By Kate Ramunni
NORTH HAVEN – New businesses continue to come to North Haven, which its first selectman says is helping the town get through the state fiscal crisis.
The Hope Group, a hydraulic equipment supplier, recently opened at 350 Sacket Point Road, and on Washington Avenue, UCONN women’s basketball coach Gino Auriemma helped celebrate the opening of Gingras Volvo, which recently moved from Meriden to its new site near the future home of the recently announced Amazon distribution center.
The Hope Group has eight businesses located throughout New England. It’s an especially good fit for the State Street area, First Selectman Michael Freda said. “These are good businesses in that area because that’s an industrial zone,” he said. “When we bring companies like this in that are recognized on a regional basis and we can fill out buildings that have been vacant, that’s always a plus.”
Gengras announced last year that it intended to make the move from Meriden to North Haven. It is located down the street on Washington Avenue from the former Pratt and Whitney Aircraft plant, which was empty for years. Freda recently announced that a two-year effort to bring Amazon to North Haven was successful, and the retail giant will be opening a distribution center there, bringing with it up to 3,500 jobs.
And there’s more coming, Freda said.
“Coming up in the future I hope to make several announcements, one on State Street and up on northern Washington Avenue,” Freda said. “Our goal here is to continue to grow the top line revenue grand list growth. We have a lot of projects in the pipeline in addition to the Amazon announcement that we made.”
It’s imperative that the town keep attracting businesses that will add to the grand list, Freda said, because the town can no longer rely on the state aid that it has received in the past. The state legislature still has yet to approve a 2017-18 state budget, despite the fact that the new fiscal year began on July 1. That means that municipalities still don’t know how much aid they’ll be getting this year.
“The goal here is to continue to brace ourselves for the storms that are swirling around the state of Connecticut by growing our top line revenue,” Freda said, “balancing budgets, delivering surpluses that we can put into the rainy day fund, decrease costs on services that don’t have a direct impact on residential services, and use the top line revenue growth to improve the town, whether it’s road paving or doing the things that keep the town looking good and then use the rainy day fund to continue to offset the storm that’s going in in Hartford.”
Despite the uncertainty on the state level, town officials were still able to approve a budget for this fiscal year that doesn’t increase the mill rate.
“There was no tax increase this year, and that is my goal – to continue to try to deliver that model here that is largely a byproduct of bringing new businesses in to town,” Freda said.
There’s also changes coming to the North Haven Shopping Center, which is now undergoing extensive renovations. That work is attracting interest from businesses interested in moving into the empty spaces there, Freda said. He said he is working with Larry Lazaroff, the owner of Arnold’s Jewelers and the president of the North Haven Shopping Center Association, to bring in new businesses.
“Larry Lazaroff and I working are very closely on that as the renovation continues to move forward,” Freda said. “Many new businesses have expressed interest and we will have announcements on that in the coming weeks.”
Also on Washington Avenue, two other properties will have new life breathed into them. An older building at 85 Washington Ave. will be gutted in the interior and renovated on the exterior to make way for professional offices, Freda said. And he said he is “hoping to have a major announcement soon on the Stop and Shop Plaza. We are working very hard with the Stop and Shop real estate division to help fill these vacancies.”
One vacancy in particular has been the focus of much marketing efforts, Freda said. The long-shuttered Taco Bell/KFC building may soon become available, he said, as the town works with Stop and Shop, which owns the building. The problem has been that Taco Bell and KFC have a long-term $9,000 a month lease on the building, he said, but they are working with Stop and Shop to find a way for the lease to be bought out so a new business can come in.
There’s also a new buffet-style restaurant interested in the space that was formerly the Hibachi Sushi & Seafood Buffet, Freda said. The restaurant has requested a liquor license, he said, and because it’s located across the street from St. Barnabas Church, it must get approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“There are lots of good things happening here,” Freda said. While Amazon was a big win for the town, even the smaller projects help grow the grand list, he said. “I am absolutely relentless on continuing to ensure that there’s positive momentum happening here in light of all the negativity we are hearing from the state,” he said.
And even when projects don’t work out, those failures open up new opportunities for other businesses.
“I like delivering information in real time fashion, and sometimes the problem with that is I have high expectations and inevitably some of them fail,” Freda said, pointing to the former Clintonville Manor. Maplewood Senior Living announced plans for a state-of-the-art senior facility with an emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but the company pulled out at the last minute for financial reasons.
“That doesn’t mean we get discouraged,” Freda said. Two other options for a senior living facility are now trying to get into that property, he said. “There is a lot of good momentum on this,” he said. “We can’t make announcement right now because hasn’t happened yet, but we are working with these properties to find solutions.”