A local firm has received the city’s OK to pursue a project that would redevelop a downtown block with apartments, new office space and commercial development.
Paul Pizzo, president of Landmark Architects, made a presentation to the common council’s economic development committee Wednesday night that gave local officials a first look at a reuse of the area between Court Street and Dingwall Drive.
“What we’re trying to do right now is bring back people to live in the city and work in the city,” Pizzo said. “More businesses and more people are the lifeblood of a city.”
The plan would put 80 or more apartments at the corner of deKoven and Dingwall drives where Attention to Detail auto shop is now.
Behind it, Landmark would build a 120,000-square-foot commercial building facing Dingwall Drive on the current site of the city’s obsolete parking arcade. The building would provide high-quality office space, and more than 30,000 square feet would be set aside for restaurant and retail space.
Mayor Daniel Drew signed a memorandum of understanding with Landmark in August that allows the firm to look for potential tenants in an attempt to secure financing.
The agreement doesn’t commit the city to accepting a deal, but allows Landmark to eventually make a proposal that the common council could consider. The document serves as a commitment from the city that it is looking for a project in that location.
Drew said the site is “one of the most geographically important” parcels in the city.
City officials have been looking to replace the parking structure for at least five years, but without a major project to tie a new garage to they have held off on seeking voter approval for the expense.
“We can either build public parking there, or we can add it back on the tax rolls and still replace the parking,” Drew said. “This is a site that’s going to have to change in the next few years no matter what. The parking that exists there can’t just go on forever. We have to add value to downtown, and there’s a whole host of things we could bring in there. The sky’s the limit, and downtown is growing significantly.”
Landmark has an option to purchase the Attention to Detail lot, and Pizzo said he has been working toward a development there for about four years.
Incorporating the city’s parking structure in the plans more than doubles the amount of available space, he said. The two parcels are about 2.5 acres combined.
In the spring 2016 the city put out a request for proposals for mixed-use projects at the site, but got just one response early in the summer.
Councilman Gerald Daley, chairman of the economic development committee, said that one proposal relied heavily on federal money earmarked for a local transportation project — but a private developer would not be able to use that funding.
Pizzo’s concept includes about 750 parking spots — most of them accessible for public parking — on the lower levels of the site. A open park-like plaza would separate the buildings from the rear of the Superior Court building.
The state Department of Transportation is planning changes to Route 9 that would remove the troublesome traffic lights from the highway. A concept presented last year included a walkway over Route 9 to provide pedestrian access to the riverfront.
The Landmark plan would incorporate that walkway and provide a continuous pedestrian path from Main Street to the Connecticut River.
Daley said the project has huge potential, and gives the city a potential project to fully evaluate in the future.
“It would be a significant economic benefit in terms of adding downtown office and residential space, which would generate tax revenue and allow us to create a significant number of jobs in the downtown area,” Daley said.
A mixed-use development would turn an underutilized block into an economic engine for the city, he said.
“It’s early in the process but we’ve got to test the market place,” Daley said. “There’s a lot of interest in doing something in Middletown right now.”