City Council backs developer’s request for grant funds to convert factory into housing

MERIDEN — The City Council this week voted to support a developer’s application for state funding to rehabilitate a former factory site on Tremont Street that city officials say has been under-utilized.

The council voted to approve an application in partnership with Trinity Financial, a real estate development firm, to seek $1.49 million in brownfield remediation funds from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Trinity, which has offices in New York and Boston, previously presented to the city’s Planning Commission its proposal to gut and rebuild the four-story former Aeolian factory at 85 Tremont St. into a residential development with 80 one, two and three-bedroom apartments.

The commission voted to back the project, which seeks to convert the former factory into housing under the city’s adaptive reuse program created in 2019.

Buildings that qualify for the program must be at least 50 years old, at least 15,000 square feet in size and must be “no longer productively utilized” or severely “underutilized.”

The site is the former home of the Aeolian Organ and Music Co., established in 1887. The company at its height employed 500 people, manufacturing automatic organs and a successful line of player pianos called pianolas.

Meriden Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said even though the site is currently occupied by what he described as “good businesses,” the building is under-utilized.

Feest said the city was approached by Trinity representatives more than two years ago “to upgrade this building and make it into beautiful homes for people.”

The apartments would benefit lower to moderate income tenants, Feest said.

“I really think it’s going to be an upgrade,” he said, describing the designs, including the exterior, as “a huge improvement to what you see now.”

Feest said the company has a “very good track record” repurposing under-utilized buildings, including repurposed buildings in Norwalk, Boston, and Providence, Rhode Island, according to Trinity’s company website.

“They’re very well versed in how to rehab a building of this sort,” Feest said.

City Councilor Michael Rohde, who chairs the council’s Economic Development, Housing and Zoning Committee, similarly described the proposal as “a good reuse” of the factory building.

Mayor Kevin Scarpati, like Rohde, has indicated his support. Scarpati’s public remarks came during a City Council meeting in July, when a similar request for state grant funding for the project came to the council for approval.

At the time, Scarpati said the proposed reuse would “help turn around that whole neighborhood.”

A Trinity representative did not respond to a request for an update on the project, including other funding the firm might be pursuing.

In February, Dan Drazen, Trinity’s vice president of development, told the Planning Commission, “We really appreciate your support and we look forward to working with you and the community.”

Drazen also said, “We were drawn to this because of the historical significance of the building and the Aeolian company. We were excited to see the city had an adaptive reuse zoning district.

“We think we fit right into the framework you folks established,” Drazen added. When Drazen presented the proposal to the City Council in July, the cost estimate he shared was $52 million.

City Councilor Michael Carabetta, who was not present for Monday’s meeting, voted to support the request made in July.

During the July meeting, Carabetta had asked Drazen whether there would be sufficient parking for the number of apartment units proposed at the site. Carabetta stated he was concerned the apartments would impose new burdens on city schools and first responders.

On Wednesday, Carabetta said while he did end up voting to support that previous application, he “did make it clear this would be the last new housing thing I would be voting for.”

[email protected]:@MikeGagneRJ

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