Plans for Milford entertainment center back on track, mayor says

These barns at the city-owned property at 701 North Street in Milford, Conn. are being transformed into art and event space.

These barns at the city-owned property at 701 North Street in Milford, Conn. are being transformed into art and event space.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

MILFORD — City plans to create an arts and entertainment center on North Street are back on track, according to Mayor Ben Blake. 

The city bought the 6.98-acre parcel at 701 North St. for $1.6 million in 2016. Open space money, grants and other sources paid for the purchase, which put an end to a developer’s plans to build 63 houses there. 

Huge old trees dot the parcel, along with an old farmhouse and connected barns once used as an art studio. 

Blake said the city’s plans call for construction of a new barn — which he says would hold some 200 people as the entertainment venue — restoration of the barns, and use of the old farmhouse for administrative services. The barns, if they can be retained, would also be used for arts and events.

The project was delayed due to the pandemic, Blake said, but the focus on this development has returned. Work on final plans remains in progress. 

“We are hoping to have this done by spring 2024,” Blake said.  

Blake said the city has received some $2 million in state grants, and his plan is for any proposed work to not exceed that amount. 

“This project would fold in nicely with all we have created along what we look at as the Wepawaug recreational corridor,” said Blake about the entire strip which features some 200 acres of open and recreational space. 

The property is adjacent to the Orchards Golf Course, a city-owned, par-32, nine-hole golf course. Among the developments over the past few years, according to Blake, are the Orange Avenue turf fields, the pickleball court and splash pad at Eisenhower Park and upgrades to the park's softball field, tennis courts, community gardens and Boy Scout camp. 

Blake said the new development at 701 North St. would provide the city a venue for seating of about 200 people, a “sweet spot,” he says, since the other available venues — the redone Parsons Auditorium and the Milford Arts Council — offer 1,000 and 100 seats, respectively. 

“That has been the vision for this property … to have a venue with seating for ideally 200 people,” Blake said.   

Some of the work will be contracted, and some will be done by the city’s Public Works Department, Blake has stated. 

Historically, the parcel was part of the Platt family apple orchard, and much of that became the golf course in the late 1960s. 

The original house was built in 1868, and a major addition was constructed in 1900. The house is being rented to a family. The house and attached barns and other structures are on a 1.3-acre lot, and an adjoining 5.7-acre parcel is also included in the purchase. 

The site was targeted for housing. The developers, Stone Preserve LLC, had originally hoped to turn the lot into a 63-unit housing development with an affordable-housing component, but neighbors objected to that idea. Then it was proposed to turn the parcel into a five-lot subdivision. This plan was later withdrawn before it faced a vote before the city’s Inland Wetlands Agency.