Old corset factory turns apartment complex

Toward the end of the 19th century, New Haven’s Strouse, Adler factory employed nearly 2,000 people, churning out corsets that promised females 18-inch waists and hourglass figures. Now, the building is the site of the largest single-residential project downtown.

The old Strouse, Adler Co. building, well-known as a mainstay of the women’s undergarment industry, is currently being converted into a luxury apartment complex. Local developer David Nyberg purchased the building in August from Ansonia Acquisitions V, LLC for $2.6 million.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 said the renovation of the four-story Strouse, Adler building, which stands near Wooster Square between Chapel and Court Streets, helps to meet the city’s goal of connecting the downtown area to immediate outlying neighborhoods.

Between 120 and 140 mostly single-bedroom apartments will be available upon completion of the project. Changes to the exterior of the building will be minimal and those to the interior will retain as much of the original feel of the factory as possible.

“People like the big, heavy timber floors and the exposed brick walls on the inside,” said Karen Gilvarg GRD ’75, executive director of the City Plan Department. “It makes a very picturesque space that you just can’t get with a building constructed from scratch. That’s why they’re marketable.”

The conversion of abandoned factories into residential space reflects a trend that has become popular throughout the New England area in recent years and one that may be reflective of the direction of New Haven’s economy.

While the Strouse, Adler building was never abandoned, its profit per square foot has steadily dwindled since its last tenant, Sara Lee Corp., left in 1999. Gilvarg said the city had been eyeing the property for residential use because of a pent-up demand for market-rate units.

“I think it’s exciting,” New Haven building official Andrew Rizzo said. “It shows that the city is growing and coming back.”

Nyberg’s company, College Street, LLC, has recently converted a number of former office spaces for residential use, including the RKO building above the Palace Theater on College Street.

“There were no problems with helping him to get started over here,” Rizzo said. “The RKO building was done very well, and we worked well together.”

Nyberg could not be reached for comment.

Nyberg’s purchase of the building was entirely private-market.

“That’s a real sign of a healthy housing market,” Gilvarg said. “There aren’t very many cities in Connecticut that have a housing market strong enough to foster the development of new housing without prodigious government subsidies.”

Fernandez said the city has a strong housing market, noting that the vacancy rate downtown is currently between zero and 1 percent.

“Expanding residential development downtown is one of our ongoing projects,” Fernandez said. “There still is clearly a demand for housing there.”

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