Big plans: Sessions building may become apartments

Published on Monday, 13 January 2020 19:09


BRISTOL - Tuesday night the City Council is expected to review a proposal to redevelop the Sessions Building into apartments, as part of a vision for transforming Riverside Avenue into an inviting gateway to downtown.

Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and the council appointed the J.H. Sessions & Sons Building Task Force last September to review proposals from developers to clean up contamination and redevelop the property at 273 Riverside Ave.

The task force is recommending Vesta/BHA Joint Venture for the job.

Vesta Corp. is a Weatogue-based owner, manager, and developer of apartment housing, including more than 20,000 housing units in 13 states and the District of Columbia. It is partnering with the Bristol Housing Authority. This project will differ from other BHA projects, as it will be 100% market driven and not subsidized for lower-income earners.

Their construction partner on the project would be D’Amato Construction.

The task force “received a number of qualified proposals for renovation of this historic building,” said Marie O’Brien, task force chair.

“The preferred developer is offering modern lifestyle apartments with the latest high technology amenities and attractive common area features for people seeking market rate rentals,” O’Brien continued. “These units will be within walking distance to Bristol downtown restaurants and stores, and the Pequabuck River and Memorial Boulevard Park.”

“This project embodies all the aspects of what a government should do to put a significant property back on the Grand List generating tax revenue: it has local partners working to create market rate apartments, as well as grants in place to remediate a contaminated property,” said Zoppo-Sassu. “The Riverside Avenue gateway to downtown is an important one, and this is one major piece of the improvements that we hope to see here.”

“As a development partner with Vesta Corporation in the redevelopment and repurposing of the J.H. Sessions & Sons property, BHA looks forward to the conversion of the existing building into apartments which will result in a modern, yet historic looking residential community with amenities unlike those in the area,” said Mitzy Rowe, BHA CEO.

“The combination of tall, wood plank ceilings, rough sawn wood beams, large expansive windows, and exposed brick walls [planned for the apartment units] will give residents a unique experience and a connection to the history of Bristol,” Rowe said.

The 80,000-square-foot industrial building sits on 3.54 acres and is in tax arrears for close to $1 million. The building is eligible for state and federal Historic Register listing.

Built in 1907, it was the site of a trunk hardware manufacturing business which used heavy metal compounds in the painting and plating operations.

Since the Sessions Co. ceased operations in 1984, other industrial users have leased space in the building, including Armaloy and Plymouth Spring. The building is still owned and operated by members of the Sessions family.

In the past 15 years, the city, with support from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Connecticut, has done several environmental site assessments at the site. The most recent, in 2017, concluded that remediation would cost up $1.4 million.

Due to the costly environmental cleanup, the building’s large size, financial obligations, and other complications, the city has decided not to pursue a traditional tax foreclosure. Instead, city officials have decided to seek a new developer for a “tri-party” agreement involving the developer, the city, and the Connecticut Brownfield Land Bank, which allows the Land Bank to take title and shoulder the environmental liabilities.

Once the contamination is cleaned up, the property would be transferred to the new owner to begin construction.

The Vesta/BHA proposal is to convert the property into an apartment complex, while preserving historically significant elements of the building. The existing building would house 40 one-bedroom and 19 two-bedroom apartments. A new 45,000-square-foot structure would be added immediately to the east, featuring six one-bedroom and 26 two-bedroom units, for a total of 91 units.

The plans include duplicating the original building’s exposed brick, high wood plank ceilings, wide wood flooring, and large, ornate windows in the new planned building. Community gathering space is expected to include a library/computer room, a community room with kitchen facilities, and a fitness facility.

Certain areas of the building are expected to be demolished to streamline environmental cleanup and free up areas for parking and outdoor gathering space, such as barbecue grilling, fire pits, electric vehicle charging stations, and more.

In addition, the project will include the half-acre property at 296 Riverside Ave., known as the Hostess Building, across the street. Most of this area will be used for parking to support the apartment community, but will include green space to complement the adjacent Pequabuck River and Veterans Memorial Boulevard Park.

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Monday, 13 January 2020 19:09. Updated: Monday, 13 January 2020 19:12.