Rehabilitation work begins on Roosevelt Mills
By Jason Rowe
VERNON — The long-dormant Roosevelt Mills site on East Main Street is beginning to show signs of new life.
Environmental rehabilitation of the vacant property has begun, setting the stage for a Westport developer to convert the five-story, 83,000-square-foot building into 68 apartments.
Work on removing hazardous chemicals from the grounds began last week, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said today.
"Everything is moving along nicely," Marmer said.
Before construction of the $12 million to $14 million apartment project can begin, the town has to keep its promise to remove contaminants that have seeped into the ground around the site during years of industrial use.
The town has signed a $195,000 contract with the state to remove trichloroethylene from the soil and the water table surrounding the building, Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said during the summer. The state Department of Environmental Protection has approved the cleanup plan, he said.
The now-defunct Roosevelt Acquisition Inc., the owner of the mill property, owes the town roughly $800,000 in overdue taxes.
The tax lien has been transferred to the nonprofit Roosevelt Mills Redevelopment Project, which plans to foreclose on it after the cleanup is complete, taking ownership of the property.
The completion of the foreclosure process would trigger Val-lone's option to acquire the property from the nonprofit.
The costs of cleaning up the site, which could be as high as $800,000, are being funded through grants, including a $500,000 grant secured by U.S. Rep. Sam Gejden-son, D-2nd District, in 2000, shortly before he left office.
The process of reviving the abandoned mill started in 2002 when Vallone, who is an architect, came to Rockville looking for a historic building to revive.
The Roosevelt Mills project is the first foray into north-central Connecticut for Vallone, who has worked on a number of revitaliza-tion projects in New York City.
Before settling on the Rockville site, Vallone looked at properties in Norwich, Killingly, and New London.
Randy Anagnostis, the executive director of the Rockville Downtown Association, said today that the Roosevelt Mills site is important because it serves as a gateway to downtown.
New residents in downtown mean more potential customers for local businesses, Anagnostis said.
"I do see it as a very important piece in the future of downtown," he said, adding that the environmental cleanup is critical to the project's success. "Once that component is complete, the owners of the building have the ability to move forward with their renovation plan."
In addition to apartments, the building is expected to include 9,000 square feet of commercial space, which Vallone has said could house medical offices or a small fitness center.
Vallone has said he would like to complete the project by the end of next year, in time for the building's centennial celebration.
The site has been vacant since 1988, when the old textile mill shut down after workers walked off the job after three weeks of working without pay.
The main building was constructed in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The site contains two waterfalls, one of which passing motorists will be able to see after several outbuildings on the site are demolished.