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CT Construction Digest Friday August 20, 2021

Greenway Commons owner says there’s buyer for downtown Southington project

Jesse Buchanan, Record-Journal staff

SOUTHINGTON — An owner of the Greenway Commons property downtown is hopeful about a buyer as the deadline for a town-approved development looms.

Soil tests took place at the former factory site this month as part of the potential buyer’s due diligence before finalizing a sale. Such soil tests could reveal contamination that would have to be cleaned.

Howard Schlesinger with property owner Meridian Development Partners, didn’t name the buyer.

“There’s a buyer and he’s doing some additional investigation. It’s looking good,” Schlesinger said.

Meridian has been trying to sell the property to another developer for years. This isn’t the first time a prospective developer has conducted soil tests, according to town Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo. He’s hopeful that some activity will take place soon at the former factory site but said he’s been working on the redevelopment project for 15 years.

“We’ve been down this road before,” Perillo said. “I’m hoping the third time’s the charm.”

Owners held an auction on the property last year in an attempt to sell it.

While the former Ideal Forging factory buildings were demolished and some of the property remediated, environmental cleanup work may not be complete.

“I’m not so sure there isn’t more that needs to be done,” Perillo said.

Approval deadline

Meridian Development Partners has owned the downtown site since 2005. The company got approval to build more than 200 apartments and condominiums in addition to retail space.

Michael DelSanto, a town councilor and former Planning and Zoning Commission chairman, said property owners have struggled to sell the land. The amount of remaining contamination could be the main deterrent to buyers, he said.

Planning and Zoning approval for the project will lapse before the end of this year, requiring a new developer to apply again.

Schlesinger said the approval deadline was in September.

“We’ll make it,” he said. “We’ll get something going I’d imagine.”

Schlesinger said the new buyer has the town-approved plans and was moving forward, but didn’t elaborate on the prospective buyer’s vision.

“The goal has always been to do something good there and this will produce that,” he said.

DelSanto said it’s important that there’s a retail component to the project and has opposed attempts to change the design to include only residential units.

Town officials said the project could be a major boost to downtown commerce.

“Let’s hope there’s some activity there soon. We need it,” DelSanto said.

State funding, tax abatements

Both the state and the town have tried to make development more financially attractive. Perillo said the state has spent more than $4 million in remediation costs. The town has offered a tax abatement which reduces property taxes for a certain number of years once buildings are completed.

Southington hasn’t spent any money on the Greenway Commons project, Perillo said, but is willing to offer tax breaks to a developer who has put up the money and taken on risk to build.

“We try not to outlay any money,” up front for projects, Perillo said.

Selling the property could allow Meridian to see some kind of return on its investment, Perillo said.

Apartments, restaurant could be on deck for historic downtown Hartford firehouse

Zachary Vasile

The city of Hartford is moving toward a deal with New York-based development firm Wonder Works Construction that could see the historic former fire station at 275 Pearl St. redeveloped into a mixed-use apartment project.

Wonder Works, which has built 560 housing units in Hartford, mainly under the Spectra banner, was selected as the preferred developer for the site, according to I. Charles Mathews, the city’s development services director. A final deal for the property is being ironed out and should take about two or three weeks to finalize, Mathews said.

Wonder Works Chairman and Founder Joseph Klaynberg confirmed Wednesday that his company is planning to construct 40 apartments in the three-story building and install a 4,000-square-foot restaurant on the former fire house’s first floor. The eatery is expected to include indoor and outdoor dining areas and space for live entertainment.

While Klaynberg declined to name the restaurant, he said his firm has collaborated with the brand before and saw positive results.

As for the apartments, Wonder Works will stick with the model Klaynberg called “affordable luxury,” with the same amenities as those offered in the Spectra properties.

In total, Klaynberg said the project will likely cost about $9.5 million, a sum he expects to finance in part with support from the Capital Region Development Authority, the State Historic Preservation Office and partnering banks.

When asked if the COVID-19 pandemic may have altered demand for housing in the city in a way that could make it difficult to find tenants for 275 Pearl St., Klaynberg said he remains optimistic about Hartford’s growth, especially considering how far the city has come within the last 10 or so years.

“They said that about the last project we did, and it filled up,” he said. “If we build it, we know people will come.”

Whole Foods site plan gets PZC approval in South Windsor

Joseph Villanova, Journal Inquirer

South Windsor's Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved plans for the construction of the planned Whole Foods building at Evergreen Walk.

At the regular meeting, commission members unanimously approved the site plan for the 50,000-square-foot building, which will replace two existing buildings, the current sites of Old Navy and Sakura Garden, comprising 53,000 square feet. The new building will have two units: a 40,000-square-foot unit for Whole Foods and a 10,000-square-foot retail space that will be available for lease.

PZC Chairman Bart Pacekonis said he was somewhat concerned about the empty retail space, as he recalled a similar space attached to the old Highland Market that went unused.

“I’m looking at your group as being more active in getting tenants, and I’m hoping we’re not making the same mistake and having that eyesore for 10, 15 years,” Pacekonis said.

Karen Johnson, project planner with Evergreen Walk’s managing company Charter Realty, said the company has seen an increase in leasing activity since Whole Foods was announced, and is not concerned with the retail space being vacant.

“We’re comfortable that it will be leased shortly,” Johnson said.

Construction of the Whole Foods is part of a larger initiative by Charter Realty to revitalize the property as a shopping destination for South Windsor and surrounding towns. These plans, outlined in a document released by the company, detail efforts to lease retail locations to various companies, although the document conceals their names.

An undeveloped 5,680-square-foot lot by the former Moe’s is to be leased to a “national burger chain,” and a “national athleisure brand” expects to lease a 5,715-square-foot space. Other storefronts have letters of intent for businesses to lease, but specifics have not been announced.

David Gagnon, civil engineer with Langan Engineering, said the hope is to have the Whole Foods accessible by sidewalk from Evergreen Crossing, a nearby retirement community, which also would help connect it with the rest of Evergreen Walk.

PZC member Stephen Wagner said he is excited by the development of Evergreen Walk, and pleased with how Charter Realty has handled it.

“It’s great to see there’s a long-term plan there to keep this place going and keep it lively,” Wagner said.

PZC alternate member Megan Powell said that while she had not been present for the entire application process, the company did a good job with the Whole Foods site plan, other than minor concerns.

“I do think that due care was given throughout the process,” Powell said.

PZC member Michael LeBlanc said he loves the mural planned for the rear of the building, but wants to make sure it will be easy to touch up if need be.

“The only problem is that they’re hard to maintain,” LeBlanc said.

Pacekonis said he also was concerned about maintenance of the mural, as well as what could happen in the distant future.

“I’m also concerned that at some point, that mural is gonna want to be replaced with advertisement,” Pacekonis.

The commission ultimately agreed to have make a condition of the application’s approval be that no advertisements could replace the mural.

Mayor Andrew Paterna said he feels that the new Whole Foods will be great for Evergreen Walk, and presents many additional development opportunities.

“It shows that South Windsor is still in a great position to attract economic development,” Paterna said.

Tweed-Florida Flights Planned; Decision Delayed On $5M Airport Renovation


(Updated) On the heels of an announcement of new flights to four Florida airports, Tweed New Haven Airport unveiled — and sparked hours of climate-change-influenced debate over — plans to add 271 parking spaces and renovate the existing terminal and administrative buildings into separate spaces for departures and arrivals.

Those announcements and debates played out across a virtual City Plan Commission meeting Wednesday night and a celebratory press conference held outside of the East Shore airport terminal’s front doors Thursday morning.

To pave the way for those new flights at Tweed, airport officials laid out expansion plans Wednesday night during the latest regular monthly meeting of the City Plan Commission. The four hour-plus virtual meeting took place online via Zoom. At the center of the meeting was a lengthy discussion and debate around a suite of site plan, coastal site plan, flood plain permit, and special permit applications. It ended with commissioners putting off a vote until another meeting.

At Thursday’s press conference, Avelo Airlines announced that on Nov. 3 it will launch daily nonstop flights to and from Tweed and Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Avelo CEO Andrew Levy said that the airline will start out with five flights a week to Orlando, five a week to Ft. Lauderdale, three a week to Tampa, and two a week to Ft. Myers. He said a one-way ticket from New Haven to Florida will cost as little as $59.

“Our business is about driving down the cost of travel and stimulating demand with lower prices,” Levy said Thursday. “As you lower the price, more people are able to travel. It’s a tried and tested formula for low-cost carriers.”

The flights begin an East Coast network for the new airline, which so far has been flying to and from West Coast airports out of its Southern California hub in Burbank.

Levy said Thursday that the airline does not have any current plans to connect its West Coast and East Coast routes.

“We do expect to serve other markets” besides just Florida from New Haven, including perhaps Washington, D.C., he said. But for now, to start, Florida will be all.

Why only the Sunshine State?

“Florida was the overwhelming choice of the entries in our sweepstakes,” Levy said about an online poll to which 6,000 people responded. He said it made sense for Avelo to start out “with leisure markets like Florida, with wide appeal and low price points.”

The budget airline plans to begin with three new flights a day, and claims it will build up to eight per day over the next three years.

Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon described Avelo’s Tweed-Florida routes as kicking off a “long-term partnership” between the airport and the new airline, though Levy declined to say exactly how long Avelo will stay with Tweed.

“We expect to be here for decades to come,” Levy said, but there is no specific time commitment detailed in Avelo’s agreement with the airport. “It has to work,” he said about the new New Haven-based routes. “It’s a business, and has to have profits and cash flows in order to thrive.”

“There are many more steps ahead,” said Avports CEO Jorge Roberts, who helms the Goldman Sachs-owned private airport management company that will play a key role in the airport’s coming expansion, “but we are finally on the path for a more dynamic Tweed.”

City Plan Decision Delayed Until Next Week

All the requests considered at Wednesday’s nights City Plan Commission meeting related to an intermediate step in the airport’s long-term, privately funded $70 million expansion plans that should see the lengthening of the main runway and the the construction of a new four-to-six gate terminal and parking garage on the East Haven side of the airport property.

None of that grander vision was up for consideration Wednesday night.

Rather, the local land-use applications under review pertained to a first step in that process: an estimated $5 million renovation of the existing “West Terminal” and administration buildings on the New Haven side of the property, and the net addition of 271 new on-site parking spaces atop a secondary runway that is no longer in use.

All to make way for the budget flyer Avelo Airlines, which plans the new Florida flight routes for the three Boeing 737 jets that it intends to base out of Tweed starting in November. Currently, the only commercial operator at Tweed is American Airlines, which flies one plane a day to Philadelphia.

“This is an enabling project to improve service at Tweed,” City Plan Director Aicha Woods said on Wednesday in support of the West Terminal renovation and parking addition projects. “We want to think about this in terms of regional connectivity. We also want to think about the role in growing jobs and opportunities for New Haven residents, and also opportunities for residents to travel.”

These applications are directly related to Avelo’s planned beginning of service at Tweed on Nov. 3, Airport Manager Jeremy Nielson said. “That’s what’s necessitating the presentation of these various terminal improvements to handle that additional growth that we’re excited for and that we’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.”

The commission heard hours of heated public testimony on either side of the proposals. Critics focused on the environmental impacts of more air service in Morris Cove. Proponents boosted the potential economic benefits of greater connectivity to the rest of the country

The commissioners ultimately decided to continue the public hearing on the matter until Aug. 25.

They scheduled that continued hearing to take place five days before the Board of Alders Finance Committee is slated to host a public hearing of its own on a separate proposed 43-year lease agreement between the city and the airport authority.

That lease extension would allow the authority to hand over many of the financial risks and perks associated with an expanded airport to the Goldman Sachs-owned management company Avports—which has managed Tweed since 1998, and which has promised to foot the costs of the airport’s expansion.

On Thursday afternoon, Scanlon told the Independent that Avelo’s new Florida routes are not necessarily contingent upon the City Plan Commission’s approval of the site plan, coastal site plan, flood plain permit, and special permit heard Wednesday night.

“The permits do not affect whether or not Avelo can begin flights on November 3,” he said by email. “The action by the City Plan Commission is necessary to improve the passenger experience at the airport—things like how easy it is to park, meet a taxi or Uber driver, utilize walkways and bike racks, etc but not necessary for them to actually start service. We’re confident that through continued work with the City and commission, the permits will be approved soon.”

A team of project managers, lawyers, engineers, designers, and airport managers kicked off the Tweed section of Wednesday’s meeting by detailing what this planned three-year, $5 million New Haven-side renovation would entail.

Per their presentation on Wednesday and the application materials submitted to the commission in advance of the meeting, the airport updates would include:

• The conversion of the existing main terminal building into a departures building, and the adjacent administrative office building into an arrivals building with a new baggage claim hall for passengers.

• The installation of a modular trailer building alongside the existing passenger terminal-turned-departures building to allow for expanded check-in and security screening operations.

• The net addition of 271 car parking spaces built atop existing airport pavement that was previously used as the now-closed 14/32 runway. After the renovation, the airport is slated to have a new total of 927 on-site parking spaces.

• The creation of a newly paved connector between the runway-turned-parking lot and an existing parking area to the south of the terminal.

• A series of stormwater management improvements, including the dryproofing of the existing terminal and administration buildings and the creation of a new 300,000 gallon-capacity stormwater retention system around half of the new south parking lot.

In describing what he said would be a minimal traffic impact to the neighborhood, airport-hired engineer Don Tone said that Avelo is planning a “scaled implementation of flight programming.”

That means: The new airline won’t start immediately in November with eight flights per day. Rather, it will start with three flights, then eventually increase to five flights, then eventually increase to eight flights.

All the while, the airport authority and airport management company will be evaluating how best to handle the increased traffic through such potential measures as speed humps and increased enforcement and new signage.

The airport will undertake “a measured approach at each stage,” Tone promised.

During the public testimony section of the meeting, 20 people spoke up passionately on either side of the issue.

The public testifiers generally fell into one of two categories: Morris Cove neighbors and environmentalists who slammed the proposed expansion for being financially unrealistic and reckless in the era of climate change. And local and regional business leaders who praised the project for making New Haven that much more accessible to employers and investors.

“Sea levels are rising,” said Lighthouse Road resident Claudia Bosch. “Within 30 years, Tweed is underwater. This is coming, and no tidal gate will help. All coasts across the globe, the water will rise. Can you have a good conscience and approve a project to build in these fragile wetlands?”

Adam Matlock agreed. As confirmed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report,“the increasing severity of climate change means we can’t fully predict what we’re dealing with in 20 years, 10 years, five years.”

While a larger Tweed is touted by supporters as an economic and transportation win for the region, he said, that “win” would come “at an extremely high environmental cost. ... These fruits could sour before they are able to be enjoyed by the community.”

Speaking to Tweed’s longer-term expansion plans more broadly, Matlock said, “Signing a 43-year deal when every year brings increasing severity of weather events seems short-sighted.”

City Environmental Advisory Council Chair Laura Cahn raised concerns about how Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Airport also recently announced plans to expand.

“I’m wondering if both airports can be successful,” she said. “Are we putting money into something that’s just going to end in disaster?”

Even with a larger Tweed airport, she said, “New Haven will never be able to compete with a major airport. Maybe we should just have better train service,” particularly to airports that already exist—like Hartford’s Bradley Airport, which is currently inaccessible by train.

BioCT President and CEO Dawn Hocevar, meanwhile, threw her support behind a larger Tweed airport on the grounds that it will be an economic boon, especially for New Haven’s health-tech industry.

“The easier and more convenient we make travel, the more likely companies will want to come and stay in New Haven,” she said. She said that venture capital firms and other investors want to be able to visit start-ups they’re funding. “We need to remove as many obstacles as possible, and improving travel at Tweed airport would be a significant improvement.”

Biorez Founder and CEO Kevin Rocco agreed. He criticized Tweed’s current air service as “unreliable” and “too infrequent.”

He said he and his employees frequently travel through Bradley and New York City airports, but “these other airport options are more than 50 miles away and add hours of unnecessary travel time.” All of the added time in cars and stuck in traffic to reach further airports is “more than a minor inconvenience.”

HealthVenture Co-Founder and CFO Donna Lecky said she and her business partner are currently reconsidering their decision to have their headquarters in New Haven, largely because of the lack of reliable air service.

“New Haven has a unique opportunity to be an innovative center for excellence,” she said, “one where businesses can thrive, given that access into and out of the city is available.”

Asked on Thursday about the IPCC report and about how an expanded Tweed airport might exacerbate climate change, Scanlon said that the airport authority will start in the next few weeks “an environmental assessment that will drive everything we do.” He said that assessment will study the potential impact on the area’s wetlands, wildlife, and air.

“That will be a very collaborative, open, public process,” he said. “It’s something that is the most significant on our minds in terms of how we can be leaders on this. This is what the people demand.”