Starting Aug. 1, Wooster Square residents will have a new neighbor on Water Street offering 200 self-storage units, upwards of 69 rental vans, 25 new jobs — and some bike racks and a hydration station — at a refurbished factory that has been vacant for the past three years.
Representatives of U-Haul made that pitch to over a dozen Wooster Square neighbors on Wednesday night during a community meeting held at the New Light School on Wooster Place.
Organized by Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, the meeting focused on U-Haul’s imminent plans for the old C. Cowles Company factory building at 83 Water St., a historic manufacturing site that U-Haul’s parent company Americo purchased for $6,000,000 in August 2016 after the city’s plans to bring in 200 new apartments with developer Randy Salvatore fell through over environmental remediation concerns.
The gathered followed up on a somewhat contentious meeting in July 2016 in which disappointed neighbors expressed their concerns about the 170-year-old site being taken over by a truck-rental company. Wednesday night’s meeting found neighbors receptive to U-Haul’s promises to restore and re-use the existing five-story building, as opposed to tearing it down; and to provide neighborhood jobs, bike racks, an electric car charging station, and retail or office space in the areas of the building not taken up by self-storage units.
“We want to keep a lot of the [building’s] historic characteristics, the past characteristics, and not turn it into a big metal storage building,” U-Haul District Vice President Levi Parmerter told the neighbors. “It’s going to have some character to it as you’ve seen over the years. Hopefully we can clean it up and make it a beautiful site for you.”
He said that the five-story building at Water Street and Chestnut Street would allow for 800 to 1,000 self-storage units ranging from five-by-five feet to 10 by 10 feet, but that U-Haul planned on launching with only 200 storage units in August to gauge just how much demand there is in the area. The facility will be open to customers from seven a.m. to seven p.m.
Parmerter also said that U-Haul plans to open a “mobility center” in the site’s single-story building that would allow for car and small-truck rentals. He said that the lot has a capacity to hold 69 cars or small-trucks, the largest of which would be 34 feet long, but that neighbors should not expect to see the site at capacity very often considering how there are already two other existing U Haul rental stations in New Haven, on Whalley Avenue and on State Street.
He said that the company plans to direct traffic for both its truck rental and self-storage business to the Water Street and Chestnut Street intersection, so as to avoid adding to any car congestion on Wooster Street.
Parmerter said that neighbors should expect the new U-Haul site to generate 31 to 50 automobile trips on the average weekday, and 51 to 70 on the average weekend. He said that, in comparison, hotels tend to generate around 905 automobile trips on a daily basis.
“It’s going to much less traffic than you saw when C. Cowles was operating,” he said, noting that U-Haul cars and trucks are significantly smaller than the tractor trailers that would regularly arrive and depart from the old manufacturer.
“Typically, our storage customers come and load their stuff into our building, wait three to nine months, and then come back and pick it up,” said U-Haul Marketing Company President Patrick Keefe. “It’s not like they’re visiting their sweaters on a weekly basis.”
Wooster Square resident Brian Ardon asked about the company’s beautification plans for the site.
“I walk my dog on Chestnut Street every day, and it’s a hot mess right there,” he said. “It’s dirty. There’s broken glass.”
Parmerter, Keefe and Americo construction manager Justen Dutra said that U-Haul plans extensive safety and beautification efforts for the site, ranging from fixing up the surrounding buckled sidewalk to fixing broken windows to shoring up masonry chunks to replacing a dilapidated chai-link fence with a wrought-iron fence that matches that on a nearby property.
“This is a little bit of a tougher building,” Parmerter said. “It’s not just a clean canvas. But we do adaptive re-use of building. We try not to tear a lot down. We try to re-use as much of the building as we can.”
Dutra said that his construction team has already added new parking lights, an alarm system, and sprinklers to the building, and have replaced all of the windows on the Chestnut Street side. Over the next few months before the building’s opening in August, he said he plans to finishing fixing the glass on all the exterior windows, add energy saving lights to the interior, and firm up the building’s foundation.
Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg asked how many jobs U-Haul planned to create at the new site.
“Between 20 and 25,” Keefe said. “And we’re absolutely interested in hiring locally.”
“If it turns out that the building has 300 or 400 storage units, and the community doesn’t need anymore and there’s additional space, would it be possible to have other uses of that space?” Greenberg asked.
Parmerter said that U-Haul is currently preserving a small, street-front space on the Water Street side for a potential retail or office tenant. He said they are not actively looking for a tenant right now, because they don’t know exactly how much space they will be marking, but that they would love to bring in a coffee shop or some other small business to service the community.
Parmerter also said that U-Haul plans to add bike racks and a hydration station to the site, so as to encourage interested customers to bike to the location to rent a vehicle as opposed to driving. He said that they are open to adding an electric car charging station as well, if neighbors are interested in that.
After the meeting, Greenberg and city Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson confirmed that U-Haul was not the neighborhood’s first choice for a new tenant at the old C. Cowles site, but that they are being good neighbors and promise to bring a number of amenities that will be accessible to Wooster Square residents independent of their business of renting out storage space and small moving trucks.
“I’ve never had any problem with U-Haul as a company,” Nemerson said. “They have a great business model. I’m just kicking myself for losing the apartment deal.”
He said that his job is to get the maximum number of tax dollars for the city, and that, all things considered, U-Haul will be a good neighbor and a revenue-generator for the city.
Greenberg agreed. “This was not the neighbors’ first choice,” he said. “But this was a really good conversation.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch U-Haul’s entire presentation from Wednesday night.