Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Citizen's Block future in jeopardy

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
April 4, 2007

VERNON - Despite aggressive marketing and extension of a deadline, the town received no bids to renovate the dilapidated and historic downtown Citizen's Block building, which now faces an uncertain future that could include demolition.

"What this may be is a signal from the private sector, who is saying it's not cost effective for the amount of renovations versus the amount of revenue they'd receive," Christopher Clark, Town Administrator said today.

"This was the most viable approach to see what could be done with the building," Clark said of the effort to bring in private developers to restore the Citizen's Block while still retaining town ownership.

"Now we'll have to go back and explore and see what the options are, and make a recommendation to the Town Council and mayor over the next few months," Clark said.

Demolition may be among the options.

"We have to see if the building is viable, or should it be torn down, if that is even an available option," Clark said, referring to the building's historic designation.

Located on the corner of Park Place and Elm Street, next door to the senior center and two doors down from Town Hall, the 15,000-square-foot brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Constructed in 1879, the words Citizen's Block are embossed at the top front of the building, which formerly housed a post office, drug store, and a tailor shop. Its only tenant now is the Rockville Downtown Association.

Earlier this year the town put out a request for proposals that would have granted a private developer a 30-year lease for as little as $1, but no one attended the Feb. 20 walkthrough. The March 15 deadline was extended to the end of the month, and town officials began an aggressive advertising campaign directed at preservationists.

There was some activity, Clark said, adding that there were at least three interested parties, but by the March 29 closing date, there were no bids.

Located above Central Park in the heart of the downtown Rockville section, the three-story building's ground floor has windowed storefronts that officials were hoping to fill with retail shops or commercial businesses. They envisioned the two upper floors developed into office space or apartments, with town offices to be included in that area.

The entire structure has to be gutted and renovated and the cost would be significant. Environmental cleanup alone was estimated between $160,000 to $178,000 for remediation of hazardous materials.

Options Clark is considering include:

* Seeking grant money

* Having the town do some of the work, such as the environmental cleanup or putting in an elevator, making it more profitable for private developers who will take on the remainder of the work.

* Seeing if there is any potential town use for the building and have the town assume total responsibility and control of the renovation, funding it through a bonding package.

* Hiring a realtor to help market the building to the private sector.

* Consider demolition.

The town bought the building in 1998 for roughly $31,000 in order to maintain control of the three historic properties along Park Place.

In 2004 voters rejected by a vote of 5,716 to 4,965 most of a $37.6 million public improvement package that included a $9.6 million proposal to repair stonework at Fox Hill Tower, renovate all floors at Town Hall and the Citizen's Block building, replace Valley Falls Park bathrooms, and improve the animal shelter.

There was also an attempt in the past to seek grant money, but the paperwork was never filed, Clark said.

"We haven't given up yet," Clark said, adding that a realtor may be the town's best option for now.

He used 25 Range Hill Drive as an example.

In the 1960s the town took possession of the small empty lot in a residential neighborhood filled with cape cod and ranch-style homes. The property was up for auction twice and no one bid, Clark said.

In the last year, the town contracted with a realtor who was able to get the property sold for $5,000 more than the town council expected, he said.

A Manchester limited liability corporation, Red Dog Range, bought the property for $74,000 on March 7. They have already started to clear brush and plan to build a house on the lot, Clark said.

"It worked there - it just might work for Citizen's Block," he added.

©Journal Inquirer 2007