Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Work begins to convert old Heartland site to fitness center, retail space

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
August 8, 2006

VERNON - Renovations have begun on the long-blighted site of the former Heartland Food Warehouse on Talcottville Road.

Construction equipment was visible outside the 39,400-square-foot building last week, along with signs advertising the soon-to-be renovated plaza, which will become home to a fitness center and several retail stores.

Peter Rusconi, owner of Cardio Express at 234 Talcottville Road, plans to move his fitness center a mile down the road to the former Heartland grocery store location at 425 Talcottville Road.

Cardio Express operates fitness centers in Manchester, Vernon, Wethersfield, and Southington.

Rusconi opened his first fitness center in Vernon in 1995.

The newly renovated plaza, which will be known as "The Shoppes at Eastview," will contain about 24,000 square feet of retail space in addition to the newly relocated fitness center, which will be about 16,000 square feet, Rusconi said Monday.

Rusconi said he was trying to attract several nationally known stores to the site, which will feature glass storefronts and a façade with a green-colored roof.

Exterior renovations are expected to be completed by late fall with the fitness center moving in at the beginning of next year, Rusconi said.

The retail portion of the building will front Talcottville Road, while the fitness center will be located toward the rear of the building.

"We're putting a whole new face on it," said Rusconi, who now owns the building. "It's really going to be a beautiful building."

Rusconi said the new fitness center would be about 4,000 square feet larger than the current location and would contain additional exercise equipment, a state-of-the-art locker room, and a juice bar.

As part of the rehab project, a vacant building that once housed a liquor store will be demolished and the plaza will be extended to fill that space, Rusconi said.

A dry cleaning business that is housed in the main plaza building will be moved to a newly renovated storefront, Rusconi said.

Although he would not give the exact cost of the renovations, Rusconi said the cost of the work would be well over $1 million.

In addition to new facades, the renovated plaza is expected to feature a series of traffic improvements to facilitate vehicles entering and exiting the site.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said the start of renovations is an important step in rehabbing the long-blighted building.

"I'm very excited about it getting back on the tax rolls in a positive way," Marmer said. "I'm excited to get a blighted property up and running and not only have a positive use, but a positive look."

Economic Development Director Neil S. Pade said he was also pleased by Rusconi's decision to invest in the long-forgotten building.

"Everybody who lives in town drives past that building on most days and it was in a derelict state," Pade said. "It's going to be a very desirable property economically and aesthetically."

Heartland moved to the Talcottville Road building, a former A & P, in 1979. The supermarket closed in April 1991, and the building has been mostly vacant since.

For about 12 years after Heartland's closure, the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. held a lease on the building.

But when that lease expired in 2004, Rusconi said, he moved immediately to make a bid on the property.

©Journal Inquirer 2006