Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Council extends deadline for converting abandoned mill

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
September 22, 2006

VERNON - The Town Council has extended the deadline for a Westport-based developer to begin the planned conversion of the abandoned Roosevelt Mills complex on East Main Street into apartments and offices.

The council voted 11-0 Tuesday to give developer Joseph Vallone until Dec. 31, 2007 to exercise his option to purchase the five-story abandoned mill and begin construction.

The earlier agreement, which was extended in June, was set to expire at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the town has completed the third series of environmental tests at the site relating to the removal of contaminants there, and construction can begin once Vallone secures financing.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said Tuesday that Vallone is working to close a $1 million funding gap before starting work.

That money would be used to demolish several smaller buildings, which will not be included in the renovated complex.

Marmer said she and Vallone met with the town's state legislative delegation last week to discuss the possibility of using urban act funding to close the gap.

Vallone had originally hoped to open the rejuvenated building this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the structure's completion.

Already, Vallone has secured funding approval from Prudential Financial and has received approval for roughly $10 million in loan guarantees from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Town Administrator Christopher Clark wrote in a Sept. 1 memorandum to Marmer and council members.

Attempts to reach Vallone for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

Once the financing is secured, Vallone can begin transforming the 83,000-square-foot reinforced concrete structure into 68 market-rate apartments and 9,000 square feet of commercial space.

Vallone has already received approval from the town's Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands commissions.

In addition to securing the last bit of funding for the project, Marmer said Vallone is also working on securing state historic tax credits.

"We have to find another million and make sure we have the state tax credits by March," Marmer said, referring to the state deadline for obtaining the tax credits.

The process of converting the abandoned mill building began in the summer of 2002 when Vallone came to the Rockville section of town looking for a historic building to revitalize.

Vallone also looked at sites in Norwich, Killingly, and New London.

For Vallone, who is also an architect, the project represents his first foray into north-central Connecticut.

It is also one of the first projects where he has served as both architect and developer.

Vallone said the Roosevelt Mills site was desirable because of its concrete construction, which is fire proof and has held up well over time, preventing toxic chemicals from being absorbed into the actual structure.

Vallone has also said he likes the surrounding site, which includes two waterfalls, one of which passing motorists will be able to see once the smaller buildings are demolished.

Chemical contamination has been an obstacle for revitalizing the site, which has been in industrial use since 1834.

But those efforts received a boost in 2000 with a $500,000 grant secured by former U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-2nd District, shortly before he left office.

The main building was constructed in 1906 and is listed on the National Register or Historic Places.

At it's high point in the mid-1970s, the factory employed about 250 workers, but in 1988, the building abruptly closed after workers - left unpaid for three weeks - walked off the job.

©Journal Inquirer 2006