New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Savin Rock Center’s future a question
City seeks ideas for vacant conference site
WEST HAVEN — Even the mayor said the vacant Savin Rock Conference Center “looks terrible.”
But Mayor Nancy Rossi also said she recognizes that the center is adjacent to “a beautiful piece of beach.”
“It’s gorgeous over there,” Rossi said. So even as the property is a blight on one of the city’s nicest areas, Rossi said, she would like to see something soon to turn the area around.
Now, the city is soliciting development proposals for the Savin Rock Conference Center by the city’s shoreline for a second time.
The city published a request for proposals last month, though officials had agreed in December 2020 to move forward with a developer pursuing a 40,000-square-foot restaurant and catering business concept. In June, developer Alexander H. Marathas of Smyrna
Group said he was completing a market study on the site, which he expected to wrap up before the end of summer.
“We did have an interested party, but we’ve been waiting months now and nothing has really happened,” Rossi said this week.
Marathas did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Although the city is seeking proposals, Rossi said she has heard from residents
that a brewery in that location would be a success.
“Probably about two years ago people at the Rotary Club told me they’d like to see a brewery there. People are approaching us saying they’d like a brewery,” she said.
Although Rossi said the city will entertain all proposals, one thing she won’t entertain is selling the property.
“I’m looking for a long-term lease. It can be a revenue stream to count on for years to come,” she said. “If we sold it outright, we get an influx of money and then it’s gone.”
Barry Lee Cohen, a 10th District Republican councilman who is challenging the Democratic mayor for her job in November’s election, said he, too, would support a long-term lease for the site.
However, he criticized the mayor for what he characterized as a series of missteps that led to the city putting out a second request for proposals almost a year after the city thought it found a developer.
“This strategic location should serve as the foundation and catalyst of further revitalization along Captain Thomas Boulevard to Beach Street. Instead, it continues to be a scar on our shoreline,” he said in an emailed comment.
When asked to respond to Cohen’s comments, Rossi said her administration did engage the Smyrna Group and they had considerable interest — until the developer mentioned his desire to add high-rise housing.
“I don’t want housing down there,” she said.
Cohen said the City Council reviewed four proposals after the first request for proposals, and the selected developer was the only one with a proposal that adhered to the requirements or was favorable — which he blames on the administration. He said he believes a recent spate of property transactions and development around the city have been part of the Rossi administration’s “development by luck” approach. He theorized that the deadline for proposals — Oct. 15 — is shorter than usual because it falls before the Nov. 2 election.
But Rossi said she does not develop by luck and her administration does plan; she said the city is bound to agreements with developers not to discuss negotiations. She also said there are no boundaries being violated on how long the city can give for developer proposals and she feels confident the city will receive many good ones.
Cohen said he does not have a specific concept of his own for the site because he has not done “the necessary engagement of and comprehensive collaboration with the developer and other key stakeholders,” but he said he would support an expansion of the learning and community center by adding “educational, recreational, services, and economic component to the site while also providing a venue for our seniors and veterans to access.”
Alan Olenick, executive director of the West Haven Chamber of Commerce, said a brewery concept in the conference center location by the beach would be “interesting” to see play out.
“It would certainly change the dynamic over there,” he said.
Olenick said his association with breweries is that they traditionally are located in industrial parts of cities.
“A brewery is a great idea, and maybe that location can work, but we’re inviting an awful lot of people to the shoreline for a brewery,” he said. “It would certainly change the dynamic of the shoreline: not necessarily badly, but it would change the dynamic of the shoreline.”
Olenick said he would not want to see the site “pigeonholed” into becoming any type of concept or development before the city receives proposals from developers.