Until 1959, a 130,000-square-foot factory complex in Wooster Square produced as many as three million clocks a year. But for the last few decades, the building has stood empty. Now, a developer has stepped in to breathe new life into the facility — by converting it into affordable apartments for Elm City artists.
Reed Realty Group, an Oregon-based developer, has undertaken the $40-million project to convert the building — located at 133 Hamilton St., on the east side of the Interstate Highway 91 in Wooster Square — into a residential space. With contributions from state and city, this years-old vision is set to finally come to fruition, with an anticipated end product of 130 affordably priced apartments, targeted toward, but not limited to, local artists.
“It’s a part of the city, and a part of the ward, that could really use some economic development,” said Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, whose district includes the clock shop building. “This idea of affordable housing for the creative class was really exciting to reactivate that space.”
The conversion was designed and proposed with the specific needs of artists and other creative types in mind. Artists often require larger workspaces, and the apartments, while mostly one- or two-bedrooms, will be relatively spacious to accommodate such needs — some one-bedrooms will be as large as 1,000 square feet and serve residents as a space to both live and work.
Bill Kraus, a historic rehabilitation consultant and developer who works to repurpose historical buildings into spaces for the arts and serves as a consultant on the Wooster Square project, emphasized the unique plight of the creative class in cities and urban areas. When artists initially occupy neighborhoods, often for their affordability, the vibrancy and character they bring often makes their neighborhoods more appealing to other potential residents, leading to an increase in prices that pushes out the artists.
Reed Realty Group, which specializes in the rehabilitation of historic buildings, and city officials hope that the converted complex, which Kraus stressed will target artists, musicians, writers, makers and more, will incubate an artistic community without concerns of affordability. Kraus told the News that the anticipated rents are around half the rate of similar new apartments in the city.
“Working within a community of artists can be a really powerful, productive environment, particularly in terms of inspiration and mutual understanding,” said Charlotte Foote ’21, a prospective art major. “That, combined with career-related needs and financial implications, seems like a valid reason for this sort of housing project.”
Although the developers have raised most of the necessary capital for the project, they are applying for a mix of government funding and tax credits at the state and federal levels. The state is expected to contribute $4 million, and Mayor Toni Harp has requested $400,000 more in a grant from New Haven. The cost of environmental cleanup at the deteriorating site is projected to cost $6.5 million, according to the company and to city economic development staffer Helen Rosenberg.
The project is also seeking a 15-year tax abatement, which has stirred some controversy among local residents, according to a New Haven Independent article about the proposal. If approved, the tax abatement would keep taxes the complex pays frozen at their current rate for 15 years after the completion of construction. Kraus said the company intends to begin construction later this year and anticipates the process will take around two years.
Last week, the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Alders pass both the grant and the tax abatement, despite recognizing concerns about the definition of “artists” and whether targeted affordable housing for artists is a detriment to others in need of low-cost living spaces.
Both Kraus and Reed Realty have worked on similar projects in the past — Kraus has largely been involved with Connecticut properties, while Reed has redeveloped a number of historic sites throughout the nation, most recently converting a 20-story tower that was previously a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama.
Addressing the cost concerns of citizens and residents in New Haven, Kraus explained that, as with projects he has participated in in the past, he expects the new complex to serve as a spark for the area’s economic reinvigoration. In Bridgeport, a 2013 redevelopment of what was formerly the Read’s Department Store, after the building sat empty for 20 years, led to further investment and development around the structure.
“The whole area is greatly underutilized and this building is a very large building, right in the middle of it, that, although very historically significant, has been decaying for decades,” Kraus said. “It’s been largely vacant. This will be a catalyst for the further development of the acres and acres of underutilized land and thousands and thousands of vacant square feet.”
The site was originally named the Jerome Manufacturing Company complex and consisted of 12 buildings, all of which were constructed between 1866 and 1936.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org