CT Construction Digest Tuesday August 2, 2022
BRISTOL – With more pieces in the puzzle of Bristol’s new downtown being put in place, conceptual renderings to bring retail and apartment spaces along North Main Street were recently displayed at the Bristol Economic and Community Development Board of Commissioners meeting.
Centre Square Village, as By Carrier has called the structures, will extend north from the eastern corner of Hope Street and North Main Street, to border the nearby McDonald’s. Although recent plans were changed, city partnership with By Carrier has sought to add an additional floor and the redesigning of buildings to allow for more parking, more apartment space and a further streamlined approach to the proposed building plans in hopes of shortened build time. What was once slated to be a three-building project is now two.
Between the two buildings, around 104 apartment units are planned, an increase from the original 88. Buildings will be four stories tall with one fifth story tower on each building as part of a penthouse space. Around 8,260 square feet of retail space will be in each building on the ground floor. Each building will have a total of around 80,400 square feet of space, including the retail spaces. Each building will have 22 one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units.
Carrier Construction Owner Gino Carrier is aiming to submit the latest site plans to City Hall in September and estimates potential dig times starting in spring of next year.
Parking will be located behind the buildings and over 40 spaces of retail on-street parking are estimated along North Main Street.
“The idea is to have more units. We want to maximize the developable space we have,” Bristol Economic and Community Development Director Justin Malley said.
During the last Bristol Economic and Community Development Board of Commissioners meeting, Malley said another parking structure was being considered in the project in order to make use of the limited parking city officials anticipate will come to Bristol’s downtown with the onset of its development. Shared parking has been a much debated theme at economic development and City Council meetings as By Carrier’s structures, a downtown parking garage, and a new Wheeler Health headquarters are set to be constructed across from an already ongoing improvement project to City Hall.
As part of the new By Carrier development, parking ports and garages are anticipated to be added for resident use.
“There are three spots for retail parking,” Mayor Jeff Caggiano said at the meeting.
The mayor highlighted on-street parking sites, parking opportunities after business hours at the proposed Wheeler Health site set to be built on the south corner of the intersection of Hope Street and North Main Street, and a downtown parking structure set to be built behind Centre Square Village.
“I’m very optimistic that the ARPA designation to make that garage, a $5.2 million investment, is creating these types of opportunities, which is great,” he said.
New London— Gov. Ned Lamont visited the city Monday to celebrate the state’s investment of $5.9 million to upgrade downtown buildings and related infrastructure.
The grant was first announced in April.
The funding comes from the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s CT Community Challenge grant. DECD Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Daum said the $45 million awarded statewide in the first round of grants is an investment in improving the vibrancy of communities to “live, work, play in an equitable way.”
The department has allocated up to 50% of the funds to distressed municipalities, including New London.
Daum said a vast majority of the funding announced Monday will go towards construction costs for a set of downtown buildings that have been dilapidated or vacant for decades.
Adrianna Reyes, the city’s grants coordinator, said the state funding will go towards the city’s Downtown Revitalization Project, which totals $27.1 million in state, city and privately-funded redevelopment costs.
The project includes five private properties, and four will receive state grant funding to match a portion of investments from private developers and owners. The buildings receiving state funding include 46 Bank Street for first floor commercial space and 3 South Water Street for a boutique hotel. Receiving funds for renovated commercial space and apartments are 123 Bank St. and 133 Bank St.
The Garde Arts Center will receive a $2.1 million grant, that matched with a $1 million contribution from the Garde, will fund improvements to the building.
The state’s grant money will also go towards several city-funded projects that include transit station improvements, sidewalk enhancements, the Wyland mural restoration, lighting and traffic intersections.
Daum said the Southeastern Chamber of Commerce will be instrumental in attracting residential and commercial tenants once the buildings have been redeveloped.
“Businesses like to invest in cities that invest in themselves,” Lamont said.
He said the state has been slow in the past to invest on what makes the city “amazing” but now the state and city are taking buildings and filling them up.
“New London, it’s happening,” Mayor Michael Passero said, echoing the city’s new tag line.
Passero spoke adamantly about all the support the city has received from the governor’s office in recent years with projects such as the demolition and remediation of the Thames River Apartments for industrial use to the redevelopment of State Pier as a hub for the offshore wind power business.
Tony Sheridan, the president of the Southeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, and State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London. also spoke Monday. Children from the city’s Learning Drop-In Center, invited by City Councilor Reonna Dyess, who is also the program’s executive director, sat on the steps of City Hall as the officials spoke.
Before the news conference, Lamont and others toured the Manwaring building, a once vacant building on State Street being renovated to house Connecticut College students beginning this fall. The building is part of the Downtown Revitalization Project.
Rod King, the dean of institutional equity and inclusion at Connecticut College, spoke at the conference and said the project is the latest example of the long and rich relationship between the college and New London. He said 63 students, mostly juniors and seniors, have been selected or have won the lottery to live at the apartments. King said the partnership further strengthens the college’s connection with downtown.
At the request of two state senators, the quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority has released the names of its two employees that improperly accepted gifts from a company vying for port authority business.
Former Connecticut Port Authority Executive Director Evan Matthews and Andrew Lavigne, the CPA’s current manager of business development and special projects, each received a $625 ticket from New York-based Seabury Maritime Capital to a May 2019 National Hockey League playoff game in Boston along with food and beverages from a restaurant.
Their names were revealed in a letter from Connecticut Port Authority board Chairman David Kooris to State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly. The senators had requested information in the wake of an investigation by the Office of State Ethics. That investigation determined Seabury, which was hired by the CPA in 2018 to help find an operator for State Pier in New London, violated the state code of ethics when it provided more than $3,000 in gifts and food to CPA officials in 2017 and 2019.
The CPA had already been criticized for providing Seabury a $523,000 “success fee” as part of the $700,000 payment for their work, something the State Contracting Standards Board said was similar to a “finder’s fee,” and not permitted by state statute. Henry Juan of Greenwich, who was employed by Seabury, had resigned from the CPA’s board several months before Seabury was hired.
It was Lavigne who had reported the acceptance of hockey tickets, meals and beverages in early July of 2019. One CPA board member who allegedly accepted gifts from Seabury has not been identified and it is unclear if that person remains on the board.
Seabury agreed to pay a $10,000 settlement in the ethics case and admitted it provided gifts totaling $800 in 2017 and $2,300 worth of gifts in 2019. Those gifts included food and drinks and a leather accessory for a CPA employee and the employee’s spouse in 2017 at a charity event in New York. A CPA board member with secondhand information reported to the Office of State Ethics in 2020 that the 2017 gifts were received by Matthews, Kooris said. It came at a time when Seabury had not yet been hired by the CPA.
Later that year, on Aug. 17, 2017, Seabury paid $200 for an overnight stay at a private club in Greenwich for the same employee and spouse, along with $300 in food and drinks for the same CPA employee, the employee’s spouse and a CPA board member.
Kooris said he does not know the board member who accepted food and drinks but has asked current board members to disclose whether any of them is “CPA Board Member Number One” which is how the Office of State Ethics described the person in it’s report. Kooris said none of the current members have identified themselves as that person.
Matthews and Lavigne were involved in the review of Seabury’s responses to the CPA’s request for proposals and qualifications in 2018, Kooris said.
Lavigne is not involved in the voting process and “to the best knowledge of the CPA leadership, Mr. Lavigne did not make any recommendations to the Board with respect to the selection of Seabury,” Kooris said in his letter.
Kooris said the CPA is working to determine whether Matthews or Lavigne prepared any reports, memorandums or other communications regarding Seabury that was shared with voting members. Kooris, in his response to Formica, explained that Lavigne had come to the board leadership in early July 2019 to disclose that he and Matthews had received the hockey tickets and had meals and beverages paid for by Seabury.
“Mr. Lavigne further informed CPA leadership that prior to the game he had indicated to Seabury his intent to reimburse the company for all of his expenses related to that evening, and he subsequently did so,” Kooris said.
The Office of State Ethics said in its statement last month that the reimbursement for the hockey tickets, food and drinks did not come with the 30 days of the violation as required by state statute. No reimbursements have been made for the other gifts.
Lavigne was not disciplined by the CPA. Matthews was placed on leave on July 12, 2019 amid criticism of the CPA’s lack of policies and procedures and subsequently resigned. Kooris said Lavigne participated in the CPA’s ethics training in the fall of 2019 and participated in that training annually since.
Peter J. Lewandowski, the executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said that because of confidentiality requirements, he could not confirm or deny if his office is investigating the individuals who received gifts.
“If there are matters pending, unless such matters are dismissed by a judge trial referee, the identity of the respondents will eventually be disclosed either by way of stipulation and consent order or determination of probable cause,” Lewandowski said in an email to The Day on Monday.
Formica said on Monday that he appreciated Kooris addressing each of the 13 questions he had posed. He said it was clear that Matthews and Lavigne were involved in conversations leading up to the hiring of Seabury. And while Formica acknowledged that Lavigne is not a voting member of the board, he said he remained skeptical that Lavigne did not make any recommendations to the Board.
Formica credited Kooris with doing a “good job righting the ship in many ways,” but said the information surrounding the ethics investigation should have been readily available “instead of waiting for someone to ask.”
“It’s time to put the shenanigans of the past to rest and focus on the mission, which is to build a first-class port and try to develop the emerging industry of offshore wind, if that’s the direction we’re going,” Formica said.
The CPA is managing the $235.5 million construction project at State Pier in New London that is being transformed into a hub for the offshore wind industry.
In a statement on behalf of the CPA, Kooris said: “Beginning in late-2019, under new leadership, the Authority performed a complete overhaul of its policies and procedures. With the assistance of the Office of Policy and Management and outside auditors, the Authority updated its ethics policies and all employees and board members now receive annual ethics training and certifications.”
Vincent DiCarlo shuttered his home-based marketing business three years ago, devoting his time and energy into building a 95,000-square-foot sports dome in a former tobacco field off Day Hill Road in Windsor.
His wife Cheryl, a creative director with ESPN, carries the household bills. DiCarlo works on designs, marketing, wooing investors, chasing bankers and numerous other steps needed to launch the roughly $14 million development.
Ground was finally broken this spring on the Day Hill Dome following more than a year of COVID-19-related delays. Today, the footprint of the future 82-foot-tall structure can be seen in a field of concrete and drainage structures. DiCarlo aims to finish in December.
His dome project is a key feature in developer Mark Greenberg’s vision for a sports-anchored mixed-use development on more than 150 acres he has stitched together, parcel by parcel, off Day Hill Road since 2006.
Greenberg said thousands of people already visit 11 on-site softball fields run by Fastpitch Nation every weekend. The dome and plans to add additional fields will draw even more.
Those crowds will feed hotels, restaurants, retail, entertainment and other amenities planned for Greenberg’s property assemblage along Day Hill Road.
In turn, the amenities will make the privately-run sports facilities more attractive for tournaments and other events.
Like DiCarlo, Greenberg and several entrepreneurs drawn to the site have turned from safer career and investment options to pursue their passions. And they are of the mindset that if they build out their vision, people will come.
Field of dreams
Standing in a field of waist-high grass at one end of his Windsor properties, Greenberg acknowledged it would have been much easier, and quite possibly more lucrative, to sell his land for warehouse development. Windsor and surrounding towns have been the center of a logistics boom over the past decade.
“I don’t want that,” Greenberg said. “It’s not all about the money. This is about a passion for athletics. This is my athletic dream.”
Greenberg said his vision began to form three years ago after he leased land at 1001 Day Hill Road to Fastpitch Nation, which built 11 softball fields.
Greenberg said tournaments bring in players and families from up and down the East Coast.
“Once I saw Fastpitch was successful and I came down on weekends and saw the tremendous number of people at the games, I thought this could be something we could expand to the rest of the property,” Greenberg said.
According to an analysis for the Connecticut Convention & Sports Bureau by Destinations International, visitors over the past year to Fastpitch Nation generated $11.2 million in regional spending, including 8,555 hotel nights, along with visits to restaurants, retail and elsewhere. That resulted in an estimated $742,039 in taxes for the state.
Shortly after Fastpitch Nation opened its Windsor fields in 2019, DiCarlo was introduced to Greenberg by Richard Correia, executive vice president with brokerage firm RM Bradley. DiCarlo had called Correia for help finding a location for his sports dome.
In a meeting at a Dunkin’ Donuts, DiCarlo and Greenberg bonded over the common experience as parents of athletes. Both had traveled to less-than-ideal facilities. Both had fallen asleep in their cars during long practices. Both had traveled out of state to facilities far removed from restaurants and hotels.
Greenberg also introduced DiCarlo to David Rocha, owner of Fastpitch Nation.
“When he started telling me about how good he’s doing here and how it was a home run – excuse the pun – I was like, ‘OK Mark, this is something we have to do,’ ” DiCarlo said. “There’s a great synergy and when you start talking about hotels and restaurants and brewpubs and things like that … you really can’t find something like this. It’s really unique. It’s really special. It’s a passion if you will. We are really chasing a dream.”
Dreams don’t come easy
By the time DiCarlo met Greenberg, he had already planned to shutter his home marketing business, abandoning a six-figure annual salary to realize his dream. Since then, DiCarlo has emptied his savings and retirement accounts. The sports dome was a hard sell to banks, especially with all the headlines about COVID-19 crushing youth sports.
DiCarlo and Rocha say private facilities, however, thrived through the pandemic. When public programs closed, parents looked for alternatives.
Ultimately, Greenberg became a partner with DiCarlo in the Day Hill Dome, committing $2 million of his own and helping to convince bankers to loan the rest. DiCarlo and Greenberg say funding is in place.
Supply chain problems have created uncertainty as to when some building materials will arrive. Even so, customers are already putting deposits down for whenever the dome opens.
“Pre-bookings for the dome have been out of control, better than our best possible imagination,” Greenberg said.
The Day Hill Dome’s first phase will include a roughly five-acre field of solar panels to help defray energy costs. There will be a single grass outdoor field and two artificial turf fields. The facilities will take up about 21 acres, Greenberg said. A second phase — occupying 15 acres — will include four more fields and an enclosed field house for hard-court sports like basketball and volleyball, Greenberg said.
Hotels, restaurants and more
There are two hotels planned for the site.
Windsor officials have signed off on a 110-room, Home 2 Suites hotel on 3.5 acres Greenberg sold to Groton businessman Jimmy Patel.
Patel said he expects to spend up to $14 million on the hotel, hopefully breaking ground late this year and finishing within 14 months. Patel already owns five hotels in the Groton area and is impressed with the crowds drawn to Fastpitch Nation, he said, adding he likes the concept of the dome. He is also motivated by growth of warehouses, housing and other recent developments along Day Hill Road, as well as proximity to Bradley International Airport.
“It makes sense to build a hotel with all those corporations and leisure and everything going on right there,” Patel said.
Daniel Lim, of Weston, is partway through Windsor’s approval process for a 93-room budget hotel planned for a portion of the Greenberg assemblage. The Wyndham-affiliated franchise offers smaller-than-average rooms with typical amenities at bargain prices.
Lim said she imagines her $10 million hotel will cater to business travelers coming from Bradley, as well as families visiting the Day Hill Dome or Fastpitch Nation. She hopes to break ground by the end of this year and finish building within 18 months.
Lim said she and her husband have partnered with an aunt on the investment. She also said she left a comfortable career as a Wyndham executive to pursue the business.
“I had just received a promotion and absolutely loved what I did,” Lim said. “We even uprooted our family from Colorado just to begin this new chapter. Owning a hotel has always been the dream. We had a chance to make it a reality, so we had to take it. It will no doubt be one of the hardest things we will take on.”
Greenberg said he also plans to recruit a high-end convenience store and two freestanding restaurants.
He is also wooing retail and restaurant businesses to a 106,568-square-foot commercial building at 1001 Day Hill Road. The building is part of a 55.7-acre site that was once home to Mototown USA.
Mototown featured an enormous, enclosed motocross track until a heavy snow load collapsed the roof in 2011. The building standing today was all that was salvaged.
Greenberg claimed the property in 2013 through what he described as a “friendly” foreclosure on Mototown’s original $15 million mortgage.
Greenberg bought the mortgage for $1 million in 2012.
Today, the building at 1001 Day Hill Road hosts a Blimpie Sub Shop and Vietnamese restaurant. A 16,500-square-foot brewpub is currently under construction. Greenberg is courting a “dodge-bow” extreme sports business to occupy 10,000 square feet in the building. The game is akin to a mix of paintball and dodgeball played with arrows tipped with rubber balls.
Greenberg said he spent $3.3 million acquiring and upgrading 1001 Day Hill Road and is currently working on an additional $1.5 million in parking and façade improvements.
Greenberg said he is also working on plans to build a 100-unit mixed-use apartment development on a parcel close to his 150-acre assemblage. He said the project isn’t advanced enough yet to release further details.
Rocha, who left IBM in 2008 to launch Fastpitch Nation, said he knows Greenberg could have made more money with another tenant, but the vision to create a destination sports complex became a passion play for the savvy developer.
“When I met with him and explained my dream, he had valuable land he could have easily converted into much higher value for someone else, especially at the rate they’re building warehouses in Windsor,” Rocha said. “If his motive was purely profit, there is no way he would have worked out a deal with me.”
n the sweltering morning of July 13, Gov. Ned Lamont stood outside an abandoned and boarded-up apartment building off the northern tip of downtown Hartford to tout a $6.3 million state grant for a 43-unit, mixed-use apartment development.
A private developer and local nonprofit have partnered to cover the remaining $17.5 million cost. Lamont used the occasion to juxtapose this approach from past state efforts.
“I just thought too much of state government was a lot of one-off projects, a lot of earmarks, a lot of something special for somebody in the Bond Commission,” Lamont said. “One reason this is a winner is because it’s part of a strategy, it’s part of a vision. It’s a public-private partnership. It’s not just the state putting up the money.”
The Hartford grant is one of a dozen issued from the state’s $100 million CT Communities Challenge program, which provides up to $10 million for transit-oriented and downtown development projects. About $45 million has been allocated so far, with a second round of award winners expected to be announced later this year.
The program is a major component of the Lamont administration’s $1.7 billion, five-year economic development plan that began rolling out last year. The aim is to create 83,000 jobs through new programs that take a more collaborative approach to economic development, leveraging partnerships with local municipalities and private capital. The focus is on creating more attractive living environments that can woo residents and businesses.
The plan is part of an overall policy shift by the Lamont administration to spend fewer public dollars on incentives to individual businesses that promise to grow jobs, and more on community development.
David Lehman, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said the policy change has reduced the reliance on state bonding for economic development.
During the Lamont administration’s first three years, the state borrowed $150 million for job creation incentives, Lehman said. The last three years of the Malloy administration saw $800 million borrowed for that purpose.
“We felt we needed to significantly reduce the amount of money the state spent on corporate job creation incentives,” Lehman said. “A lot of studies said we were paying for something that would happen anyway. We were giving money to well-to-do companies. It’s arguably regressive.”
To be clear, Lamont isn’t shredding the state’s credit card. His five-year economic development plan calls for $315 million in state borrowing, $164 million in tax credits and state grants, and $345 million from federal COVID-relief funds.
That is expected to be matched by $936 million in private sector and other non-state sources.
Alexandra Daum, deputy commissioner of DECD, said the state’s plan focuses heavily on creating vibrant places to live, seeing community development as an important component of economic development.
Creation of housing and “vibrant” communities is a big piece of the $100 million CT Communities Challenge grant program and the $136 million Innovation Corridor program, which will grant up to $50 million for transformative projects mingling community development and job creation in urban centers.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said his city’s efforts to transform the abandoned 17.4-acre Anamet industrial complex off South Main Street is a good example of the state’s new premium on local buy-in.
The city has spent more than $5 million in state grants on Anamet, beginning with the purchase of the property in 2017. The city subsequently paid contractors to knock down several buildings. Officials recently signed off on another $2.5 million contract — paid for by state grant dollars — to complete demolition of crumbling buildings on the site.
City taxpayers, however, picked up the $2.7 million cost of putting a new roof on a 220,000-square-foot industrial building on-site. It is the only structure being preserved for reuse. The Lamont administration wanted to see direct city investment as well, O’Leary said.
“The difference is they really want the cities and towns to put some skin in the game before they invest heavily in these economic development projects,” O’Leary said. “Under Malloy, you presented your project, and they would say if they supported it or not.”
Announcement of the first awards from the Innovation Corridor program are anticipated in late summer or early fall.
New plan, new approach
Only three “eligible” applications — from Stamford, New Haven and Hartford — were received, according to DECD.
In Hartford, local officials requested $48.4 million, claiming the money will leverage another $242 million in investment to create housing and advanced manufacturing research and training centers in the city’s Parkville neighborhood.
“They are spending a lot of dollars on quality of place, helping communities to create more vibrant downtowns,” said David Griggs, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance.
Griggs said the state’s drive for vibrant communities as an economic development driver is all the more important after COVID-19 prompted a move to remote work.
“It matters even more today than it did two years ago,” Griggs said. “Remote workers have an opportunity to live wherever they want to. Quality of place and our ability to keep the talent we have is important.”
While the overarching strategies have changed, so have the relationships between DECD and municipalities, Griggs said. He said Lehman and AdvanceCT CEO Peter Denious are “just a text away.”
“It’s a complete 180 from where it was when I arrived just four years ago,” Griggs said. “It’s a true partnership. We need them and they need us. That wasn’t recognized prior but it is today and it’s creating opportunities for everyone.”
Fred Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at UConn, has no shortage of criticism for state economic policies, but he also recognizes positives in the evolving strategy. He credits the Lamont administration with having a stronger emphasis on cooperative efforts and new business creation as well as improving workforce development.
“It costs much less to grow companies here than to try and recruit new ones,” Carstensen said. “I think they have been more alert to that.”
Carstensen also praised a shift toward policies that are open to companies universally, and away from one-off deals.
Individually, incentives like the $22 million given to hedge fund giant Bridgewater Associates in 2018 made financial sense, Carstensen said. But they also bred bitterness among similar companies that didn’t benefit from such sweeteners.
“Why wasn’t any hedge fund in Connecticut or who wanted to be located in Connecticut given the same deal?” Carstensen asked.
In June, state lawmakers codified the Lamont administration’s new earn-as-you-grow tax incentive strategy, which replaces up-front grant payments to growing businesses with more targeted longer-term tax breaks.
Under the JobsCT program, companies may earn rebates against their insurance premiums and/or corporation business and pass-through entity taxes if they create and maintain at least 25 new positions over a certain number of years. All companies in the finance, insurance, manufacturing, clean energy, bioscience, technology and digital media industries are eligible for the incentives if they meet program eligibility requirements.
Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said the move away from individual corporate incentives to broadly available policies has been “a welcome change for our membership.”
“Many board members were discouraged by the recruiting from out-of-state, giving lots of money to come here and not paying attention to companies in the state, not giving them the resources to grow,” DiPentima said.