BERLIN - For Berlin Economic Development Director Chris Edge, organizing the groundbreaking for the Steele Center at Farmington project was a hassle. In addition to the developers and local public officials that he scheduled to attend, he gathered state politicians including Gov. Ned Lamont to the site that will eventually bring 19,000 square feet of medical, restaurant and retail space along with 76 market-rate apartments.
“This is going to give us vibrancy in the Kensington Village,” Edge said. “We can now have a great place for millennials and empty nesters to live. Hopefully they work in New Haven, they work in Hartford. The other piece is we can really have an opportunity for private investment, which in covid is challenging. For us, it’s great for the fact that we have a developer that’s located in Southington. They’re here for the long term and they’re going to be working to really help the area. I think it’s great because we’re going to get some of the things we need [such as] restaurants, retail, medical office, which we are lacking to some degree.”
After rescheduling the event once, Wednesday morning marked the beginning of one of two major construction projects happening in Berlin. That was until some Connecticut residents who are fed up with the governor’s coronavirus precautions arrived to interrupt the event and make their voices heard. The protestors called Lamont “King Ned” in response to Lamont extending his emergency powers until February.
The building that broke ground Wednesday will feature 7,800 square feet of retail space and 16 apartments, and the developers expect to lay the first foundation for that building in the next 45-60 days.
The event featured speakers including Lamont; Berlin Mayor Mark Kaczynski; Tony Valenti, one of the developers from Newport Realty Group; and other public officials.
The entire project will encompass 861, 889, 903 and 913 Farmington Avenue. Wednesday’s event marked construction of a brand new building at 903 Farmington and renovations to the existing building at 861 Farmington. The other plots will be purchased and developed by Newport at a later date as part of the project.
“We’re excited,” developer Mark Lovely from Newport said. “We feel with the train station here, I know there’s covid and everything going on now, but eventually things are going to be back. You’re going to have these apartments here, the restaurants, the cafes, the office space, it’s a great place. Even someone in Hartford could open a satellite business here, they could jump on a train and go to their office in Hartford and be there in 20 minutes.”
The building at 861 Farmington is going to be renovated into a commercial space on the first floor with an apartment on top while retaining the existing facade and historic attributes. 903 Farmington will be the site of a 21,000-square-foot multi-use building with retail and restaurant space on the first floor and 16 apartments on top.
“I think it’s great for the fact that we haven’t had a lot of apartments and now we will,” Edge said. “If you look at our major employers, manufacturing, Comcourse, Eversource, they’re looking for every millennial they can find that’s talented and motivated. This will give those millennials an opportunity to live here in Berlin.”
The development is based around being directly next to the Berlin train station, which gives incredible access for commuters or anyone in need of easy access to the nearby cities.
“I think with the state redoing our train station, it gave us the tools to get this development going,” Kaczynski said. “It took a lot of hard work, but it’s a great piece of land that Berlin has owned for a long time and we were finally able to bring some new development to Farmington Avenue.”
This is the first of two large developments coming to the now in the coming years as Turnpike Ridge, another large development on the Berlin Turnpike, is set to break ground Oct. 2.
“I love private development,” Lamont said. “We’ll do our part. We’ll clean up [with] the Department of Transportation and such, but when you have private developers saying Berlin is a place I want to be, that tells you you have some wind in your back.”