The owners of the beleaguered Brewery Square apartment complex in Fair Haven will have to wait to receive financial help from the city, after the Board of Alders delayed approval of an assistance package at their meeting last week.
After the brewery shut down following World War II, the building sat empty until developers converted it into apartments with the city’s assistance in the 1980s. As a part of that assistance, the city delayed payment of taxes for a set time period to limit expense on the project at its outset. But, in the intervening 30 years, the project has proved less profitable than expected, leaving it to face significant debts.
The owners of the Square requested a deal that would have allowed the owners to pay $300,000 of their $525,000 deferred tax bill — which is due in 2025 — immediately. The city would forgive the remaining $225,000.
The Shoreline Corporation, which owns the apartments and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, hopes that, after paying the deferred tax debt, it will be able to locate new funds to keep the complex afloat.
Ward 5 Alder and Board President Jorge Perez said that the alders delayed approving the deal due to a lack of information.
“The reason we didn’t want to vote on it last time was that someone had put it on the agenda, but none of us knew it was coming to a vote, so none of us had any idea what to think of it,” he said.
He said the alders gave the bill a first reading at the meeting last week, but it will come up for consideration at a later date.
In the meeting, Perez raised questions over the forfeiture of $225,000 in tax revenue. But Matthew Nemerson, the city’s economic development administrator, said that the city was not concerned.
“The net present value is the same as if it was paid at the later date,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to get the money now — and in financial terms we’re getting the same amount of money.”
Laurence Grotheer, the director of communications for Mayor Toni Harp’s administration, echoed that sentiment. He said that the city would not view the $200,000 in forgiven tax debt as a loss.
Instead, he suggested, it would be considered an investment that did not fully come to fruition.
“The city always works to balance its investments with private developers with the potential return on those investments,” he said, adding that, in negotiations, the city would treat the tax credit as an investment in the apartment complex.
A representative from the Brewery Square Limited Partnership, the organization that directly runs the project, said the complex has only two or three vacancies. Under the terms of the deal, the owners would be required to keep a certain percentage of apartments as city-subsidized affordable housing units.
Perez added that the City Plan Commission recommended to approve the deal in June, but he said that they failed to provide the alders with enough warning on the vote.
The apartment complex, built in 1896, sits at the corner of Ferry and River Streets in Fair Haven Heights, about 200 feet from the Quinnipiac River.
The deal further stipulates that the owners of Brewery Square would surrender an area of undeveloped land between the apartments and the Quinnipiac River. Nemerson said Shoreline Corporation had planned to build townhouses there, but financial conditions prevented that goal from being realized.
Nemerson said he was hopeful about the future of that land.
“We don’t have any plans right now,” he said. “But it’s a spectacular piece of land in a neighborhood we’re particularly bullish on.”
Grotheer said the city has plans to redevelop Fair Haven Heights. He pointed to the Connecticut Main Street Center project — an effort championed by Harp to increase economic activity along four of New Haven’s “major arteries” including Grand, Dixwell, Whalley and Congress Avenues.
Nemerson concurred with Grotheer and said the city has high hopes for Fair Haven Heights and eastern Fair Haven. He cited the Grand Avenue project, adding that the city is eyeing the industrial buildings around River Street for a “long-term renovation project.” If that project goes through, he said, the buildings will likely be converted into apartments, or another non-industrial use.
Though the Brewery Square project started 30 years ago, Nemerson said that many similar projects, aiming to repurpose old industrial buildings, are appearing throughout the city. He pointed to numerous efforts to repurpose unused buildings for high-tech and residential purposes.
“The most prominent one is the supply building on the corner of Nichol and State,” he said. “It’s about to be converted into several hundred apartments.” Other examples, he said, include the old coal building at the corner of Water and Chestnut and the former clock factory on Hamilton Street.
None of these projects are currently receiving financial assistance from the city, Nemerson said.
Similar projects have been completed across the state. In Waterbury, part of the former Waterbury Clock Company factory was converted to apartments about 20 years ago. In Stratford, the conversion to apartments of the former Southern New England Telephone Company building is underway, and the empty Addison Mill building in Glastonbury was recntly turned into luxury apartments in 2009.
The Board of Alders will give the bill its second reading and a vote at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20.