Q: Why Did The Developer Cross The Road?

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA: To see if he could convert a second abandoned industrial edifice on James Street into a new mixed-use retail building.

That was the answer Tuesday morning for Jack Guttman, at least.

Guttman (pictured above checking out old bus-repair bays), representing Brooklyn’s Pearl Realty, showed up Tuesday morning to tour an old CT Transit building at 470 James St., near the corner of State Street.

He didn’t have far to travel. He just walked across the street from the old Robby Len swimsuit factory his company is rehabbing on the north side of James.

Pearl has transformed the building, once a trolley garage, into a workout mecca populated by Zumba, Cross-Fit, and Aikido studios, along with some retailers.

Guttman is considering doing the same at the old CT Transit building. He said he has more tenant demand than he can handle at the Robby Len factory.

Whether he’s willing to pick up 470 James will depend, he said, on “the numbers”—how much it will cost, and when it will be available.

The state owns the property, which was used as a bus garage until 2010. The state designated it a “brownfield” in need of environmental cleanup. As part of a jobs bill approved by the state legislature last October, the state chose five state-owned brownfields, appropriated $20 million for environmental cleanup at some or all of them, and planned to put them up for sale to private companies. One of those sites is 470 James.

On June 6, the state issued a request for proposals seeking developers to buy the five brownfields. Proposals are due Aug. 31. Guttman has not yet submitted a proposal, nor has anyone else, according to state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) engineer and permit ombudsman Maya Loewenberg.

The site is a 6-acre lot just off of I-91’s Exit 6. It contains a 185,000-square-foot brick building that once was a garage and service shop for a fleet of over 100 CT Transit buses. City appraisers pegged the fair market value at $5.6 million in last year’s revaluation.

Tuesday’s tour of the premises kicked off just after 10 a.m., with CT Transit’s Vic Marques acting as a tour guide for a group that included two staffers from the DECD, plus Guttman and Henry Katz, the manager at the Robby Len building.

“I can smell the hydro-carbon,” said Loewenberg as she peered in through the door of a massive garage space. Eight old diesel bus engines (pictured) stood in the corner.

Marques said the site needs a variety of environmental remediation work done. Some asbestos removal has already been completed, he said. He pointed out areas in the front offices (pictured) where asbestos had been taken out. In other places, asbestos pipe-linings were not removed, but simply wrapped to seal the harmful material from getting into the air.

The site also has some underground contamination, including heavy metals, Marques said. But that’s isolated to a few locations, he said.

Guttman asked about how and when the property would change hands between the state and the developer, and whether that might happen before the environmental clean-up is complete. Loewenberg said the site needs to be studied to determine the full extent of the remediation it needs. She said a phased-in process might be possible, with a developer taking control of a portion or portions of the site as they are cleaned up. The final legal details remain to be worked out and depend in part on the extent of environmental work that’s needed, she said.

As the tour progressed, more repair work became apparent. The roof will need to be replaced, Marques said. All the rafters are covered with lead paint. The huge boilers in the boiler room are covered with asbestos.

Don Friday, an environmental analyst with DECD, said it’s too soon to say how much it will cost to clean up the site. “It could be $500,000. It could by $2.5 million. I really don’t know.”

Guttman asked about the sale price, the property taxes. Loewenberg again had no answers. “We’re not realtors,” she said.

Guttman said he has found that appraisals tend to be high on abandoned buildings, since no one cares to contest them.

As the tour wrapped up, Guttman said the building presented similar challenges and opportunities as the former Robby Len factory. They’re both massive buildings that are “quite deep,” he said. They can be divided into smaller spaces for tenants, but the depth means that only some of the spaces will have exterior windows.

The CT Transit building has the advantage of lots of ground-floor drive-in access. Guttman said he has had to turn away some potential tenants across the street because he didn’t have that feature available for, say, carpenters who want to park their vans inside.

Following the tour, Guttman returned the favor by showing the group around the Robby Len building. He strolled down a tiled central corridor populated by a variety of fitness businesses.

“It was just a big, massive box,” when his company got it, Guttman said. The building needed “tremendous abatement,” he said.

Guttman showed off the renovation’s second phase, a second corridor of subdivided spaces (pictured) that he said he expects to be complete in a month.

Asked if his company might pick up the building across the road, Guttman said he needs to learn more about the costs involved. “I have to go back and think about it,” he said.

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posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 1, 2012  9:18am

I could be wrong but the building that he transformed was not the trolley garage (the building he is looking at was) the one he transformed was the National Folding Box & Paper Co (opened in 1891) maybe I am reading it wrong, if so sorry.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 1, 2012  9:57am

ok wait I love my maps

I just found this one in 1911

and indead it say it was a car barn I know that the james st. And the box company is on the other side of the tracks (I another map that says different. But I stand corrected by myself :)