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CT Construction Digest Thursday March 9, 2023

Middletown may propose DOT add downtown exit on Route 9, shifting traffic from 'liability' to 'economic driver'

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — The city presented a proposal this week to create a new Route 9 northbound off-ramp on River Road, which  one day could lead motorists to a revitalized and redesigned riverfront.

Officials believe the idea, as part of the state Department of Transportation's reconfiguration of traffic signals as the highway passes through downtown, has the potential to reduce highway crashes as well as draw more motorists to the downtown and bolster economic activity.

Public Works Director Chris Holden and Deputy Director Howard Weissman reviewed two slideshows during a special Common Council workshop Monday night. Holden said the idea is to take a holistic approach to the Route 9 corridor through Middletown.


“This is a different vision than what the state DOT had started from," Mayor Ben Florsheim said. "It is one that potentially offers unique tie-ins with our community in plans for the riverfront redevelopment for the future of our downtown."

He emphasized that the project is still in the concept phase, “but one that we feel has real potential.” The goal, Florsheim said, is for the city to partner with the state in the “right way to get this project realized.”

The off-ramp would be located in an industrial area near Walnut Street and Meadow Meat on Eastern Drive and eventually lead to Main Street. The area, which runs along the Connecticut River, is part of the city's master plan of redevelopment.

"The first thing people would see when they enter Middletown is the South Green, which presents a better [vantage point] than Washington Street (Route 66) at Melilli Plaza,” Weissberg told those gathered. 

Figures collected by the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository from 2015 to the present, shows the “magnitude” of issues on Route 9, Weissberg said.

At Hartford Avenue, which now provides access to both Route 9 south and north, there were 396 crashes over the seven-year period, Weissberg said. At the Washington Street exit, there have been 269 crashes over the same period. 

There was public opposition to creating a large barrier at the bottom of Washington Street, Holden said, so officials brainstormed ways to relocate the off-ramp to provide direct access to downtown to allow traffic to flow onto Union Street, where the South Green is. 

"Union and deKoven (Drive) would essentially become your new gateway into the city,” Weissberg said.

Once a consensus is reached on the proposal, Holden said, it will be presented to the DOT, which would begin traffic and other analyses.

"There is a significant emphasis from the DOT (on) improving safety at these intersections, especially with prevention of wrong-way intrusion," Weissberg said.

Another DOT project due to begin this week, according to signs on Route 9, would eliminate the stop sign at Route 17 — one of the deadliest highway on-ramps in the state, the mayor has said.

The state will be undertaking a three-year project to build a 1,000-foot acceleration lane to replace the stop sign, the deputy director said.

Kozikowski reviewed the city’s 2030 Plan of Conservation and Development and how it relates to the Return to the Riverbend master plan.

"For a thriving community, Middletown is to have an 'accessible riverfront that includes a dynamic balance of conservation, recreation and development,’" he said, quoting the POCD. "Any solution will need to satisfy a majority of the community's decision makers, but will ultimately have to be approved and largely funded by the state."

The off-ramp has the potential to improve the area’s economic viability, he said.

It would "turn traffic from a liability into an economic driver by improving our multimodal access to the riverfront, placing greater emphasis on our need for a pedestrian bridge over Route 9, general wayfinding and constructing complete streets,” Kozikowski said.

Many members of the public spoke after the presentation, including John Hall, executive director of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art in Middletown, who said he’s been studying problems along Route 9 for many years.

In discussions with members of the Environmental Collective Impact Network and Complete Streets Committee, there was agreement on several principles of the project.

"Cooperating with the state on removing traffic signals is a very worthy goal; an essential goal,” Hall said, adding that it would go a long way toward greatly improving air quality downtown and reducing accidents.

Hall said he fears that, if the city can't find a solution to allow the removal of traffic signals, the “DOT will eventually do what is legally allowed, which may result in much worse solutions.”

The new exit idea, he added, is a "very ingenious and promising proposal in many ways," but would bring approximately 500 cars an hour to the off-ramp during the evening rush hour. “That's a lot of traffic,” Hall said.

Melissa Shilke, who lives near the Route 17 expressway to Route 9 north and south, said residents know very well when exit and entrance ramps are closed off, as happens when there are events such as the July 4 festival, road race and Memorial Day parade. On those days, Shilke said, her street backs up two blocks to High Street, causing a 20-minute wait to get onto Route 9.

“If you go ahead with this plan to eliminate some of those entrance and exit ramps, and you funnel everything” into that area, she said, conditions will likely worsen.

Resident Kate Ten Eyck suggested city officials take a look at Indian Point Park in Providence, R.I., which had a similar problem, she said.

In the 1990s, Ten Eyck said, there was a “rickety bridge” over a four-lane highway. Since then, Providence built a bridge over the highway “that's beautiful, with plantings. It's an incredible experience.”

There will be many future opportunities for members of the public to express their views on the proposal, the mayor said. To view the presentation, go to bit.ly/3YuR3Ab.

Trumpf to break ground on 55,000-square-foot Farmington HQ expansion

Andrew Larson

The North American headquarters of a machine-manufacturing company based in Germany is set to begin construction on a 55,800-square-foot addition to its Farmington campus on Johnson Road.

The company, Trumpf, is expanding its 135,702-square-foot production facility on the west side of the property, which is part of Farmington Industrial Park. The project will be completed in May  2024, a spokeswoman said.

Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to speak at a groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

The 58-acre property contains a series of buildings and intertwined parking lots. In addition to the manufacturing facility, there are two office buildings, which are 76,200 square feet and 32,032 square feet.

Trumpf currently employs 479 people at the facility. The addition is expected to add 15 positions.

Trumpf produces sheet metal fabrication machinery and industrial lasers. The privately-held, family-owned company was founded in 1923 and has locations worldwide. The Farmington location is the company's second-largest and serves as its U.S. headquarters.

In September 2021, a plane crashed into a building on the property, killing all four people on board and injuring two Trumpf employees. 

CT truckers criticize 'expensive' highway truck tax: 'Why do I want to stay here?'

Ken Dixon

HARTFORD — State truckers joined Republican lawmakers on Wednesday to criticize the highway use tax that took effect in January, predicting higher consumer prices and financial burdens on their businesses.

At a time when robust tax revenues are expected to provide budget surpluses in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the next few years, they said there is no need for the added business expenses and resulting increases in consumer prices. They stressed that the highway tax's estimated $90 million a year was supposed to target out-of-state 18-wheelers, it seems the bulk of the charges will fall on state companies.

In fact, of the $4.3 million collected by the state since January 1, $3.3 million came from out of staters, according to the state Department of Revenue Services.

Lumber and mulch haulers, dairy farmers, and cement shippers warned that the higher price of doing business is already taking a big bite out of their bottom lines. For David Palumbo, who owns an eponymous family trucking company in North Branford, the new tax means a new full-time employee at a cost of $85,000 just to track the daily routes of company drivers, plus an estimated $100,000 to pay the road use levy.

"This bill is going to impact us in multiple ways," Palumbo, one of several truckers who spoke with reporters in the Legislative Office Building. "We don't really know how we're going to afford this other than passing it on to every consumer that's in this room. Everybody in the state of Connecticut is going to pay. To me this wasn't thought out hard enough, long enough, with any kind of consensus of how this is going to work; how it's going to be audited."

Palumbo said the higher prices will discourage his children from joining the business, with about 100 vehicles that carry powdered cement throughout the Northeast. "Why do I want to stay here?" said Palumbo, who is also the Democratic Town Committee chairman in North Branford. "Sell the business? Close the business? I'll put 70 people on unemployment. Is that the right thing for Connecticut? I don't think so. I want to keep growing my business. I don't know how I'm going to grow it."

Brennan Sheahan, an official at Connecticut Mulch in Enfield, said that the daily paperwork is piling up for his drivers, who now have to keep track of how many miles they operate on state highways.

 "We really need to understand the implications that this is having on the state of Connecticut," said House minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who stressed that majority Democrats had rejected an associated bill on the issue, forcing Republicans to use a tactic called petitioning, to place the item on a public hearing agenda with the legislative Finance Committee on Friday. "It's a priority for our caucus. We have real concerns. How is it being collected? Who is really paying it? What is the administrative expenses going into these businesses?"

Candelora described Lamont's position as "really dug in" in defense of the highway fee. "If we're going into a budget cycle with surpluses and a transportation fund that currently has a surplus, we're very well poised to put a pause on this program," Candelora said. 

Gov. Ned Lamont stands by the new tax and the Democratic co-chairmen of the tax-writing Finance Committee supported the program that was adopted by the General Assembly in 2021, as a means to help support state transportation projects and was sold to state lawmakers as focused on out-of-state haulers to contribute to improving state highways.

"Until January 1st of this year, Connecticut was the only state on the entire East Coast that had not assessed a fee on the heaviest tractor-trailer trucks that impact our public highways," said state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, the veteran co-chairman of the Finance Committee. "The Republicans have availed themselves of a procedure allowed under our rules, and we will abide by that. However, my co-chair, state Rep. Maria Horn, (D-Salisbury) and I have made our intentions clear by not raising this bill in the Finance Committee."

Adam Joseph, Lamont's communications director, said Wednesday that since the user fee took effect, 17,300 out-of-state truck companies have paid $3.3 million, while 2,200 in-state truckers have paid $1 million.

“It is incredibly important that Connecticut has the financial resources to rebuild and maintain our bridges, roads, and transportation network," Joseph said. "Stripping funding from the Special Transportation Fund will result in the State being unable to undertake critical projects to improve safety, reduce traffic and get you to where you are going on time.”  

Lamont defends truck mileage tax: ‘You got to pay your bills’

Mark Pazniokas

Gov. Ned Lamont rejected calls Wednesday by business owners and House Republicans to pause the collection of a new mileage tax on tractor-trailers that raised $4.3 million in its first month, the majority from out-of-state truckers.

“You got to pay your bills in life,” Lamont said. “We’ve got a lot of expense when it comes to roads and bridges.”

Starting Jan. 1, carriers using tractor-trailers have to pay between 2.5 cents and 17.5 cents for every mile driven in Connecticut, with the fee dependent on the gross weight of the vehicle.

The new tax is projected to eventually produce $7.5 million a month, or $90 million a year, for the special transportation fund, which collected about $2 billion in 2022, mostly in sales tax and fuel tax revenues. 

The fund is projected to run a surplus for at least the next several years.

“We don’t need this money now. So let’s take a pause and have a smart conversation,” said Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme.

House Bill 5290, a GOP proposal up for a public hearing Friday by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, would end collection of the tax on July 1. 

Senate Bill 350, which was introduced by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, would exempt all vehicles transporting agricultural commodities, machinery or supplies from the tax. It had a hearing last month. Trucks carrying milk to and from dairy farms already are exempt.

The Democratic-controlled legislature passed the truck mileage tax at Lamont’s request last year, two years after he failed to win approval of highway tolls, a far bigger revenue source pitched at a time when the transportation fund was approaching insolvency.

Republicans objected to the mileage tax on two counts: They said it would add to the costs of most shipped consumer goods, including groceries, and it might prove hard to collect from out-of-state truckers.

Nearly 90% of the first-month mileage reports and 76% of the revenues came from out-of-state truckers, according to data provided by the Lamont administration. The reports and payments for January were due Feb. 28.

The $4.3 million in first-month revenues — $3.3 million from out-of-state carriers and $1 million from in-state — was well below the projections calculated by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, but the trucking industry noted the state only began notifying carriers of the new fee in November.

All but 2,200 of the first 19,500 mileage reports came from out of state, including 1,200 from Canada, the administration said. Connecticut is one of only five states with a truck mileage tax, though Republicans say about 20 others once had them.

With diesel fuel costing an average of $4.67 a gallon in Connecticut, about 30 cents higher than the national average, truckers at a GOP press conference complained that the new tax is another expense in a high-cost state.

“We’ve had to hire an additional employee to help just administer this tax itself,” said Brennan Sheahan of Connecticut Mulch, which has 40 trucks on the road most days. “We have to pay, we’re estimating, over $150,000 in taxes coming off the bottom line of the company.”

One of the trucking company owners standing with the Republicans on Wednesday was Dave Palumbo, the Democratic town chair of North Branford, the home of the House Republican minority leader, Vincent J. Candelora.

“I think this bill was really shoved down our throats without any real talk about how is it going to impact us,” said Palumbo, the owner of Palumbo Trucking.

Palumbo, 57, said he started with one borrowed truck and now owns nearly 100, plus rail terminals in New Haven, Wallingford and Middletown. His company specializes in transporting cement powder.

He came with a list of expenses, including $35,000 in annual registration fees for his trucks.

“You look at the highway use tax we’re paying right now,” he said. “For this month alone, it was, you know, $4,000.”

He has been passing on the cost to customers, but a quirk in the law may put him at a competitive disadvantage. The law applies only to “multi-unit” trucks, meaning tractors pulling trailers or tankers.

One of his customers, Richard Fitzgerald of Blakeslee, a manufacturer of precast concrete products in Branford, is also served by a supplier who uses trucks not subject to the tax, Palumbo said.

“I have 4,000 to 5,000 loads to his facility. He has another trucking company that has triaxial dump trucks that can haul to his facility, 2,500 loads a year,” Palumbo said. “They don’t pay the tax. I have to pay the tax.”

On the same day Republicans were calling for a suspension of the mileage tax, Lamont held a press conference at a coffee shop in Glastonbury to promote his proposal to cut the income tax.

“I like to think that that’s going to make a real difference,” Lamont said. “We still have some lingering inflation, we still have issues to deal with, still have the high cost of energy. I like to think that an extra 20 or 30 bucks in your paycheck starting January 1 of next year will make a real difference.”

One of the lawmakers joining him at the coffee shop was Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, whose district includes a small piece of Glastonbury. He said he is interested in any bill that can lower the cost of living in Connecticut.

Improving CT hospitality market kick-starts new hotel development

Michael Puffer

The Hartford Hotel & Conference Center in East Hartford fell on hard times before its 2020 closure, with frequent visits by police and one online reviewer advising “avoid it like the plague.”

“It became very quickly a run-down property,” East Hartford Mayor Mike Walsh recalled. “You could rent the rooms by the hour, which was unfortunate.”

The blighted and boarded Roberts Street property will soon have a new life and look under a new owner. New Jersey-based Kautilya Group paid $3.4 million for the shuttered, 130-room hotel in August and is pursuing a multimillion-dollar renovation under two Marriott brands, along with an attached Starbucks.

“Once it’s done, it’s going to be a brand-new building,” said Kautilya Group Asset Manager Gaurang “Gary” Patel. “Everything is new.”

Patel’s investment and bullish outlook is buoyed by a resurgent hospitality industry that has seen occupancies in Connecticut bounce back to near pre-pandemic levels.

Average daily room charges have surged past 2019 rates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean windfall profits as hotel owners grapple with high inflation and a bruising labor shortage.

“The hospitality industry has come back very strong on the occupancy side and the (average daily rate) side,” Patel said. “We are currently building to before-pandemic (daily rates). It is going to continuously grow.”

Rebounding occupancy

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic drove Connecticut hospitality occupancy rates into the ground: from 61.5% in 2019 to 37.8% in 2020, according to global hospitality data and analytics company STR.

Occupancy rebounded to 53.1% in 2021 and hit 59.6% in 2022.

Average daily rates for Connecticut hotels — which stood at $119.83 per night in 2019 — fell in the first year of the pandemic but have since rebounded to $136.77 per night.

Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Lodging Association, said the industry is still not fully recovered from COVID’s impact, but there are positive signs. Pent-up demand and good weather, for instance, led to a boom in occupancy last summer.

Even so, Kozlowski said most of the New Haven-area hotel development projects scuttled amid the pandemic’s onset remain stalled, or have been abandoned outright. She said she also receives a steady stream of calls from developers seeking hotels available for conversion into apartments, a trend that has taken hold in Hartford and many other markets.

One new Elm City hotel that debuted recently was Bruce Becker’s conversion of the former Pirelli Building into the 165-room, eco-friendly Hotel Marcel.

The nature of hospitality in Connecticut is changing, Kozlowski noted.

Business travelers used to account for 60% of bookings with leisure travel accounting for most of the remainder, she said. That trend has reversed itself, Kozlowski said, with leisure visitors now accounting for more than 60% of bookings.

“So, there’s been this shift and it’s an ongoing shift,” Kozlowski said. “The question is, after all is said and done, what will the mix be here in Connecticut?”

Positive signs

Patel’s East Hartford hotel project is one of seven hospitality construction developments currently underway in Connecticut, according to STR.

Another 21 are in various stages of planning.

At the end of the third quarter nationally, there was a 10% spike in new hotel construction and a 6% increase in the number of rooms under development compared to the year-ago period, according to industry research group Lodging Econometrics.

Additionally, at the end of the third quarter, the number of hotel construction projects slated to launch nationally in the following 12 months was up 14%, Lodging Econometrics data shows.

Robert Murdock, president of the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau, said shoreside hotels had a banner year in 2022, but city hotels that rely on business travel are still struggling.

Another trend is the increasing popularity of extended-stay hotels, several of which are under construction.

“There definitely seems to be more discussion of hotels being built,” Murdock said. “It seems like the pace has picked up. It seems like we turned a corner because more things are happening. People seem to be more optimistic about the future and that is part of what is happening.”

In East Hartford, Patel plans to offer 80 extended-stay suites under the TownePlace Suites brand. Rooms offer kitchenettes, dishwashers and refrigerators for people planning stays of multiple days or weeks. Another 64 rooms will run under Marriott’s Fairfield Inn & Suites brand, geared toward short-term stays.

Patel said he hopes to finish renovations by August but acknowledges ongoing supply chain issues make an exact prediction difficult.

In nearby Bristol, Las Vegas dental implant entrepreneur Dr. Gerald Niznick is building a 90-suite hotel under Hilton’s extended-stay Home2 Suites brand right next to his 141-room DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. He is also building an attached 35,000-square-foot convention and events center.

“What triggered this whole process was extended-stay hotels were doing well in the area,” Niznick said. “Hilton came up with the Home2 brand, sort of an upscale extended-stay hotel. I wanted to get it before someone else took it.”

Niznick said his strategy is to go after weddings and conventions that will help fill his hotels and “provide a beautiful venue.”

“There isn’t anything like it in the area,” he said.

The Bristol convention center’s ballroom will feature modern audio and visual technology, along with breakout rooms. Slated to open with the Home2 hotel in July, the center will also host galas, fundraisers, corporate functions and events.

Lynn Dell, general manager of Niznick’s Bristol hotels, said the DoubleTree cut its staff of 120 to between 10 and 15 people at the start of the pandemic. All have since returned and 2022 was a better year financially than 2019, Dell said.

“In 2022 we had a strong year,” Dell said. “All trends right now seem to be that things are on an uptick, and we feel good about it.”

CT hotels in the planning or construction process


Hotel name





Hampton by Hilton Branford New Haven





Tidal Basin





Home2 Suites by Hilton


In Construction


East Hartford

Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites East Hartford


In Construction



AC Hotel by Marriott Hartford Glastonbury


Final Planning



Residence Inn By Marriott New Haven Hamden


In Construction



Great Wolf Lodge at Mashantucket


In Construction



WoodSpring Suites Manchester


In Construction



WoodSpring Suites Milford





Homewood Suites by Hilton Mystic





Mystic Seaport Museum Boutique Hotel




New Haven

Home2 Suites by Hilton East Haven New Haven




New Haven

Residence Inn New Haven Downtown


Final Planning


New Haven

Tempo by Hilton New Haven Downtown





WoodSpring Suites Newington


Final Planning


North Haven

Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton North Haven


Final Planning



Residence Inn Norwalk





Hotel Chelsea


In Construction



Unnamed Hotel @ Hale Mill


Final Planning



Parkway Plaza Hotel


Final Planning


Vernon Rockville

Tru by Hilton Hartford Vernon





Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Wallingford Meriden





Holiday Inn Express Waterbury West


Final Planning



WoodSpring Suites Rocky Hill


In Construction



Home2 Suites by Hilton Windsor Hartford North


Final Planning



Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Windsor





WoodSpring Suites Windsor




Windsor Locks

Tru by Hilton Windsor Locks Bradley Airport


Final Planning


Sale of Darien's Noroton Heights Shopping Center paves way for long-anticipated redevelopment

Mollie Hersh

DARIEN — After years of delays, the former Noroton Heights Shopping Center is finally getting a long overdue makeover. 

Darien-based real estate development and investment company V20 Group purchased four acres of the former shopping center from its owners, the Palmer family, to finally begin redevelopment on the empty shopping center after years of delays. The deal was finalized on March 1.

With a prime location across from the Noroton Heights train station, the upcoming development — renamed Noroton Crossing — will become a mixed-use community geared toward local commuters, featuring apartment housing, restaurants and retail and a private preschool. 

“It’s been a pursuit that’s lasted some time, but we’re very excited about it,” said V20 Group partner Joe Vaccaro.

Vaccaro said V20 Group has been part of the redevelopment since mid-2020, originally as partners with the Palmer family, guiding some of the revised plans through the planning and zoning process in 2021 and early 2022. 

First approved in 2017, the redevelopment was originally intended for completion in summer 2021, but pandemic-related delays, including losing its original construction lender, halted any progress on the site. The family eventually decided to sell the property.

Most recently, V20 Group’s acquisition was delayed for several months by a wrongful eviction lawsuit between the Palmers’ company and a former shopping center tenant, Jimmy’s Southside Tavern.

The Palmer family is no longer involved in the redevelopment, but will maintain ownership of the remaining property, including Palmer's Market. 

“As a cornerstone business in town for more than 100 years, it’s exciting to be part of the revitalization of this neighborhood,” Cindy Palmer said in a press release. “With the completion of the Darien Commons just around the corner and the Vaccaro project breaking ground in the next few weeks, we think the neighborhood is going to bring incredible new life to the Darien community.”

The ground floor of Noroton Crossing will feature two full service restaurants, two fast casual restaurants, two retail spaces and a branch of the Goddard School franchise, an early childhood education provider.

The second and third stories will house 65 apartments including 30 one-bedroom units, 31 two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units.

The apartments will lean more on the luxury side, Vaccaro said, similar to those in the upcoming Corbin District. The addition of three-bedroom units is also something that set the development apart, since he said “there’s not many, if any,” units of that scale in town. 

Of the 65 units, 10 will be designated as affordable housing  — five one-bedroom and five two-bedroom units, roughly 15 percent of the building.

“They’re the same finishes, same everything else,” Vaccaro said of the affordable units. “We chose to give it a little bit higher percentages towards the affordable just to help out the town.”

Construction is tentatively slated to begin in spring this year and take less than two years. Retail is expected to move in by early 2024 and apartment residents around late 2024 through early 2025. Demolition equipment is already onsite and could begin within the week, pending permit approval.

Since announcing the upcoming work, Vaccaro said he had received a lot of “thank yous” from residents in town, many of whom he said were relieved that the “eyesore” of a stalled development would soon be gone.

In the past, residents even filed complaints with the town's blight review board, though the board could only respond to residential complaints, not commercial.

“It would have been better if the former owner had just knocked it down,” Vaccaro said. “It really caused a lot of angst for a lot of the citizens in town. From our perspective, we're happy that we can cure that angst and fix it and turn it into what we think is going to be a really beautiful development."

With the two construction projects in Noroton Heights, the revitalization downtown and the Parklands redevelopment approved, Vaccaro said Darien is transforming into a unique place to live relative to neighboring towns and cities.

“Darien has always had this prohibition on development,” he said. “Now that you start looking around and you see what’s going on, it’s actually a very, very exciting place to live.”