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CT Construction Digest Monday September 12, 2022

Developer eyes early 2023 groundbreaking for Bridgeport hotel

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — Dan Onofrio, president of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, recalled receiving a request from a city-based business looking for overnight accommodations for several executives.

With the downtown Holiday Inn closed and being converted into apartments, and hotels in neighboring municipalities booked up, Onofrio had to send them even further away.

“New Haven, Stamford, even up into the Valley,” he said Friday. “It’s just unfortunate.”

“There is definitely need for a hotel in Bridgeport, at least one,” Onofrio continued. “I think we could probably support a second hotel.”

Which may happen, though still not for several months at least.

During his state-of-the-city speech Wednesday Mayor Joe Ganim acknowledged guest Bobby Christoph Jr., whose RCI company has been for several years, including before Ganim took office in 2015, redeveloping Steelpointe. That East End land located between the harbor and Interstate 95 is home to Bass Pro Shops outdoor superstore, a new marina and Boca restaurant.

RCI is aiming to break ground on hundreds of luxury apartments this fall which, Ganim noted, “Will be complimented by the construction of a new hotel.” But he offered no additional details.

“I think we’ll be breaking ground early next year” on a 150-room hotel, Christoph said afterward in an interview. The location is Stratford Avenue between East Main and Pembroke streets.

He and his father, Robert Christoph, have been promising a hotel is coming for years. In 2015, as Ganim sought ultimately successfully to oust then-incumbent Bill Finch in that summer’s Democratic mayoral primary, a Hampton Inn was announced for Steelpointe.

The younger Christoph on Wednesday said, “I have a couple different deals working” and a hotel brand would “soon” be announced.

He said the loss of the 40-year-old Holiday Inn last winter — John Guedes is renovating it into furnished apartments — might have helped increase investors’ interest in the Steelpointe site by taking rooms out of the market, but was not beneficial to the city.

“I think it hurt, overall,” Christoph said.

But when Guedes in early January confirmed he was the buyer, he said the Holiday Inn had been losing money. The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on travel was at least partially to blame.

Onofrio said business travel is starting to pick up. And he noted the opening last summer of the new concert amphitheater, also along the harbor, on the outskirts of downtown, has boosted the local overnight-stay market.

“It’s unfortunate the timing of the Holiday Inn,” Onofrio said. “They closed right at the beginning of the amphitheater season kicking of this year.”

As Christoph aims to finally break ground on a hotel, the city — according to one Ganim aide — is weighing a proposal for a smaller one downtown.

The economic development office recently sought proposals for the historic McLevy Hall, located on Broad Street across from the government center. As reported last month, just one response was received and is currently being evaluated for possible forwarding to the City Council for approval.

Ganim aide Daniel Roach, who has also been involved in trying to find a developer for the hall, said a “boutique hotel” is the proposal on the table.

“We’re only talking a couple of dozen rooms as opposed to a hundred plus. I don’t think there’s going to be any issue with having too many hotel rooms available,” Roach said.

Christoph said whether it was the Holiday Inn or another operation, the intent was always to have a hotel at Steelpointe. RCI has been promoting the marina in particular as a port for luxury yachts along an otherwise pretty gritty, post-industrial harbor.

“We are creating a destination,” he said.

But, he added, “There is room for two (hotels) but you should do the first, have it be successful, and go to the second one.”

Onofrio recognized that it has been slow going at Steelpointe, a project that has spanned several mayoral administrations. But he has witnessed the improvements and increased traffic their from the view from his downtown office.

“Finding the right partners and investors, it can’t be an easy thing,” Onofrio said. “They’ve (RCI) been methodical in their approach. Obviously, of course, we’d love to see things tomorrow. I think the Christophs have been committed. They are all in on really seeing this through to fruition. It’s really easy to get frustrated and be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.’ But what they’ve done down at Steelpointe has been remarkable.”

Tyler Mack is one of two City Council members who represent the downtown. He said even as Ganim and others boast about making Bridgeport Connecticut’s “entertainment mecca” there is no major local hotel where visitors can stay.

Whether it is located downtown, at Steelpointe or both, Mack said, “I just want Bridgeport to be successful at the end of the day. I know taxpayer’s are looking for relief, we’re looking to build and grow Bridgeport. We need a hotel, that’s just what it comes down to.”

New Milford aims to replace one of worst bridges in Litchfield County. Why some are concerned

Kaitlin Lyle

NEW MILFORD - Nearly a dozen residents raised concerns about road closures, safety and access to emergency services recently at the public information meeting for the proposed replacement of the Merryall Road bridge.

With a rating of four out of 10, the Merryall Road bridge (located over the West Aspetuck River) has been classified as in “poor condition” and deemed one of the five worst bridges in Litchfield County. The town has been considering repairing the bridge for several years.

New Milford hired WMC Consulting Engineers to provide the design of the bridgeand associated roadway and site improvements, along with the evaluation of additional alternatives studies for the bridge replacement project.

Town officials hope to replace the bridge, minimize disturbance to travelers, complete the bridge’s construction in a timely manner and effectively use available funding.

WMC Vice President Keegan Elder saidthe cost of the project would be approximately $4 million. Half the funding would come from state funds and half from town funds.

Construction would take place from April to November of next year.

The proposed project focuses on reconstructing the Merryall Road bridge while maintaining its existing alignment.

The project would involve minimizing the impact to private properties, grading and temporary construction easements; closing the bridge during construction; having an alternate one-way at the intersection of West Meetinghouse and Merryall Road; and improving the hydraulic opening to reduce flooding frequency.

At the meeting, officials considered closing Merryall Road while the project is taking place. If that would happen, resident Carol Immohr was worried about emergency vehicles getting to her home in time. She said all alternative roads take at least a half hour to get emergency services to her property.

Fellow resident Alicia Inch also expressed her concerns about the project’s impact on the amount of time it would take to get emergency services to residents’ properties.

Resident Jennifer Daniels said, “They need that couple of minutes - that couple of minutes could mean a life.”

New Milford officials were asked to consider alternatives for the project.

While resident Michael Gold voiced concerns about the timeframe for completing the bridge, he said he was thrilled the town is finally doing this project.

Resident Tony Vengrove raised the project’s impact on school bus routes..

New Milford Department of Public Works Director Jack Healy assured the public the town will continue to look at its options, such as installing a temporary bridge.

Regarding construction planning,Healy said there’s a way of incentivizing the project to find out how much it would cost to complete it within a certain amount of time.

“It is an interesting project and the solution has to encompass a lot of intricate factors,” Stasiah said, “so if we can appreciate that and move ahead.”

Inch recommended the town run emergency service checks to see how much longer it would take to get emergency vehicles to residents in need “because it’s a matter of a few minutes, she said.

“I don’t care if the bridge is pink and green and built by 5-year-olds as long as everyone is not dead by the time the bridge is put up,” she said.

Healy said the town is going to work on the permits process for the project and will continue its discussion, vetting out each option to see what can be done.

Derby to receive $5 million in federal funds for Route 34 widening

Eddy Martinez

DERBY — More federal funds are on the way for the city’s Route 34 widening project.

The additional $5 million boost, announced last week by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, means that the project’s estimated $18.7 million cost is now fully funded, according to Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Rick Dunne.

The work, which has been a priority to the city for more than a decade, had previously received $15 million in state and federal funding.

“This means that our MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) didn’t have to take the last $5 million from the annual pot of federal highway funds that we receive for the area, in turn freeing up those dollars to fund other project priorities,” Dunne said.

When complete, the new Route 34 will double the number of traffic lanes through downtown Derby, where the road doubles as the city’s Main Street, and add a pedestrian walkway.

Blumenthal said small businesses will benefit from the project.

“This road is essential to Derby’s small businesses, the primary artery for the lower Naugatuck Valley,” Blumenthal said. “More than 20,000 vehicles travel this road a day — putting great strain and stress on the infrastructure.”

State DOT spokesman Josh Morgan said the department is currently working on underground utilities but will eventually focus on above ground work.

“Once the underground utility work is completed, roadway reconstruction activities can begin,” he said. “Currently, the contractor is preparing the south side of Main Street, between Bridge and Caroline Streets, to support the Route 34 widening efforts.”

Derby’s Main Street crosses directly under Route 8and intersects with the Derby-Shelton bridge over the Housatonic River before continuing north and west along the river as Roosevelt Drive. The stretch of road has been the scene of numerous serious crashes and the widening project would also include medians, turning lanes and other features to increase safety, according to Blumenthal’s office.

“This $5 million funding will make serious and significant improvements to driver safety and traffic congestion on Route 34, while enhancing the walkability of Derby’s downtown Main Street,” Blumenthal said.

Construction finally began on the project earlier this year, according to Morgan. The city has also gone ahead with utility upgrades since new apartments are also scheduled to be constructed near the road. But construction has yet to begin on that separate project as of June due to ballooning construction costs. The road will also have a separate parking lot on Main Street across from the city’s senior center.

While Blumenthal said the project would be a boon to small business, there has been some disruption to them along the route, Mayor Richard Dziekan said.

“We’re trying to keep that at a minimum, but it’s progress,” Dziekan said.

The project is expected to be completed by fall of 2024 according to Morgan.

Torrington moves forward on development at former Hotchkiss Mill site

Emily M. Olson

TORRINGTON — City leaders moved forward with a plan to demolish and clean up portions of the former Hotchkiss Mill property, recommended by Economic Development Director Rista Malanca.

The plan requires Torrington to apply for a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, from its Municipal Brownfield Grant program.

The plan requires Torrington to apply for a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, from its Municipal Brownfield Grant program.

The brownfield grant proposal moves forward a plan to develop the property at 199 Water St. and 229 Church St.

In August 2021, a development group led by Paul Janerico, owner of Water’s Way and Paydirt LLC, presented the City Council with a concept design of the properties at 199 Water St., formerly known as the Hotchkiss Bros. factory, north to 229 Church St., formerly known as the Minetto building.

Malanca’s proposal calls for “selective demolition” of the buildings that cannot be salvaged, as well as removal of hazardous materials. The CT State Historic Preservation Office has reviewed and approved the demolition plan, she said.

According to Malanca, phase one of the redevelopment project will be the adaptive reuse the former office building, a 10,000-square-foot brick structure located on the southerly portion of the property closest to Stop & Shop.

“This building will be a mixed-use building containing approximately eight market-rate residential units and 2,500 square feet of commercial space at the ground level,” Malanca wrote in her recommendation. “This phase will also include the grading and stabilization of the site, and construction of a parking lot to serve phase one of the development project. All future development will be designed, approved, and completed in additional phases.

“This phased approach addresses the environmental justice and public safety concerns that currently exist on this property. The demolition of the vacant buildings will reduce blighted conditions that have attracted vandalism and stymied private investment,” Malanca wrote.

According to the project presented by Janerico last year, the plan calls for 155 apartments, ranging from studios to four-bedroom units, as well as a retail store area, restaurants, and amenities for the tenants such as dog-washing stations, a gym, a community room, a swimming pool and hot tub, according to the concept drawings.

Mayor Elinor Carbone, who worked with Water’s Way on the preliminary plans, said last year that Janerico’s proposal is not affordable housing, but will be sold at market value. She also said the existing properties collect little tax revenue, and that the project is a way to continue the city’s mission to revitalize the city and provide better housing for people seeking a home in Torrington.

“The current tax revenue is $15,183, and with a cost analysis, to retain some semblance of safety, those costs far exceed $15,000,” the mayor said. “A market analysis we did asked us where we wanted to focus our investments, and the analysis shows there is a demand for multifamily housing, and that people supported the need for 288 additional apartments in Torrington — not single-family housing, but apartments.

Cromwell approves permits for $100 million housing, retail complex at former hotel site

Austin Mirmina

CROMWELL — An application for a $100 million redevelopment project at the former Red Lion hotel property progressed through part of the town’s review process this week, bringing it another step closer to fruition.

The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency on Wednesday unanimously approved permits for the Lord Cromwell — a proposed mixed-use complex at 100 Berlin Road that will contain a combination of residential, commercial and recreational spaces.

Agency members voted last month not to require a public hearing on the project because it wasn’t expected to have a significant impact on surrounding wetlands.

The application now advances to the Planning and Zoning Commission, where it will be subject to a public hearing for a special permit approval, Town Planner Stuart Popper said.

Final project plans call for 20 townhouses and 260 rental units — 50 studio apartments, 135 one-bedroom units, 65 two-bedroom flats and 10 three-bedroom apartments.

The townhouses will be sold individually, and include a personal driveway and parking garage, according to project engineer Jim Cassidy, who presented the final plans at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We worked very hard to pull these (townhouse) units as far away from the wetlands as we possibly can,” said Cassidy, a partner at Hallisey, Pearson & Cassidy at 630 Main St.

There will also be 31,000 square feet of commercial space accommodating retail, a sit-down restaurant, coffee shop and medical office. Another 12,000 square feet of space is designated for amenities, such as a pool and fitness center.

The proposal also includes the construction of 447 parking spaces, Cassidy said.

The total size of the project site is 12.75 acres. It consists of two vacant parcels of land: the former three-story hotel at 100 Berlin Road, and another at 15R Christian Hill Road, according to the plans.

A majority of the hotel property is already developed, Cassidy said. As part of the project, the structure will be completely razed, and a portion of the parking garage will be reused, plans show.

Town Manager Anthony Salvatore said Friday the development project would be “extremely beneficial” for the town, adding that he’s excited for the currently vacated commercial property to be used once again.

The state Department of Revenue Services terminated The Red Lion’s sales and use tax permit in January 2020 for nonpayment of taxes, which resulted in the layoffs of 50 employees. The new name, the Lord Cromwell, recalls the original development at the site.

The Radisson Hotel Cromwell preceded the Red Lion.

Lord Cromwell’s developer, Martin Kenney of Cromwell, is the founder of Lexington Partners of Hartford, which also developed The Tannery at an 1800s factory on New London Turnpike in Glastonbury, and the Borden, a former office building on the Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield.

The company’s portfolio also includes Windsor Station, Gateway Plaza in New Haven, Saybrook Station in Old Saybrook and Sage-Allen in Hartford.

Feds accepting comments on wind project that will supply power to Connecticut

Greg Smith

The federal government is now accepting public comments on a draft report detailing the environmental impacts of Revolution Wind, a proposed 100-turbine scale wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island that is vying to be the first offshore wind farm to supply power to Connecticut.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Sept. 2 and will be accepting comments through Oct. 17.

The 2,386-page document assesses “potential biological, socioeconomic, physical and cultural impacts,” of all stages of the commercial-scale project. It examines potential impacts and explores alternatives to reducing those impacts in categories from marine mammals to vessel navigation.

BOEM is expected to take into consideration public comments as it works towards a final version of the document and the decision whether to approve or disapprove the project.

Revolution Wind is a joint venture of Denmark-based Ørsted and utility company Eversource, the same team contributing to the state’s $255 million reconstruction of State Pier in New London. Starting next year, State Pier will become the staging and assembly area for Ørsted and Eversource’s offshore wind projects, starting with the 12-turbine South Fork Wind off Long Island and eventually including Revolution Wind. Onshore construction for South Fork Wind has already started.

Revolution Wind, which has yet to obtain state and federal permits and faces opposition from commercial fishermen, is slated to be operational by 2025.

Ørsted and Eversource, in a joint statement, called the release of the draft EIS a major milestone for a project that will provide 304 megawatts of power to Connecticut and 400 MW to Rhode Island. In total, the 704 megawatts is enough electricity to power 350,000 homes.

“This critical project is now one step closer to delivering enough clean, renewable energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes throughout the region and playing a key role in helping both Rhode Island and Connecticut meet their ambitious clean energy goals,” Ørsted and Eversource said in the joint statement.

Towards its goal of transitioning to zero-carbon energy by the year 2040, Connecticut has to date contracted for 1,108 megawatts of offshore wind power. In addition to Revolution Wind, the state has a contract for 804 megawatts of offshore wind energy from Park City Wind, equal to about 14% of the state’s energy or 400,000 homes. Park City Wind is a project by Avangrid Renawables, and would be constructed in waters 22 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.

In New London, work is ongoing at State Pier under the management of the Connecticut Port Authority. The project is expected to be completed by March of 2023, in time to accommodate work for the South Fork Wind project.

The port authority last month announced that contractors were having some difficulty driving piles at State Pier because of rocks. The issue had impeded progress in several stages of the construction which includes installation of a series of walls and heavy lift platforms to accommodate loads from incoming ships.

The port authority has not announced a delay in the expected completion date of the project or an increase in costs. The construction manager for the project, AECOM, in an update to the port authority’s board last month, said contractors brought in more equipment to the site and anticipated working longer hours to address the issues.

The details of the work are still being assessed and negotiated, said Andrew Lavigne, the port authority’s manager of business development and special projects. He said an update is expected to be presented to the board at the authority's October meeting.

For the BOEM Draft Environmental Impact Statement and links for more information visit: tinyurl.com/3wmh26nt

Tweed Expansion Pits Lamont’s Economic Agenda Against Environmental Justice Goals

Sophia Muce

“This is how you open up a state. This is how you get a state moving again,” said Lamont at a May 6, 2021 press conference announcing the expansion, according to a story in the New Haven Register. “It’s a really important project in the most important region in the state.” 

But if the economic benefits of the expansion are clear, a recent study of hospital and emergency department visits by DataHaven – and queries by CT Examiner to federal, state and local officials – raise significant questions about how seriously supporters of the project are studying or considering the possible health effects for neighboring residents.

Both New Haven and East Haven qualify as “environmental justice” communities – a term that takes into account poverty and the racial composition of a census tract – and under a federal executive order dating to 1994, projects like the Tweed expansion must identify and address “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”

Environmental justice has also been a point of emphasis for the Lamont administration and Democrats in the state legislature. 

But according to the DataHaven study, while residents of New Haven are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized or seek emergency-department help for asthma than the state average, about 60 visits per 10,000, in the East Haven neighborhood directly adjacent to the proposed expansion, that number is nearly triple the state average, or about 174 per 10,000.

A 2021 review of the impact of commercial aircraft activity on air quality by federal Environmental Protection Agency employees found that ultrafine particles are elevated around airports and associated with lung inflammation in individuals with asthma.

Asked by the CT Examiner about the impact of the expansion on the neighborhood’s public health, Chris Kelly, an attorney for Save the Sound, said East Haven residents have a right to feel uneasy.

“A lot of people are concerned because they live in an area which is more polluted and faces more issues than other parts of the county,” Kelly said. “They want to have more information about what this really means for them.”

Kelly also said that New Haven County has the highest levels of air pollution in the state, which should spur air-quality monitoring at Tweed.

That’s what Lynne Bonnett, a New Haven resident and an environmental justice advocate, has asked state officials to do.

Bonnett has a plan to install air monitors with Clarity, an air sensing company, and have UConn students analyze the data, at a cost of about $1,000 a year for each monitor and $50,000 to fund a study with the university.

Bonnett told CT Examiner that members of 10,000 Hawks, which opposes the expansion, have asked Tweed Airport Authority Executive Director Sean Scanlon to help the group install air quality monitors at the airport, but according to Bonnett, Scanlon declined.

In a series of phone and email conversations with CT Examiner, Scanlon acknowledged that he had been approached about air quality monitoring, and said he was open to the idea, but questioned the usefulness of collecting air quality data at the airport.

“It’s important to consider that air quality monitoring stations tell you the levels of emissions, but not the sources of emissions,” Scanlon explained in an email. “Given our location in close proximity to both a busy port and interstate, it would be impossible for that monitoring station to determine what’s coming from the airport.”

McFarland Johnson, Inc., which has been contracted by Tweed to complete an Environmental Assessment of the project, is relying instead on computer modeling.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is overseeing the review, did not provide a substantive response to email queries regarding environmental impact data capturing at Tweed.

But according to Charles Rothenberger, a climate and energy attorney for Save the Sound, computer modeling is only as accurate as the data informing the simulation. Rothenberger suggested that a better approach would be to use portable air pollution monitors to provide quality, real-time data.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, who backs the expansion, also supports installing air-quality monitors around Tweed, and said he has discussed the idea with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“While it’s difficult to know exactly where the source of pollutants are,” said Elicker, “it will be helpful for us to understand what kind of air quality is in the region so that we can respond.” 

Elicker also acknowledged that both New Haven and East Haven residents have an increased risk for respiratory ailments, but in a telephone interview with CT Examiner, he made the case for economic development as a means to improve the health of local residents.

“Improving the economy in New Haven and increasing job opportunities for people will also improve health outcomes by allowing them more access to health care,” said Elicker.

Along with the upcoming deepening of the Port of New Haven’s channel, redevelopment of Union Station and direct access to I-95, Elicker said Tweed will increase access to the city and its economy.

Scanlon acknowledged that many residents have concerns about the expansion, but said that based on Tweed’s polling and ticket sale reports, most in the community support the airport.

“East Haven is in the top five of people who buy tickets across the entire state, so people are supporting it with their wallets,” Scanlon said.

Edith Pestana, the state official in charge of overseeing environmental justice for DEEP, acknowledged that she has received numerous complaints about airport emissions from residents neighboring Tweed, but said that because the environmental assessment is under the purview of FAA, her jurisdiction is limited.

“If there was some illegal air emission that left the property and impacted the community, we would respond,” she told CT Examiner. “But at this point, there’s no standards for jet fuel.”

Pestana said that EPA also controls jet fuel emissions. She said she forwards resident complaints to EPA.

 “We don’t have any teeth in the game,” said Pestana.

Asked for “Any comments or concerns regarding environmental justice issues with the Tweed New Haven Airport expansion,” Lamont spokesperson Anthony Anthony referred CT Examiner to DEEP for comment.