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Winchester Factory Re-Do Gets Green Light

by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 8, 2010 2:37 pm

(10) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Dixwell

(Updated) A plan to renovate the long-abandoned Winchester factory cleared a final hurdle, with new promises of affordable housing and permanent jobs for neighbors.

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to approve a measure that will allow for the development of the former Winchester Repeating Arms Company at Winchester Avenue and Munson Street. The old factory (pictured) will be converted into a mixed-use building of offices, apartments, and retail spaces. Its first tenant is New Haven’s own high-tech darling Higher One.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoDeveloper Carter Winstanley (pictured) is undertaking the project along with the Science Park Development Corporation and the Forest City Enterprises development company.

Tuesday evening’s vote came at the end of a series of sometimes contentious public hearings on the plan. The proposal met with blowback at a meeting of the City Plan Commission in July. Community leaders spoke out against a perceived lack of neighborhood input and employment opportunities associated with the project.

Aldermen took those factors into consideration when the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation Committee heard the proposal later in July. They expressed reservations about traffic, jobs, and local input, but passed the item onto the full board anyway.

When it came up for a final vote on Tuesday evening, the proposal was accompanied by a couple of new letters addressing the issues of jobs and housing. Those letters came from Carolyn Kone, the attorney for the developers. They promise efforts to find permanent jobs for local residents and set aside affordable housing in the new development. The proposal was also revised to allow bars only with special permission.

Aldermen praised those changes on Tuesday evening. “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that through this process we have a better outcome,” said Newhallville Alderman Charles Blango.

Edgewood Alderman Marcus Paca stood “in strong support” of the plan. “It shows New Haven is on the rebound,” he said. The city is still building and expanding, he said.

Aldermen voted unanimously to pass the proposal.

“It’s great,” said David Silverstone, head of the board at the Science Park Development Corporation, after the vote. He said he was very pleased to have unanimous aldermanic support.

He said he was also pleased to “work hard on the jobs issue.” That work resulted in attorney Kone’s letter to the Board of Aldermen, in which she lays out a commitment to reach out to the surrounding community to publicize job openings at Higher One and to assists applicants in applying for those jobs or obtaining the necessary qualifications. That work will be done by the Science Park Development Center’s Job Center.

Kone also wrote that the developers have committed to making construction jobs available to New Haven residents and minorities.

Silverstone mentioned that developers will also be cooperating with the Contractor’s Alliance—newly installed nearby the factory—to find local construction workers and develop a “pipeline” between employers in the development and residents of Dixwell/Newhallville looking for jobs.

A second letter from Kone states that 20 percent of residential units at the new development will be set aside for people whose income is less that 50 percent of the area median income.

Silverstone said he didn’t know if failure to meet the conditions laid out in the letters would result in penalties of any kind.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Silverstone said. The project still needs some final regulatory approval, including a site plan approval, he said. Final contracts have to be signed with prospective tenants and construction companies.

Work will begin late December or early January, Silverstone said. The entire project will take 12 months and cost “north of $40 million,” he said.

In a Wednesday morning press conference at the shuttered factory, Mayor John DeStefano celebrated the Tuesday night’s approval with local aldermen and representatives of the developers. Contacted later by phone, DeStefano said several things struck him about the moment.

First, the change in building use from factory to financial services mirrors the change in New Haven’s economy. “We still make things, just different things.”

Second, the revitalization of the factory marks a reconnection of Newhallville with the city. When he became mayor, a large section of Winchester Avenue was close, because of safety concerns, DeStefano said.

“I just think that getting the building back into active use will be a huge benefit to the community,” DeStefano said.

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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 8, 2010  3:58pm

I think it’d be more desirable if the project was to convert nearly all of the salvageable space at Winchester to commercial office, light manufacturing and assembly space with perhaps a small residential component. Instead of trying to make a large part of the Winchester complex residential, that effort should be redirected towards the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. There is enormous potential for development in the southern blocks of Newhallville where, in the early 1990s, the foreclosure crisis lead to mass demolition of buildings and subsequent decay of others, which has continue to the present.
The existing housing stock in the two adjacent neighborhoods is infinitely better than anything that could be developed inside the factory complex. The vacant lots in these neighborhoods also create immense opportunity for newer, higher quality homes in the model of Orange Street in East Rock or southern Howard Ave in the Hill. The existing housing is certainly great, well constructed and decently designed but it may not be adequate for business owners that we may hope to attract to the neighborhood, which is why new construction would be an important part.
Large apartment building housing is very rigid and unchanging, which can lead to problems of losing residents as their demands change and their families grow. The building stock in Newhallville, however, is made up of one of the most adaptive building types in the world, perhaps only behind the San Fransisco townhouse. These houses have the potential of retaining diverse populations and changing to accommodate demographic shifts to a degree that is unimaginable in an apartment or condo building setting. For instance, a 2.5 story house with a 9 foot high basement, has the capability of being a very large single family house, a fairly large owner occupied house with a basement and/or first floor rental apartment, a land lord-owned 2 to 4 apartment house, or a apartment house with a ground floor office or retail space AND each of these buildings can typically occupy only 40-60% of the building lot, which leaves lots of room for a usable backyard for kids, gardens, patios, sheds, building additions, or private agricultural space. The density of the neighborhood is not too great that privacy and space are sacrificed, but it is great enough to support stores that can provide low-skill service jobs to the existing population since the companies most likely to go into the Winchester factory will be hiring high-skill professionals with perhaps a few exceptions that can probably only be attracted through incentives.
If New Haven ever hopes to attract the middle class back, we need to focus development on adaptive building types that can provide for young people, couples, growing families and elderly populations. We cannot remain dependent on Yale development, which ironically often results in the destruction of the very things we need to invest in, nor can we rely on big development projects like 360 State, which in the long term do a terrible job at retaining residents and attract diverse groups of people. The key to New Haven’s future vitality will be in how we provide for the average citizen, and how we support neighborhoods of diversity in terms of income, age and background.

posted by: cba on September 8, 2010  4:10pm

This proposal is a lot of fluff and no substance. Its does not detail any firm commitment of any manufacturing company to come in and hire residents for a livable wage on a long terms basis to produce products that will be sold elsewhere.  The foremost need today is jobs not housing. If there are new jobs, housing will automatically follow not vice versa

posted by: robn on September 8, 2010  5:42pm

Wow,

For a project of that size (it must be at least a half million square feet) and some serious environmental remediation, $40M doesn’t seem like a lot of money (80 bucks a foot).

posted by: Joseph Covington on September 8, 2010  11:50pm

This is great news.  Congratulations to all parties involved.

posted by: Pedro Soto on September 9, 2010  8:56am

There is a significant amount of environmental remediation to take place on the site. Mr. Silverstone (who represents Science Park and not the developers) is a little optimistic. I think that at best Higher One will be looking to move in 12-14 months into the building, but the rest of the structure will largely be vacant and still under development by then.

Robn, historic tax credits are also helping fund this project, which helps offset the pretty massive environmental remediation. The best part about the environmental remediation is that it is also improving the local environment by pulling out tons of impacted soil which was affecting the local groundwater.

My math is a little bit different than yours, by my calculation it’s a development cost of about $266 per square foot ($40M @ 150,000 sq ft). The 700,000 square foot figure I believe is the entire size of the Science Park complex.

Jonathan, I agree with you 100% about the need to look at New Haven’s housing stock as a developable resource, but I still think that Science Park should go through. The developers are actually approaching this entire project with a market-based approach, without ultimately a fixed amount of residential or retail. If there is no market for residential, the majority of the building will be commercial.

Light manufacturing just wouldn’t work in the building, although it might in other structures in science park. As someone who works with a (heavy) manufacturer, manufacturing needs are totally different than they were 100 years ago. You need wide open spaces and flat single story buildings, or at the very least long loading docks for your trucks to go in. Look at how Sargent and Winchester moved into single-story buildings in the 50’s-80’s. The buildings became outdated for their use. Manufacturers are pretty pragmatic. We still use machines built in the early 1920.

There is a significant amount of environmental remediation to take place on the site. Mr. Silverstone (who represents Science Park and not the developers) is a little optimistic. I think that at best Higher One will be looking to move in 12-14 months into the building, but the rest of the structure will largely be vacant and still under development by then.

Robn, historic tax credits are also helping fund this project, which helps offset the pretty massive environmental remediation. The best part about the environmental remediation is that it is also improving the local environment by pulling out tons of impacted soil which was affecting the local groundwater.

My math is a little bit different than yours, by my calculation it’s a development cost of about $266 per square foot ($40M @ 150,000 sq ft). The 700,000 square foot figure I believe is the entire size of the Science Park complex.

Jonathan, I agree with you 100% about the need to look at New Haven’s housing stock as a developable resource, but I still think that Science Park should go through. The developers are actually approaching this entire project with a market-based approach, without ultimately a fixed amount of residential or retail. If there is no market for residential, the majority of the building will be commercial.

Light manufacturing just wouldn’t work in the building, although it might in other structures in science park. As someone who works with a (heavy) manufacturer, manufacturing needs are totally different than they were 100 years ago. You need wide open spaces and flat single story buildings, or at the very least long loading docks for your trucks to go in. Look at how Sargent and Winchester moved into single-story buildings in the 50’s-80’s. The buildings became outdated for their use. Manufacturers are pretty pragmatic. We still use machines built in the early 1920.

What you describe about Newhallville is essentially East Rock as it currently stands. It’s a mix of single and multiple family with access to three local food stores, not counting the shops on state street.
Many of the people work downtown or go so school at Yale and walk, bike or use mass transit to get to work.

I agree that the city and perhaps even the state should be offering homeowner incentives for people to live near where they work. It’s an absolute farce that 90% of New Haven workers live outside of the city (although that fact also speaks towards regionalization as having to be a major priority of the next gov.  administration)


What you describe about Newhallville is essentially East Rock as it currently stands. It’s a mix of single and multiple family with access to three local food stores, not counting the shops on state street.
Many of the people work downtown or go so school at Yale and walk, bike or use mass transit to get to work.

I agree that the city and perhaps even the state should be offering homeowner incentives for people to live near where they work. It’s an absolute farce that 90% of New Haven workers live outside of the city (although that fact also speaks towards regionalization as having to be a major priority of the next gov.  administration)

There are issues of crime and poverty that need to be addressed, and there will be resistance and cries of gentrification as areas get more diverse, but it’s a necessary transition. The most successful and vibrant urban communities are those that don’t have the stark racial and economic boundaries that this city currently has.

I think the city could do far worse than essentially proposing “East Rock for the rest of us.”

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 9, 2010  3:47pm

Pedro,
Great post.
The housing stock between Orange and State Street in East Rock is essentially the same housing stock that makes up Newhallville-both are workforce housing areas built around factories. I just see it as a matter of time before Newhallville becomes the next East Rock, all the infrastructure is already in place-the buildings, the streets, the sewers, the utilities, the building lots-a plan just has to be conceptualized.
I am not very knowledgeable about manufacturing needs, but I do know that there are factories currently operating in China that are multi-story and that produce goods that we use here in the US. I also think that the facility layout changes for companies like Sargent Co. were also influenced by tax breaks, and incentives that allowed them to build sprawling complexes on cheap land with elaborate HVAC systems, and the design of the building was not necessarily the most efficient. For several decades after WW2, we could afford to make really idiotic decisions about the layout of our buildings and our living arrangement, so in other words, I’m suggesting that perhaps you’re argument could also be made for housing-people have different needs than they did a century ago and so the layout for typical new housing is necessary and we cannot go back to the styles of a previous time. I have a feeling that if land were more expensive and in high demand, people could figure out a way to do manufacturing in vertical buildings by using elevators, lifts and cranes. Even still, sections of the Winchester plant have enormous floor areas, these are not tiny buildings.
I am also confused by most people’s understanding of gentrification. It is completely unnecessary to kick poor people out of areas. There is some kind of weird assumption made with gentrification that we cannot have mixed income neighborhoods. Afterall, the owners of the Winchester factory lived two blocks from the workers. There are plenty of models to look at and learn from in order to create self-sustaining neighborhoods.
http://luciensteil.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/kentlands1.corner.450.jpg
This shows a half million dollar house around the corner from a modest town house and there is a $500/month studio apartment above the garage of the mansion. This is just one example, of which there are thousands of ways to accommodate all income levels with each other desirably. The income segregation based on neighborhood of the last 60 years is the exception of industrial history, not the rule.

posted by: Threefifths on September 9, 2010  4:35pm

Keep trusting this corporate Developer vampires.Bottom line this is what is going to be the real deal for that area.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100624/REAL_ESTATE/100629905

posted by: kevin on September 10, 2010  4:11pm

@Jonathan

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that you live nowhere near New Haven after your first post. There is a ton of commercial, light manufacturing, and assembly space on the market in New Haven and the suburbs that has been empty for years. As Pedro notes, the developer is taking a market-based approach to the project and believes that he can rent apartments.I suspect he knows more about this market than you or I do.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 10, 2010  6:14pm

Kevin,
This project is going to take decades to complete. The market is nearly completely irrelevant. We need to look at the long term needs of the community and figure out a way to provide those needs in an economically desirable need. Furthermore, if there is a demand for housing, then look no further than the surrounding blocks of the factory, there are plenty of vacant lots, and abandoned buildings to satisfy any housing needs, there is no reason to turn a factory into condos.
Companies are not going to move in all within a matter of a few days of each other, like Pedro suggests, the buildings will be rehabbed in phases, not in one shot.
What I’m suggesting isn’t going against markets, it is simply broadening the geographic area of where the market needs can be met, why focus on just one block?

posted by: Reality Strikes on September 11, 2010  10:59pm

As i read the comments of mr. hopkins, its obvious he has great theoretical ideas in transforming cities.  The practical reality of some of his ideas happening unfortunately have little chance, unless he’s got significant capital he’s willing to risk to implement some of his ideas. 

What’s happening to the winchester site is a complete score for the neighborhood, let alone the city.  If not for the idealistic minds of some of the founders of higher one, this company would undoubtedly be moving to a suburban location and bringing with it hundreds of jobs.  There is currently low vacancy rates in existing office space in new haven (there’s no one location that could house higher one’s needs), but office rental rates aren’t high enough to attract developers to risk building new office buildings. 

Without the commitment from higher one to remain in new haven, this site could very well sit for another 20 years before its developed.  Housing is a component of it because new haven is one of the few cities in this state that has the rental rate structure (driven by market demand) to allow for new development to make any kind of economic sense (without major subsidies beyond historic tax credits—-see downtown hartford for proof of that).  Without having reviewed the overall economics on the project, its probably a good guess that without proceeding with the residential portion of this, the office development would have a marginal profit (see comments above) and thus wouldn’t make sense to do.

Let’s not be naive, this project won’t in of itself solve the problems of Newhallville, nor should it be burdened by trying to fix 40 years of poverty.  What this project will hopefully do is bring some life to some neighboring areas that prompts some of the blighted properties to be fixed up and occupied by those looking for opportunities in less expensive neighborhoods like newhallville.  Maybe this brings some more middle income folks to the area helping to improve the socioeconomic impact to the neighborhood.  It all comes down to crime though.  if people feel like they will get mugged if they walk down the street at night, then if they have the option, they aint moving to the neighborhood——there’s a lot of issues to contend with…but getting winchester redeveloped in almost any fashion is positive. 

As for manufacturing, it’s not coming back to new haven in a form that would be beneficial.  Manufacturers that are successful in CT use significant amounts of high tech machinery that lowers employee counts significantly.  Its only beneficial to the city because of personal property taxes they pay.

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