Colony Hardware’s Out. Who’s In?
by Allan Appel | Feb 15, 2012 8:58 am
Posted to: Fair Haven
So long, overgrown weed patch. Hello, fresh soil, grass, and maybe even some flowers.
That’s one upshot of a new announcement: The Amerada Hess Corporation will cap the long-empty lot it polluted on River Street as early as the spring as the city seeks to pretty up the seven-and-a-half acre riverine parcel to attract a new suitor.
The announcement was made at the Tuesday morning meeting of the Development Commission, which oversees the progress of the $20 million plus River Street Municipal Development plan.
Economic Development Officer Helen Rosenberg (pictured) reported that Hess’s plan to cap the site, technically known as a RAP or Remedial Action Plan, should have final approval by the state and be on the way to implementation within 60 to 90 days.
“Hess has a plan to cap it so it doesn’t look like an overgrown lot,” she said.
Hess is paying for the clean-up of the site formally known as 100 River St. It had been working on the plan with the prospective developer Colony Hardware, which backed out of talks with the city in November..
According to Deputy Economic Development Director Tony Bialecki, the idea is to coordinate the capping with a prospective future builder on the lot, so unnecessary capping, uncapping, and excavation work isn’t done.
Since Colony backed out of its arrangement, the capping will be done with a new prospective tenant, if one is found in time.
That’s the ideal way to go about it, said Bialecki.
To that end, the city has reached out to several businesses in town who they know want to expand.
Bialecki and Rosenberg declined to identify those prospective businesses. Last week there was an informal, non-binding tour of the site attended by several businesses.
In addition an RFQ, or request for qualifications, has been sent out.
The RFQ is far less stringent than an RFP, or request for proposal, said Bialecki. The former tells the city that a developer has the chops to do a job, whereas the RFP has a specific plan including designs.
Bialecki said the RFQ is liable to attract a larger pool of interested parties and it leaves more room for the city to broker an arrangement.
Development Commission member Lawrence Morico asked Rosenberg why the Colony deal, on which she had worked for several years, fell apart.
The site, with its environmental mess is a challenge. Rosenberg said the reason was simply that there was a change in leadership at Colony, and the new folks did not keep the commitments of the old.
Bialecki ascribed it to the economy. Colony is planning to move its entire operation and the 100-plus jobs to Orange, where it is leasing space, not building.
He predicted it won’t be difficult to find a new business to move into the current facility on Alabama Street in the port district. “There is a lot of interest in the whole port area,” he said.
It would be ideal if 100 River St. attracted a tugboat company or a kayak maker, “some marine use,” said Bialecki.
In 2008, the City Plan Commission approved Colony’s plans, which included a river-view-obliterating building that also put an end to what had been called the Blatchley Avenue Extension. That notion, to run elegant Blatchley all the way down to the water bifurcating the 100 River St. site, was the casualty of all the jobs that Colony had offered.
While aesthetics and historical appropriateness continue to be considerations, Bialecki and Rosenberg stressed the importance of job creation.
If a new suitor emerges in response to the RFQ but has only ten employees, that might not cut it, he suggested. The main thrust of the development plan is to create investment and jobs, as long as public access is also maintained.
Public access at 100 River St. is already part of the municipal development plan, and in the works. The property is to be fronted on the water side by a 50-foot -wide public access walkway that will run from Criscuolo Park to Quinnipiac River Park. Part of the plan, it includes boat launches and fishing piers.
Rosenberg said bids are already out for storm drainage improvements and shoreline stabilizing along Lloyd Street.
“Piece by piece it’s coming together,” she said.
The 100 River St. site comes also with $2.5 million in state funds that have already been earmarked for stabilizing of the site. The funds will stay with the site and a new developer at least for the foreseeable future.
The RFQs are to be opened and the process of selection to begin on Feb. 28, said Rosenberg.
If a developer does not emerge in time, however, the capping will take place on the entire site this spring or summer, officials said. Rosenberg said she didn’t see any hitches in that forecast.
“DEEP has never been a problem. And Hess has been good about meeting their responsibility,” she said.
She said the capping will consist of soil topped with grass. They may even throw in some flowers. “It’s going to look a lot better,” she said.
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