Story By John Murray
Picture the unfolding development projects in Waterbury as pieces of a massive jigsaw puzzle that has taken a decade to position across the landscape. There are a dizzying number of projects now at various stages of development, and the city has recently applied for a $30 million RAISE grant from the federal government to keep the momentum going forward.
Where there was crumbling old buildings, the O’Leary Administration is seeking to demolish the old structures and create a blank palette to imagine the city’s future.
When Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary was elected in 2011 the only project in play at that time was the Naugatuck River Greenway, which O’Leary leveraged to unlock the long-standing dream of redeveloping the Freight Street corridor. Now in August of 2022, there are a dizzying number of projects at various stages of development in the city.
Anamet is the site of the first brass factory in Waterbury more than 200 years ago.
• Anamet – the city purchased the 17.5-acre site in the South End of Waterbury several years ago and turned it over to a holding company, 698 South Main Street Inc., an entity created for the purpose of redeveloping the property. Tax returns for 698 South Main Street Inc. are filed by the Waterbury Development Corporation and the president of the organization is Cathy Awwad from Executive Director of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board. The group has been using state and federal funds to demolish buildings. Additionally, the city has invested $2.4 million to fix a roof on the only structure that is being saved. The remaining demolition is now funded, and talk will soon turn to final remediation and then imagining what 17.5 acres nestled along the Naugatuck River can be transformed in to.
A massive fish farm? A plaza with a grocery store, bank and pharmacy in the food and service desert of the South End (one of the poorest census tracts in Connecticut)?
The Anamet property has played a huge role in the industrial history of Waterbury and in 1812 it was the home to the Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Company, the first brass company to incorporate in the city. If you look closely the name Benedict and Burnham is still faintly visible on the riverside of one of the old buildings about to be demolished.
U.S. Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, left, and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy toured the projects last week in Waterbury, and will continue to champion the projects in Washington D.C.. Their support will be critical for the city to secure portions of the $30 million RAISE grant that Waterbury has applied for.
The site has been mostly unused since 2003, but 698 South Main Street Inc. (under WDC) has sought proposals from developers and a committee is currently reviewing the applications. With funding secured, the remaining buildings will come toppling down this Autumn.
Whatever development project gets the green light on the Anamet site will have to contend with the city’s commitment to build a greenway along the property edge overlooking the Naugatuck River. The creation of greenspace and a recreational trail through Anamet is going to happen.
• Nova Dye – fire tore through the vacant industrial site in April 2012 and it has taken a decade of demolition, testing and remediation to reach the point now where a baseball field and a playscape at the corner of Mill Street and East Liberty Street is going to be built. There is talk about extending the Naugatuck River Greenway up the Mad River and connecting it to the new park.
The ball field project on Mill Street at the site of the old Nova Dye and Print is expected to break ground this October, and be ready for baseball in the Spring on 2024.
Groundbreaking was scheduled for the Spring of 2022, but Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corp CEO Thomas Hyde cautioned last winter that the 4.8-acre site could have unexpected pollution that might require more time. The project has gone out to bid, the groundbreaking is now scheduled for October, and the first pitch could be thrown in the ballpark in Autumn of 2023 or the Spring of 2024.
• Freight Street – Mayor O’Leary has described the TIGER Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2014 as the “Aha” moment of his administration. The Observer asked Mayor O’Leary why he said that.
“Once the Feds invest in a project,” O’Leary told the Observer, “they usually keep funding it until completion. This is a game changer.”
The massive building on the left was owned by the Veronneau Family, was purchased by the city, and will be demolished to make way for a major new development that can be a reimagined portion of downtown with a mix of business and housing just minutes walking distance from the train station.
Bike and pedestrian paths have already been installed along Freight Street.
The $15 million initial TIGER Grant was spent on…
1) Jackson Street extension from Bank Street (by Home Depot) to West Main Street (near Colonial Plaza) that connected the West End of the city to the South End (by passing a clogged downtown).
2) Installing new electric, gas, sewer, water and lighting long Freight Street that prepares the site for future development
3) Create a bike trail and pedestrian friendly corridor from the Naugatuck River to the train station on Meadow Street.
Additionally, and most significantly, the City of Waterbury purchased two massive buildings that used to be the Anaconda-American Brass Company from the D’Addario Family in Bridgeport, and the Veronneau Family in Waterbury. The first building was demolished last year and the second one is currently being studied. When the dust settles, and it may take a few more years, there will be twenty wild open acres in downtown Waterbury, snug against a renovated and revitalized train station (train service has increased to Bridgeport and NYC in the past few months).
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary has built a legacy of tackling onrey Brownfield projects.
“The site will be flat with utilities in place for any project that wants to develop there,” O’Leary has told the Observer. “We are light years ahead of where we were.”
The city is be seeking $10M in State of Connecticut Community Investment Funding to finalize remediation of the Freight Street brownfield.
And now the next moment has arrived, and if O’Leary was right that the Feds like to continue to invest in projects until completion, another $30 million grant might be headed to the Brass City.
Freight Street in downtown Waterbury is a key to the future development of the city.
This one is called the RAISE grant and seeks $9.9 million to continue the Naugatuck River Greenway from the Eagle Street Bridge up to West Main Street (an additional 2.3 miles). Upon competition, Waterbury will have a 7.5 mile greenway running along the Naugatuck River, with regional plans to have a connected greenway from Torrington to Derby (44 miles).
Phase #1 of the greenway through Waterbury will be completed in November 2022.
Phase #1 of the greenway from Naugatuck to the Eagle Street bridge is expected to be completed by November 2022.
• West Main Street Corridor Revitalization – another $9.9 million in the RAISE grant involves a complete overhaul of West Main Street from the Green out to Thomaston Avenue.
1) West Main Street Corridor adjacent to the City’s downtown green is currently a source of major traffic accidents for the area.
2) This area is traffic-dominated and not pedestrian friendly.
3) It connects the city east to west.
4) Elements would include: complete streets enhancements, intersection realignment and narrowing, sidewalk construction and rehab, bicycle lanes, traffic calming and accessibility upgrades.
• Jackson Street Riverfront Park – the city has asked for $6.9 million to in the RAISE grant to convert 9 acres of vacant brownfield land into a new riverfront park directly along the Naugatuck River. The property borders Jackson Street to the East, the Naugatuck River to the West, and I-84/Route 8 to the North. Waterbury does not currently have a municipal park along the Naugatuck River. This would enable the creation of green space, an environmental justice & equity issue in the South End of Waterbury.
• Waterbury Train Station – the city is requesting $200,000 in the RAISE grant proposal to install electric vehicle charging stations on Meadow Street. The train station – perhaps the future transportation hub of the city – has been a focus of the O’Leary administration for more than a decade. In 2020 the city completed a renovation project of the parking lot with new lighting, security cameras, and improved bus shelters.
A new parking lot with increased lighting and security was completed in 2020.
The Waterbury Branch of the New Haven Rail Line has been a focus of the State of Connecticut, with the State of CTDOT completing major upgrades to the line at a cost of $116 million that now allows more than one train on the line at a time. The improvements directly led to an increase in train service to Waterbury, and that should continue to expand in the years ahead.
• Additionally, there are ongoing projects to begin the demolition of the abandoned Waterbury Button Company, the completion of the East Main Street renovation project from the Green to the Waterbury Police Station, further work at Library Park with a total overhaul of the parking lot between City Hall and the Silas Bronson Library. The parking lot behind the Library will be closed for a major overhaul. The project is expected to begin August 29th and run through November. The parking lot upgrade will include sidewalks, curbs, pavement, lights, electrical vehicle charging stations and landscaping. The next phase of the Library Park renovation project is not yet scheduled, but will include work on the bandshell.
Also in the pipeline is more space for the Brass City Harvest and its food hub on Mill Street that would include greenhouses, and a cafe and market at the corner of Mill Street and South Main Street.
This overgrown field at the intersection of Mill Street and South Main is destined to become a market and cafe run by Brass City Harvest.
There are a lot of projects underway in Waterbury right now, and if the city manages to secure the $30 million RAISE grant, expect another “Aha” out of Mayor Neil O’Leary.