Hartford firm tapped to partner with Middletown to develop prized lots near river

Photo of Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — The city has chosen a firm to be part of a public/private partnership to redevelop three parcels at the site of the former municipal garage near the Connecticut River.

These “opportunity zones” are located on a total of 3.5 acres at 60 Dingwall and 195 deKoven drives, and at the rear of 222 Main St., something officials have described as prime real estate.

Mayor Ben Florsheim announced the city narrowed down proposals to the application submitted by principles of Spectra, Wonder Works, and Crosskey Architects of Hartford. The project is called the “Village at Riverside,” Deputy Mayor Vincent Loffredo said. 

As part of the plan, a new parking arcade would be built to replace the aging structure knocked down in 2018 due to dangerous conditions.

The original request for qualifications sent out two years ago solicited only two applicants, Acting Director of Economic and Community Development Bobbye Knoll Peterson explained, so the city issued another, which drew five developers. Those were narrowed down to a final three, which were recommended to the mayor, she said.  

The final three went through a “vigorous review” by selection committee members, the councilman said.

The plots have “scenic and panoramic views” of the Connecticut River, according to the 26-page request for developer qualifications created in March. Each parcel is in the “heart of Middletown’s thriving downtown,” it said.

Florsheim said in a letter to the selection committee Sept. 1 that he viewed this time as an “engagement period that precedes the actual wedding ceremony (so to speak), which will come later if the engagement goes well.”

The proposal from Spectra, Wonder Works, and Crosskey Architects stood out, Florsheim wrote.

“The biggest factors for me that elevated Spectra over the other extremely competitive applicants were their innovative approach to parking, their successful track record with projects in Connecticut (and strong references from those projects), the diversity and local roots on their team, and their very confidence-inspiring financial approach," he said.

Loffredo said the partnership hinges on an agreement being reached with the firm. If that is successful, documents are expected to be drawn up by the end of the year, at which point the matter will be reviewed by the Common Council.

One of the conditions is the purchase of the Attention to Detail property next door, Loffredo noted.

ADT Properties owns the 0.9-acre plot at 195 DeKoven Drive, which faces the river, and opens up “vistas” to the main site, the RFQ explained.

If conversations are successful over the next few weeks, the agreement will be referred to the Economic Development Committee, Florsheim said in the email.

Loffredo said he's optimistic a consensus will be reached. “I’m hopeful, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done," he said. "This is not going to happen immediately. Hopefully, we can come to some reasonable terms and understandings.”

Florsheim explained that he shares concerns raised by some people that quality of life downtown and in the business district could be affected. “The site should not be overdeveloped to the point where any public parking we recoup will only suffice for the increased traffic driven by new retail and residential,” he wrote.

The city already has committed $20 million of bond funding to construct a new public parking garage, the RFQ said.

The city also has invested “significant dollars” in the Return to the Riverbend project, Loffredo said, where members of the public were invited to jot down their ideas and points of concern at a pop-up shop at Main Street Market.
 
The project would initially kick off efforts to reconnect the city to the riverfront, which was cut off with the construction of Route 9, the deputy mayor said.

A similar situation occurred in Hartford, he added, when officials sought to reconnect “in a very meaningful way” to the riverfront near Constitution Plaza, with pedestrian access over the highway, something riverfront revitalization plans call for in Middletown at Riverview Center on Main Street.

The vision has been around since former mayor Michael Cubeta led the city in the late 1970s, Loffredo said.

According to the RFQ, the city is seeking to construct an “iconic development which will bring people and business to downtown, provide places for people to live and work, and become a regional attraction.

“The city’s opportunity zones offer developers a low-risk project due to the city’s extremely economically vibrant … downtown,” it continues. The site could become the “key connection” between the city’s urban commercial center and future riverfront development,” it reads.

Applicants were difficult to choose, the mayor said.

“Today is a difficult day, because, as with the riverfront master plan, I wish we could work with almost all these teams,” Florsheim wrote in his email. “However, it is also — I hope — a turning point for this site and for downtown, and that means it is also a very good day for Middletown."