped revive the former Valley Bowl property on Pershing Drive in Derby promises a similar rebirth will happen on Ansonia’s Main Street.
The key to Main Street’s future?
“The idea is to make downtown Ansonia a restaurant Mecca,” said developer Jerry Nocerino. “We have a vision. I can see it, and it’s going to happen.”
Nocerino spoke briefly with the Valley Indy July 15 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Copper City Bar and Grill, a new establishment at 82-84 Main St.
Nocerino and his business partner Charles Smith own the building that houses the new restaurant, which is owned by a chef whose cooking drew accolades from The New York Times.
The investors are converting the upper floors into apartments.
It’s a mix Nocerino wants to expand to a pair of nearby buildings — the “ATP” and “Palmer” buildings at 497 E. Main St. and 153 Main St., respectively. The buildings, owned by the city, have about 100,000 square feet of space.
The city has been trying to find an investor for the buildings for years.
Nocerino’s company is trying to work out a deal to purchase the two buildings.
He presented a rather detailed plan for the two properties in June. It included 95 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail and a restaurant on the first floor.
But the plans are still preliminary at this point.
Nocerino envisions a brew pub-restaurant to anchor that development project, which will cost an estimated $9 million.
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“We’re going to bring bodies downtown. We’re going to hopefully attract young people with a brew pub,” he said. “The plan is to make the rent somewhat more affordable than our neighbors, but we’re not giving it away.”
By this point longtime Valley residents may be rolling their eyes, since so many press releases over the years have promised rebirths in downtown Ansonia (and Derby).
The difference, according to Mayor David Cassetti, is that Nocerino has a track record.
“What they want to do is smart. The other developers did not have a game plan. It was just smoke and mirrors,” Cassetti said.
“They put up banners, but banners are nothing,” the mayor, who had hours earlier held a press conference to erect a banner of his own, said, referencing a large banner hanging from a property off Main Street owned by the Washington Management company.
Washington Management purchased the property in 2013 but has yet to submit redevelopment plans to the city. Cassetti said he hopes Nocerino is able to buy those buildings as well.
Meanwhile, Nocerino’s business interest in downtown Ansonia dates back 15 years, when he purchased Ansonia Commons, the shopping center anchored by Antonio’s, an Italian restaurant that opened in 2011.
In Derby, Nocerino and his partners recently redeveloped the Valley Bowl on Pershing Drive into a Panera Bread and an Aldi supermarket.
He told the Valley Indy there is no reason why downtown Ansonia can’t become a destination.
“It’s a beautiful downtown in the way the roads are laid out. You have Main Street, East Main Street and West Main Street. It’s very easy to get around and shop. It’s convenient. You have easy access to Route 8. You have a train station,” Nocerino said. “It has all the right ingredients.”
The developer credited Cassetti’s administration for becoming more business-friendly. He said prior to Cassetti coming to office, Ansonia was a tough place to do business.
“Ansonia had been very difficult. It’s an old factory town, but let’s change it. Let’s change it to what works today,” Nocerino said. “Now the attitude is ‘let’s get it done.”
Nocerino’s plan for making Main Street a “restaurant Mecca” isn’t just a talking point.
In a world of “Top Chef” and celebrity chefs, the restaurant industry is becoming increasingly important to local economies.
A 2014 story in the Hartford Courant noted that restaurant sales in Ansonia totaled $7.75 million in 2013, a 17 percent increase from 2009.
Shelton saw an 11.3 increase in sales ($43.9 million) during the same time period.
Click here to read the Courant’s complete story.
Whatever happens to Ansonia’s Main Street, one thing is clear — it’s poised to be a discussion point in the upcoming mayoral race.
Last week Cassetti, before complaining about Washington Management’s banner, unveiled a 16-by-25-foot banner of his own overlooking Haddad Park at the corner of Main and Bridge streets.
The banner shows Main Street as it was in the 1920s, when the Capitol Theater was still in business.
The idea, according to the mayor, is to show the city as it once was — and will be again.
Cassetti said he saw his first movie at the Capitol — “Planet of the Apes” — for a cost of 35 cents, which included a bag of popcorn.
The building now houses apartments.
The banner cost $4,300, the mayor said.
Cassetti also took the occasion to trumpet a $146,000 grant the city received from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to assess the two city-owned buildings Nocerino wants to buy.
“No one has a Main Street like Ansonia,” Cassetti said. “This is going to be a vibrant area in the next few years, I guarantee you.”
Click play on the video above to see Cassetti’s remarks.