Loom City Lofts project breaks ground in Vernon
By Suzanne Carlson
VERNON — Local officials broke ground Wednesday on a project to turn the Hockanum Mills complex on East Main Street into Loom City Lofts, a mix of residential and commercial space that is expected to open in 2012.
Developer Joseph Vallone first proposed the project in 2003, but the plan suffered setbacks over severe chemical contamination on the site and difficulty obtaining funding.
Vallone said the idea is moving forward thanks to a $1.2 million grant for demolition and cleanup of the site from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
“Quite frankly, without the grant this project wouldn’t have happened. The grant has been huge,” Vallone said.
Loom City Lofts will consist of 68 apartments with amenities such as a gym and community room, as well as 10,000 square feet of commercial space on the lower floors.
Plans include hiking trails and a garden to highlight the site’s waterfall, which has been hidden from view until recently when several smaller buildings on the site were demolished.
Vallone said demolition and cleanup work will be completed around June or July, after which he must wait for approval of a loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development that he hopes will be finalized by January.
After the loan is approved, Vallone said, construction on the mill can start, and renters should be able to step into their new apartments by the spring of 2012.
The cost of the entire project is expected to run about $13 million.
Mayor Jason L. McCoy was in court Wednesday and unable to attend the groundbreaking, but Town Administrator John Ward presided over the ceremony.
“On behalf of Mayor McCoy, this is an important time and an important step for this town,” Ward said.
Those in attendance included state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Amey Marrella, Town Engineer Terry McCarthy, former Mayor Edward Slattery, Town Council members Marie Herbst and Pauline Schaefer, Timothy Ackert of the Economic Development Commission, and Historical Society member Robert Hurd.
Obtaining funding for the project has been a major priority for Rep. Claire Janowski, who was unable to attend the ceremony because of the legislative session and requested Herbst read a letter on her behalf.
“Although I wish I could be there in person, it is heartening to know that the project is on its way and the $1 million state grant many of us fought so hard to acquire was used for the demolition work needed to initiate the project,” Janowski wrote.
Historian Ardis Abbott gave guests a brief history of the building, originally known as the Minterburn mill and later Hockanum Mills. Built in 1906, the building is one of the earliest examples of reinforced concrete construction in a mill and was designated a national historic site in 1984. It operated as a woolens mill until the late 1980s and has been vacant since.
Starting in 1989, when developers Richard Lee and Stephen Lamont first proposed building apartments on the 5.97-acre site, several mayoral administrations have heard various ideas for what to do with the blighted complex.
Over the last decade, plans for renovation have included turning the mill into condominiums, commercial space, fuel cell manufacturing, and even a 1999 proposal from a microbiology professor at the University of Connecticut for a fish research facility.
After all of the false starts and abandoned plans, however, it appears that this is the project that will finally stick.
“We’re very excited,” Vallone said, adding that he envisions Loom City Lofts as a fresh, green technology building with market-rate rents that will attract young people looking to move into their first place, and faculty and staff from UConn seeking a vibrant community atmosphere.
Vallone went on to say that the project’s numerous delays may be a good thing in light of the recent economic downturn, and he hopes Loom City Lofts will open just as things are starting to turn around for potential renters.
“I think we’ll have the right product at the right time when we arrive in 2012,” Vallone said.
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