COVER STORY, MARCH 2005
NO RUN-OF-THE-MILL REDEVELOPMENT
Georgetown Land Development seeks to create a diverse mixed-use community on old mill grounds in Connecticut.
While brand new shopping malls, strip centers and subdivisions crop up at an ever-increasing rate, one Connecticut-based developer is hoping to create a return to a more old-fashioned type of living environment by redeveloping property originally constructed nearly two centuries ago.
Georgetown Land Development Corporation is redeveloping the Gilbert & Bennett Wire Mill into a mixed-use development.
Georgetown Land Development Corporation’s renewal of a former industrial site in Redding, Connecticut, will turn a once-abandoned property into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly town center.
The Gilbert & Bennett Manufacturing Company, manufacturer of wire screening, occupied the 55-acre site from 1834 to 1989, when the company moved to Georgia and ceased production at the Redding site. When Gilbert & Bennett went bankrupt in 1998, more than $1 million in taxes were still to be paid on its Redding manufacturing site.
The company attempted to sell the property, “but environmental issues plagued that attempt,” says Stephen Soler, president of Georgetown Land. “In effect, it put a black cloud on the property because there were unquantified and unknown environmental concerns.”
In 2002, Georgetown Land Development agreed to purchase the outstanding tax liens on the site from the town of Redding and embark on one of the largest redevelopments ever in Connecticut.
“This is the quintessential brownfield site,” says Soler. “As brownfield developers, we look to reposition property for the appropriate reuse in the community in which it’s located.”
Soler says of Georgetown Land, “we looked at this property and came up with a theoretical reuse plan. Based on that reuse plan, we made our decision to acquire.”
Comprising a team of executives with extensive redevelopment experience, Georgetown Land Development has “adopted just about every smart-growth principle you could think of” in the development of the wire mill project, says Soler.
Georgetown Land’s environmental challenges will include remediation of the site’s groundwater and the clean up of lead, fuel and zinc-contaminated soil. Built on sustainable “green” development principles, the project will include a hydroelectric dam and a co-generation unit to provide electricity for the development’s residents.
Georgetown Land’s environmentally friendly master plan was unanimously approved by surrounding municipalities in September 2004 and demolition work began in January. Erection of structures, in what will be a 2- to 3-year build-out, will begin over the next few months.
The surrounding community’s avid support of the project is hardly surprising, considering the economic boost that will accompany its arrival. A study conducted by The University of Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis found that the wire mill development would increase tax revenues for the town of Redding by $4.8 million.
“It will also have a ripple effect,” says Soler, “not just on this community but on the state as a whole.”
And it’s not just the economic and environmental effects that have local residents and prospective tenants excited.
“It will be very much like a traditional New England town with red brick buildings and traditional architecture,” says Soler of the $300 million redevelopment. Plans call for 416 residential units — including single-family homes, townhouses, senior housing, artist work/live lofts and loft-style apartments — and more than 350,000 square feet of space for retail, office, light industrial, hospitality and civic uses, all connected by pedestrian trails. The development will also resurrect a currently out-of-service train station, which will become a stop on the Metro-North Commuter Railroad.
While the wire mill project, located in affluent Fairfield County, will include upscale retailers and office space for lawyers and architects, it will also be an environmental and artistic enclave housing a YMCA and a performing arts center, which will possibly include a dance and music school. One tenant already in place at the development is the U.S. Park Service’s maintenance facility for Weir Farm — Connecticut’s only national park.
While much of the development will be new, approximately 12 to 15 of the wire mill’s original structures will remain intact and undergo renovation. Georgetown Land chose a team of 10 architects to design the project due to the scope of the project and because the developer didn’t want all of the project’s buildings to look the same, but rather wanted various takes on the same theme. Westport, Connecticut-based Roger Ferris + Partners is the lead architect on the project.
It’s this type of village living environment that people want, says Soler of the project’s approach to development. “I think people who have lived in an urban environment and then moved to a suburban environment want to return to the urban environment — everything they need is right there,” he says. “People do want this type of a lifestyle. They want to be able to walk to their gym; they want to be able to walk to the grocery store. I think, given the opportunity to live in a well-planned environment, people will choose that over sprawl.”
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