(3) Comments | Post a Comment | E-mail the Author
Posted to: Chatham Square, Fair Haven, Business/ Economic Development, Housing
Former Strong School on Grand Avenue.
It can work to preserve and repurpose a century-old historic brick school building into a nonprofit community youth and arts center — but only if the complex includes revenue-producing market-rate-ish apartments, along with ground-floor commercial space.
That was the message of the latest community meeting on what to do with a long-abandoned former Strong School at 69 Grand Ave.
Interboro Partners, a national design and engineering firm retained by the city last year in consultation with local Fair Haven activists, presented that message at an online community meeting Wednesday night. The group presented its working concept for a request for proposals (RFP) that the city would issue to seek someone to redevelop the vacant property in the latest chapter in a decade-long quest to reclaim and reuse the Strong School.
The 1916 former school building, where the late Yale President Bart Giamatti’s dad Valentine attended second grade, overlooks the Grand Avenue Bridge. Except for intermittent use for storage by the Board of Ed it has been vacant now for a decade.
At least two previous proposals — one by Chatham Square activists for artist-focused live-work space and another by an out-of-town developer proposing micro-apartments —never gained the traction of financial practicality or the formal support of the city.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, which was convened by Fair Haven Alder-Elect and Chatham Square neighbor Sarah Miller, 90 residents showed up via Zoom to offer their reactions to Interboro’s scenarios.
Click here to review the full slide deck the firm presented Wednesday night.
By the time the meeting drew to a close, only 40 attendees remained, but the enthusiasm was evident.
Interboro principals Georgeen Theodore and Andrew Wald made the presentation about the kind of detail that should go into an RFP and solicited residents’ responses.
The findings: The 41,000 square feet of large hallways, 15 classrooms, Grand-Avenue-facing gym with high ceilings, stage, and verandah, and deep basement can definitely be repurposed.
From an engineering perspective, Wald reported, “Conditions are pretty fair. If you make some repairs, clean it up, you can reuse, and it can continue to serve Fair Haven for more generations to come.”
The consultants said they’ve made a list of needed repairs and the conservative estimated cost for each to be included in the RFP, so the details can help attract realistic potential developers.
The consultants conducted a neighborhood survey about the project. They reported that 71 percent of respondents listed arts and culture uses, 61 percent called for youth spaces, and 52 percent restaurants/cafes as priorities. Therefore a test template would have the following characteristics, Wald explained:
• The preservation of the main building as a community-oriented arts hub with the galleries and classrooms creatively combined into at least five large flex spaces that could be both a community amenity and rentable for revenue.
• Replacement of the 1990s addition on Perkins Street with a multi-family residential building; connecting the two would be a lobby accessible from Perkins with an elevator. (The entire stairway-centric building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilites Act.)
• Nine one-and-two bedroom apartments that “would bring in income that can offset the cost of the non profit historic building so they function, financially, together.”
Consultants also studied the real estate market. Wald determined that “it pencils out,” in terms of financial viability.
The second half of the gathering, in break-out rooms, involved soliciting how much residents want to be part of the writing of the RFP, evaluating respondents, selecting the developer (if one emerges), then monitoring the execution.
Residents said they want to participate a lot.
The city, which owns the property, will have to sign off on the range and depth of residents’ participation in work that is normally done by economic development staffers.
Gabriela Campos, a former Fair Havener who was instrumental a decade ago in helping to found the Grand Avenue Special Services District, cautioned that “tt is concerning that I don’t see too many people from the SSD. Involving it more will help create the vibe people want.”
She suggested that a popular cultural grassroots institution like the Nuyorican Poets Café in downtown Manhattan might also be a model for some of the space to include in the RFP. It would give developers the kind of vision locals have in mind for how arts and economic development should represent all of the area’s different communities.
“I’d like outdoor opportunities as a catalyst for economic development,” said neighbor Martin Torresquintero, who develops and runs outdoors programs for the city parks department. “Developers could integrate outdoor adventures for residents and also visitors. We have a fantastic river front, a large park, and we’re on a bicycyle corridor.”
The proposed types of businesses could connect with the history of fishing and oystering, he suggested. “We could even become a force for manufacturing sports equipment.”
A Perkins Street resident raised the G‑word: gentrification: “My biggest concern is developers will come in and they will make overpriced housing affordable only for transients, driving up all our taxes, and they won’t communicate to us, and it’ll suck for all of us.”
To prevent that, Wald said, the community keep those concerns in mind while participating in the RFP process, helping to write, interview, select, and monitor.
“Stay tuned, exciting things are yet to come,” Wald concluded. “We’re continuing this process, we’re getting close, things are going to start to happen.”
Share this story with others.
Page 39 of the slide deck seems to suggest that a retrofit of the space can be done for $38/sqft. If that what the authors think, they are grossly misinforming heir audience.
Two financing possibilities, which could be used however the building is developed.
One, C-PACE, was mentioned in the slide deck. The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program provides lower-cost financing for investments to improve a building’s energy efficiency and/or install renewable energy systems. It is administered by the CT GreenBank. This website provides more information https://www.cpace.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiAksyNBhAPEiwAlDBeLAhRVJt0J405kDAi0wKJN3NMGXGNzjxvvSfrHgdkGEXXbqZoaG_KgxoCMpoQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
Another option is tax increment financing. Currently, the school generates no tax revenue. After it is developed, it will. (A purely non-profit development won’t work financially.) Part of this revenue can be used to back bonds used to partially finance public improvements and economic development. This website provides an overview of TIF in the state. https://ctmainstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/TIF-Flyer-Final-1-compressed.pdf
Omg this is more of the same by the same people that have been trying to make something of this building for more than a decade. Trying the same thing and expecting different results?
Good Morning, There is a couch in the parking lane.
Southbound on Valley just past the corner of East Ramsdell by about 15-25… more »
©2005 – 2021 New Haven Independent