Story By John Murray
Facebook messages, e-mails, phone calls and personal conversations have all been saying the same thing - the City of Waterbury is about to buy the Republican-American building on Meadow Street and convert it back into the transportation hub of Waterbury.
The first tip to the Observer came six weeks ago, and came from a journalist who had a credible source with extensive experience in economic development in greater Waterbury. The word was it was a "done deal."
And it made a lot of sense. The Republican-American newspaper is now printed in Springfield, Massachusetts, and no longer needs a production facility to print its product. The daily newspaper, like almost all newspapers across the country, is faced with declining revenue and declining readership. Now would appear to be a great time to reconfigure their business model and downsize to a much smaller building in Waterbury. And by selling the former Union Station back to the city it would allow Waterbury to design a master plan for a transportation center that could include Jackson Street, Freight Street, Meadow Street and the stunning train station itself.
The Observer went to Mayor Neil O'Leary in early October and directly asked if the city was about to buy the Rep-Am building, and he said he had had no conversations with Bill Pape (the publisher and editor of the newspaper) about the subject.
But the tips continued to come into the Observer. On election night in O'Leary headquarters a political insider confirmed that the deal was emminent and that the Rep-Am was going to relocate to a building on the Green.
To further lend credibility to the story was the news that the city of Waterbury recently bought a six-story office building at 36 North Main Street, right on the Green. Radio host Steve Gambini talked about the city's purchase of 36 North Main and openly wondered on WATR radio what the city had in store for the building.
The office building at 36 North Main Street is now owned by the city.
The Observer went back to O'Leary and asked again if the city was going to buy the Rep-Am building and help the newspaper relocate to 36 North Main Street. O'Leary confimed that the news about the impending deal had gone "viral", but that it was "not true."
"I have had no discussions with the Republican-American about the city of Waterbury buying their building," O'Leary said. "It's simply not true."
The mayor said he believes the rumor started a year ago when he came back from an urban design conference in Kentucky. He said design consultants asked about the long-term plan for the building and wondered if the city might be able to one day regain ownership.
"When I returned from the conference I gave a briefing at the Chamber of Commerce and I mentioned that we had discussed the Rep-Am building. I mentioned the concept to Will Pape (who is the current president of the Chamber of Commerce) and he didn't say a word. That's it. I never talked to Bill Pape and have not pursued the concept at all."
O'Leary said he was unsure if the Republican-American has any interest in selling, but in order for the concept to be viable, the federal and state governments would have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the rail service from Bridgeport to Waterbury, which "is not on the drawing board."
O'Leary did confirm that the city purchased 36 North Main Street in a foreclosure auction, but it had nothing to do with moving the Republican-American to the Green. "There were a few inquires about 36 North Main Street from NYC people but we had no idea what they were going to do with the building," O'Leary said, "so the city bought it. The building is right on the Green and now we can control what goes on there."
The Rep-Am is staying put, the city now owns a building on the Green, and the rumors continue to swirl about an imminent deal. Welcome to Waterbury.