Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Group of developers takes control of Amerbelle Mill site in Vernon

By John Kennedy
Journal Inquirer
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 1:04 AM EDT

VERNON — After 15 years of ownership by a nonprofit group, control of the Amerbelle Mill complex has been transferred to a group of developers with experience in comparable projects.

According to Gary Wolff, president of the Hockanum Industrial Development and Venture Corp., his organization has granted control of the properties at 5 Brooklyn St. and 104 E. Main St. to Bridgeport Funding Alliance LLC.

“We believe the developer’s commitment to tackling several challenges that are currently adversely affecting the property is in the best interest of the town,” Wolff said, adding that the developers involved are familiar with adaptive reuse projects of similar magnitude.

Wolff said more information about the plans for the complex would be made available by the developer at the appropriate time.

The property, which includes buildings dating to the 1860s, was most recently occupied by Amerbelle Textiles and Challenge Sailcloth. Amerbelle closed in August and Challenge Sailcloth moved out this fall.

Since word of Amerbelle’s closing was received in June, Wolff said the nonprofit has been searching for a new use for the property. Shaun Gately, town economic development coordinator, said he also has taken numerous potential owners through the property in an attempt to find a use for the properties.

On Sept. 18, the Town Council unanimously approved Mayor George F. Apel’s request for $75,000 to secure and winterize the 250,000-square-foot complex, which he said was an issue of public safety.

“The most significant danger with an abandoned mill is that of a fire caused by trespassers,” Apel said. “We have to do something to secure this building over the winter and keep it as safe as possible.”

Fire Marshal Ray Walker said that even though the 14 buildings are bounded by streets, many were built close to one another, which makes some areas impossible to reach with fire and emergency equipment. Additionally, one side of the complex is bordered by a pond, which cuts off access entirely.

Apel also said that public danger is heightened “tenfold” by the mill’s location on the Hockanum River, because a collapse could result in portions of the buildings falling into the river and pond, which could have an immediate and negative impact on the flow of the river.

“A building like that, because it’s stone and brick on the outside, is going to burn on the inside and it’s going to collapse,” Apel said.

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