THE YEAR AHEAD: Housing, restaurants seen as key to maintaining city's revival momentum

Published on Tuesday, 2 January 2018 23:00
Written by Angie DeRosa


In 2017, New Britain saw new businesses move in and projects come to fruition. This year, according to the city’s economic development director, revitalization will continue.

“In terms of downtown, specifically with transit-oriented development, the city has had a number of successful announcements and I think it will be a trend that continues for 2018,” said Bill Carroll, director of the Department of Economic Development.

According to Carroll, the initial focus will be on creating more housing.

Carroll noted Jasko Development’s work on the historic Raphael Building on West Main Street last fall, bringing 16 new upscale apartments to the city, and said that proves that quality housing is wanted in New Britain.

Two more projects that will bring even more housing to the city are set to begin this year.

First is the construction of the highly anticipated Columbus Commons. The complex will feature two six-story buildings containing 160 residential units and ground-level retail space.

The second will be the redevelopment of the Courtland Arms apartment building at 57 Court St., which has been vacant for more than 20 years.

“(People) are finding New Britain downtown attractive now,” Carroll said.

He cited the beautification project Mayor Erin Stewart implemented more than two years ago, which included revitalizing Central Park.

“People from outside New Britain remark how much it’s transformed and say it has never looked better,” Carroll said.

Another project Carroll is looking forward to is the redevelopment of the building known as The Plaza at 233-235 Main St. In April 2017, Ian Fishkin, a lawyer for the H.J. Development Group, told The Herald that negotiations with the state to try to sell the property for expansion of Central Connecticut State University had failed and that the building would be put on the market instead.

The Plaza has been purchased, and the city is working with the developer to figure out what the best use of the building will be, Carroll said.

“With all the improvements, we’re hoping there will be more feet on the street,” he added.

He said 85 percent or more of downtown space is occupied, but the city is still missing “that element that brings people downtown.”

Carroll thinks more restaurants are a big part of the answer.

The Kitchen, a restaurant, bar and lounge at 136 Main St., will open in three phases, concluding in February.

Owned by Vincent Placeres, owner of another city restaurant, Mofongo, The Kitchen will serve gourmet pizza and pasta dishes, among other entrees, as well as specialty cocktails. Live entertainment is also planned.

“Based on (Placeres’) track record and his ability and aggressiveness, I think it’s going to be a winner,” Carroll said.

In 2018, he said, the city is going to work on implementing incentives and programs to attract business.

“The new year gets people excited, especially with the economy getting better. People see it as the light at the end of the tunnel,” Carroll said.

As a result of the state budget crisis over the summer, many projects were put on hold last year because developers and owners were unsure about funding. Carroll said he’s hoping 2018 will give them the confidence to pick up where they left off.

Two projects he’s hoping will be funded this year are the Berkowitz Building and the former St. Thomas Aquinas High School.

The Berkowitz Building, at 608 Main St., is expected to be redeveloped to have retail on the first floor and apartments on the top three.

Carroll said the property owner has worked with many departments to try to get money but has not yet been successful.

Chrysalis Center, which owns the St. Thomas Aquinas High School property, is still waiting to hear from state about funding. Word is expected this year.

One of the most talked-about issues in 2017 - one unlikely to be going away in 2018 - is Stanley Black & Decker’s decision to demolish all buildings in the former Stanley Works complex on Curtis and Myrtle streets.

Stanley, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, announced its decision in July. Demolition is expected to be complete by mid-2018, but in October, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission voted to delay demolition for 90 days after a group of citizens cited a city ordinance that aims to preserve and protect structures of historic relevance from demolition and find alternative uses.

The property is not listed on any state or federal list of historic buildings and has been abandoned for 25 years, which is evident in its deterioration.

Carroll said the buildings are unsafe, are in an undesirable location to repurpose for apartments, and are functionally obsolete, making renovation for manufacturing impractical.

He added that any repurposing would cost hundreds of millions of dollars because the land is also contaminated.

On Jan. 14, the 90-day delay is up and Stanley, because it owns the property, will have the final say on whether demolition continues.

Farmington-based Thunderbird CHP has been in talks with the city for several years to develop a data center powered by fuel cells on another parcel on the property. The data center could create 1,000 jobs and more tax revenue for the city, Carroll said.

“We’re still continuing to speak with developers. There’s a lot of moving parts, but we are getting extremely close to seeing this come to fruition and making it into a reality,” Carroll said.

“As far as the developers themselves and their partners and investors, and the city, we feel like we can make this fuel-cell tech park a reality.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, Business, New Britain on Tuesday, 2 January 2018 23:00. Updated: Tuesday, 2 January 2018 23:03.