Middletown Officials To Review Metro Square Study Monday

MIDDLETOWN — A redeveloped Metro Square could support 400 new units of upscale housing and 60,000 square feet of retail space, according to a market study submitted to the city by a developer.

A complete overhaul of the site, which includes the movie theater, the auto body shop on deKoven Drive, the city's parking garage and several other buildings on the site, could put retail on the ground level with apartments and commercial office space on upper levels, according to the developers.

With a major redevelopment effort, Metro Square could be similar to Blue Back Square in West Hartford.

The report by Middletown-based Centerplan Companies and New York-based Leyland Alliance is not a proposal yet, but outlines a proposal for how future development could look.

"Ultimately what people need to take away is this is the first attempt at trying to think this through," said Planning Director Michiel Wackers." It's still a blank canvas and an opportunity for the city of Middletown to think about what's appropriate on these two underutilized blocks."

The common council will hold two workshops at city hall on Monday night – one at 6 p.m. to go over designs for a planned new parking garage and the other at 7 p.m. to review the Centerplan/Leyland study.

The Metro Square area, nestled between Main Street and deKoven Drive on the west and east, and Court Street Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the north and south, is a little under 8 acres.

Most of the property at Metro Square is privately owned, but the city controls the parking garage site that officials see as the catalyst to encouraging private residential and commercial development.

City officials plan to ask the council to see approval on funding for a new garage with a referendum question on the November ballot.

Parking Director Geen Thazhampallath said his department is still calculating costs with its engineering firm, but an initial price estimate for a new four-story, 650-space garage is about $20 million. The city has a $6.98 million federal grant available for the garage project.

"What's encouraging about this concept is not just having a developer's idea," Thazhampallath said. "Their market study showed them it's a viable option. We're not talking about a dream scenario here, we're talking about a possibility that could become reality."

The city hired the two firms to do the study earlier this year for $60,000. Other bids for the project were for about $25,000, but the economic development commission chose the Leyland/Centerplan team because of the extensive market study they included in their bid.

"It's not just about Metro Square, it's about all of downtown," said Mayor Daniel Drew. "Building a new parking garage will enhance the potential of our downtown. We're at the precipice of moving to the next level."

Drew said growth in the city's core will add to the tax base, and said adding market-rate housing, retail and corporate office space will have huge benefits.

Downtown residential development on this scale has not been proposed by the private sector since the 1960s, when a redevelopment plan that ultimately failed included 1,000 units of housing on the Metro Square site.

"The thing I find very impressive is the market study that was done as part of this," he said. "The developer is recommending 400 units of housing and 60,000 square feet of retail space and if the market can support that it shows Middletown is doing the right things."

Centerplan/Leyland has submitted one of the bids for a new baseball stadium and related development in downtown Hartford. Leyland was the primary developer behind the Storrs Center project at the University of Connecticut, and Centerplan is developing a $50 million mixed-use project in New Haven.

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