MERIDEN — The city’s efforts to repurpose the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital progressed last week, with the city council’s finance committee approving a request for state grant funding to partially demolish the site.
The finance committee on Tuesday approved a request by city officials to apply for state funding through the Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant program, which is administered by the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The request must still be adopted by the entire City Council, which meets on Monday. The application deadline is October 7.
City officials have proposed a roughly $6 million project to demolish the main hospital building, while potentially leaving the old nurses’ hospital building and parking lot intact. Much of the work would be covered by a state grant, with the city responsible for 25% funding, or $1.5 million.
Much of the committee’s discussion focused on whether another state agency, the State Historic Preservation Office, would deem the Nurses’ Hospital building significant enough to warrant preservation.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who is not a member of the committee, disagreed with a partial demolition. Scarpati said he would like to see the city demolish all structures on the site. While city officials posited that the former nursing hospital is largely structurally sound and may have historical significance whose net benefits, including historic state tax credits, Scarpati did not agree. not the opinion that was worth preserving. He also described the parking lot as having been used as a “dump,” creating another horror.
“You can drive there now if you want, it’s not an attractive gateway at all. Frankly, I would prefer to have an open space and the building further back because it is much closer to the road,” Scarpati said.
The city could pursue a scaled-down demolition if State Historic Preservation Office officials decide the nurses’ portion should be preserved.
Scarpati referenced another development, 24 Colony St., which he described as a brand new building that is still vacant, to illustrate his belief that the 100-plus-year-old nurses’ building “will only be attractive for any developer, despite the historical tax credits argument.
Councilwoman Nicole Tomassetti, who serves as vice-chair of the finance committee, disagreed, saying she supports the grant and the request proposed by Economic Development Director Joseph Feest.
Tomassetti said she heard Scarpati’s concerns and found many of them to be valid. At the same time, she has her eye on the aspect of historical preservation.
“It’s important for us to select parts of Meriden’s history that we can keep,” Tomassetti said.
Councilor Dan Brunet says he too appreciates Scarpati’s concern.
“I think one of the key things here is to get the mothership, this big, big thing down, whatever it takes, as quickly as possible,” Brunet said. The “mothership” he refers to is the main hospital building.
Brunet questioned the value of maintaining the parking garage, while adding that the key is to remove the main hospital building. “So I’ll be in favor of it as it’s built right now,” Brunet said.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona asked Feest if the committee should change the resolution to ask officials from the State Historic Preservation Office if the city could tear down the Nurses’ Building.
Feest responded that city officials would maintain an ongoing dialogue with the office throughout the process.
“It’s part of the request to not have approval but to have started the conversation with SHPO about the property,” Feest said, recommending that the board approve the entire $6 million request. dollars. “I think asking SHPO as they go about their opinion of this building is a good thing to do.”
Feest said the city could include wording in the application to cover a full demolition. All in all, he would like to move the long-delayed project forward.
The city secured the property in 2014. Subsequently, the city entered into an agreement with a developer who had proposed a multimillion-dollar project to turn the site into a mixed-use development. Work to remediate the brownfields was completed during the term of this agreement, which ultimately fell through.
On Tuesday, Feest said he “isn’t downplaying the fact that every time we delay and don’t do something, the costs go up. That’s why I’m here today to ask for this money. If we don’t start the process, the cost will go up even more and guess what, the majority of this [cost]and not 25%, will be at our expense. »
Feest added that the city needs to seek as many grants as possible. Earlier in the discussions, he noted that the request for funding does not guarantee that the city will receive these funds, hence the need to seek all possible funding.
Cardona later said he agreed moving the project forward would be “huge” for the area immediately surrounding the old hospital.
“I just want to make sure…in our efforts that we have as many options as possible,” Cardona said.