Daniel Zhao

Built in 1866, the New Haven Clock Company Factory has been at the center of debate for nearly two decades. Having closed for business in 1956, the factory —  on the U.S National Register of Historic Places — remained unused, and local residents and developers have been at odds regarding the property’s future.

Now, with the help of City Hall, Reed Realty Group, an Oregon developer, is securing the funding to repurpose the factory into low- and middle-income housing primarily for artists.

On Tuesday morning, the New Haven Development Commission voted unanimously to accept an $800,000 loan from the federal government. City Hall will give that loan, which is from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, to Reed Realty Group. Brownfields are properties whose reuse, development or expansion is complicated by pollution, hazardous materials or other ecologically prevalent obstacles.

The developers recently purchased the former faculty property for $2.5 million, but the city government’s tax breaks brought the price down to $1.7 million.

“It’s a part of the city, and a part of the ward, that could really use some economic development,” Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, whose district includes the clock shop building, said to the News in March. “This idea of affordable housing for the creative class was really exciting to reactivate that space.”

Reed Realty intends to transform the 130,000-square-foot factory into 130 apartments, primarily to house local artists. Representatives from the firm have proposed the installation of a gallery on the premises, given that the apartments would primarily house artists. The complex is meant to act as affordable housing, a pressing issue in the Wooster Square area.

Reed Realty undertook the factory project in March. Since then, it has been working to secure funding for the development. Although the plans have not yet been initiated, the firm has nearly all of the necessary funding in place to undertake the $40 million project, according to a filing with the Board of Alders written by Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson ’81 SOM.

Many city officials expressed relief that a suitable developer was found to reinvigorate the dilapidated building, which qualifies as a brownfield property, given its amount of environmental hazard.

“The City of New Haven has been seeking an appropriate development at the site for decades,” Development Commission staffer Clayton Williams, Rosenberg and Nemerson wrote in the loan approval memorandum. “Its former uses, particularly as a clock manufacturing facility, have resulted in contamination by a variety of materials, including radium, PCBs, volatile organic compounds, and metals.”

The cost of environmental cleanup at the deteriorating site is projected to cost $6.6 million, according to the company and to the EPA’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund Project Manager Helen Rosenberg.

Bill Kraus, a historic rehabilitation consultant who serves as a consultant on the city’s Wooster Square project, estimated that the construction will take two years. The project, which is located at 133 Hamilton St, follows a major housing development project on 87 Union St.

Still, Tuesday’s unanimous vote does not reflect the heated debate surrounding the factory’s development process.

In 2000, the city government planned to accept $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which they intended to give to Palmieri Food Products. The food distributor planned to use the money to demolish 10 of the 14 clock factory buildings, which Palmieri Food Products planned to replace with a 30,000-foot addition to its spaghetti sauce factory and a parking lot.

Although Palmieri Food Products estimated that 20 jobs would be added in the expansion, many New Haven residents and historical preservationists opposed the development.

“The remaining block, neglected but basically sound, is one of the few surviving examples of a 19th-century industrial square,” said then-executive director of the New Haven Preservation Trust Edward Franquemont to The New York Times in a January 2000 article. “It’s as close to a castle as we have in the United States.”

In the face of strong opposition, the city decided to reject the $1.5 million, leaving Palmieri Food Products’ expansion plans unraveled without renovating the still dilapidated and unused clock factory.

The New Haven Clock Company was formed by clockmaker Hiram Camp in 1853 to supply clock movements to the Jerome Manufacturing Company, then the largest clockmaking operation in the world.

Nick Tabio | nicholas.tabio@yale.edu .