Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Marmer: major renovation projects starting to 'percolate'

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 8, 2007

VERNON - Two major contracts for long-awaited renovations of historical properties - Town Hall third floor and Roosevelt Mills - should be finalized and signed within the next two days, town officials say.

Mayor Ellen L. Marmer announced the imminent signing at Tuesday's Town Council meeting, saying work should begin shortly on the two projects.

"Everything is starting to percolate along," Marmer said.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said the contract for the $1.4 million third-floor Town Hall renovation project will be signed on Friday, with a bulk of the funds coming from state grants.

The project has been in the works for years, with designs completed in 2003. Construction work went out to bid last year, but only two developers responded, each with costly proposals of $1.7 million, Clark said.

"We asked them both if they could scale it back," and Branford developer A. Secondino was able to get its bid down to $1,406,131, Clark said.

The developer was able to bring costs down by not using steel for the metal balcony and replacing two large rooftop air conditioning units with smaller equipment that will be installed in individual spaces, Clark said.

Now largely vacant, the newly renovated third floor is expected to house new offices for the mayor and town administrator, a new Town Council chamber, and a public gallery.

Once complete, officials will turn their attention to renovating the other two floors in Town Hall, also known as the Memorial Building.

Town Hall was constructed in 1889 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To fund the third-floor project the town will use $233,000 from a LOCIP, or Local Capital Improvements grant, and a $1.2 million state Historical Preservation grant.

The dollar balance from the contract and the grants will be used for contingency funds, Clark said.

Meanwhile, the contract for Roosevelt Mills is scheduled for signing at 6 p.m. Thursday.

That contract is basically a three-part agreement between the town and Westport-based Loom City Lofts LLC that calls for withdrawal of town property liens on the mills, effectively transferring ownership from the town to the private developer, as well as reducing assessment values and granting tax abatement.

Under the town's recently adopted Blight Ordinance, developers improving distressed properties at costs of $10 million or more are eligible for a 100 percent reduction of increased assessment for a period of no more than 25 years.

Plans call for developer Joseph Vallone to convert the abandoned mills, at 215 East Main St., into apartments, offices, and retail commercial space.

In April 2007 the state Bond Commission released $1.5 million to help fund the conversion, which is expected to cost in excess of $13 million.

Vallone also secured financing from Prudential Financial, with approval for roughly $10 million in loan guarantees from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Developers expect to begin construction in November and complete the project by February 2009.

Built in 1906, the Roosevelt Mill manufactured textiles until the mid-20th century. The now abandoned 5.94-acre site consists of three buildings, the largest of which is the five-story, 83,000-square-foot main building. It overlooks the Snipsic Reservoir and offers a spectacular view of the waterfall that flows into the Hockanum River.

Two smaller buildings, the Boiler House and Dye Building, will be demolished, opening up the area and allowing passers-by to view the historic waterfalls.

The smokestack on the Boiler House will survive, however, serving as the complex marquee once it's refurbished.

Loom City Lofts intends to construct 68 apartments - with ceiling heights of 13 feet and expansive windows - on the upper floors, while the entire 10,500-square-foot first-floor will be occupied by offices, retail, or medical use.

A community "waterfall garden" will be created in the exterior common space, with natural rock outcroppings, paved walking paths, indigenous plants and trees, and bench seating.

The project also will repair the circa-1906 masonry river dam.

Vallone has been interested in renovating the site since 2000, but chemical contamination of the former industrial site has been an obstacle. The town last year completed the third series of environmental tests at the site, and construction can now begin.

The main mill building set for conversion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

At its high point in the mid-1970s, the factory employed about 250 workers, but in 1988 the company abruptly closed after workers - who had been unpaid for three weeks - walked off the job.

©Journal Inquirer 2007