Bassett St. Co-Op Laundry Plan Axed

Rose Hansen

by Thomas Breen | Aug 9, 2021 9:25 am (16) Comments | Post a Comment | E-mail the Author Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Newhallville City plans to convert a long-vacant publicly owned building on Bassett Street into a worker-owned laundry have fallen apart — leaving the fate of Newhallville’s former […]

City plans to convert a long-vacant publicly owned building on Bassett Street into a worker-owned laundry have fallen apart — leaving the fate of Newhallville’s former “State Building” in limbo, and prompting the city to look elsewhere to build up the commercial laundry co-op.

The city concluded that retrofitting that property would cost millions of dollars more than building a facility from scratch.

The property in question is the 46,119 square-foot vacant office building at 188 Bassett St. near the Farmington Canal Trail.

That site, which used to house the state Department of Social Services area welfare office, has been dormant ever since the state moved those services to Fair Haven in 2013.

Starting under former Mayor Toni Harp and former Livable City Initiative Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, the city has spent the past three years trying to transform the derelict space into a worker-owned laundry that could generate between 40 and 150 jobs.

In October 2019, the city purchased the vacant building for $900,000 from a New York City-based holding company. In May 2020, the Board of Alders approved allocating nearly $1.37 million in federal block grant money towards making the Newhallville economic development project a reality.

At the July 20 meeting of the Ward 20 Democratic Ward Committee in the cafeteria of Lincoln Bassett School, Mayor Justin Elicker broke the news that — after years of effort, fundraising, and planning — the city is no longer looking to build out the laundry cooperate at 188 Bassett St.

“I think that the vision is strong,” he said. “But we’ve looked into the building, and the cost of doing that at that site is very high. We think that it might be more appropriate to actually build a new building for the laundry co-op. So we are exploring that as a potential option, not at 188 Bassett.”

During a Zoomed interview with the Independent, city Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli, Acting LCI Executive Director Arlevia Samuel, and Neal-Sanjurjo confirmed that plans to build out a worker-owned laundry at the former state social services building are now dead.

“The cost of the renovation work” proved too high, Piscitelli said. “Given that this was set up as a commercial office building, making it a contemporary industrial use”—including tearing out the second-story floor and moving in the necessary equipment for a commercial laundry—would be too expensive.

Neal-Sanjurjo estimated that building the worker-owned laundry at 188 Bassett St. would cost $9 million. Constructing an entirely new building for the project, meanwhile, would cost “under $2 million.”

“The city remains extremely and deeply committed to launching the commercial laundry project,” Piscitelli said. “This is a significant opportunity to create intergenerational wealth, address a need in our community to re-localize important supply streams with major employers and businesses, and [it has] practical and symbolic importance for future, inclusive economic growth.”

Continuing to try to place the project at the former state building, he said, is “impractical.”

“The cost is so significant, and there are more appropriate sites that would be more cost effective,” said Samuel.

Does the city intend to keep this worker-owned laundry project in Newhallville, even as it plans to construct a new building from the bottom up?

“We’re trying our best to make sure it stays in Newhallville,” Samuel said.

“The walk-to-work aspect is going to be very important for us,” added Piscitelli.

And has any of that $1.37 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money been spent on the project to date? Is that now down the tubes, given that the city is looking elsewhere to construct the laundry?

No, Samuel replied. That money has not yet been spent, and it’s tied specifically to the worker-owned laundry project. So the city can and will spend it only when the project moves further ahead.

What Happens Next?

So. What happens to this big, still-empty, city-owned building on Bassett Street now that it’s not going to house a worker-owned laundry?

During the Ward 20 Democratic Ward Committee meeting, Mayor Elicker said that city officials had toured the site with the Board of Education to see “if the Board of Education might move there, because they’re looking for a new home.”

Piscitelli said the city is still trying to figure out what exactly comes next at 188 Bassett.

“We have some breathing room now to figure out the highest and best use” for the property, he said. “Had it been left on the open market, it almost certainly would have been scooped up” by a private buyer. Since the city has control of it, the public will have much more of a say as to what comes next.

“Keeping the building in a state of good repair and stewarding it until we figure out that reuse is a significant thing that on the ground is taking place every day,” he added.

At the July ward committee meeting, Newhallville Community Management Team Chair Kim Harris called for the city to set up a new committee that includes Newhallville community leaders to help determine what the future of the Bassett Street building should be. Several Harris Tucker School students presented Mayor Elicker with a petition to that effect. The mayor said he’d happily agree to setting up such a committee and working closely with neighbors on future plans for the site.

The planning process for what comes next here, Harris said, must be “equitable.”

Natalie Kainz photo

Starr Street resident and Newhallville alder candidate Devin Avshalom-Smith said in a recent interview that, whatever happens next at the former DSS building, the city and the neighborhood need to make sure “we have a reasonable and responsible anchor business, and we need to make sure the property is used for business acceleration and community-based missions.”

Piscitelli told the Independent that the city is currently figuring out “how best to engage the community” on 188 Bassett’s future. The city will have more to say publicly on this building, and on the worker-owned laundry site’s potential new home, he said, sometime this fall.

Tags: worker-owned laundry, Michael Piscitelli, Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, Arlevia Samuel

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posted by: Heather C. on August 9, 2021  2:49pm

So the city bought a building, that it can’t turn into a laundry facility. What about a farmer’s market food hall cooperative? Locally grown, raised, harvested and crafted items. Each local farm, crafter, artisan or chef would rent a booth or shop monthly, seasonally or for the year depending on the size they needed and the time period they would need it for. There would be regular staff for cleaning and maintaining common spaces and daily building operations. CT and New England grown and raised produce stands, fresh meats butcher shops, seafood, shellfish, freshwater fish booths, locally made jams, jellies, pickles and preserves, local honey, maple syrup, a bread bakery, a pastry bakery, dairy shop, ice cream booth, deli items, herbs and spices for cooking booth, a floral booth, an imported goods specialty shop, a locally made bath, body and beauty goods booth, refrigerated or frozen prepared meals to go, salad bar shop, food court styled small kitchen food and beverage booths, coffee shop, tea shop, a holistic herbalist naturopath shop, etc. With an indoor/outdoor eating area that faces the Farmington Canal trail with roll up glass garage doors for good weather with tables and chairs and tent canopies for shade.  A small covered stage for local musicians to play. Hire staff and vendors with a preference for local people and small startup businesses, with especially a hiring preference for people returning to the workforce, and the unemployed and underemployed.
A organization like this would help eliminate the area food desert, help local farmers and the fishing industry, and help people start a new small business, and help people get back on their feet, and gain new business skills and work skills. The organization could host seminars on managing small business finances, budgeting, running and starting a small business for people looking to start up in the small food and crafts industry. The booths should be cheaper than the food trucks fees to rent.

posted by: FacChec on August 9, 2021  5:29pm

From the city 20/21 approved budget:
Section 3-101, pg 345, on-line.
Department LCI.

Here you will see LCI’s Goal for 188 Bassett street. There were no funds allocated in this budget year for Bassett Street coming from the general, Capital or Special fund budgets.

Question:So just where is the $1.37M coming from and in what budget year was it approved?

FY 2020-2021 GOALS /INITIATIVES:
 Create new homeownership units in a strategic approach to development through new construction on
City owned vacant properties for working families. In FY 2020-21, the following projects will move from
Predevelopment to Construction
1. Thompson/Winchester Homeownership Project: Commence construction on the City-owned
properties that will be redeveloped for homeownership units in the Newhallville neighborhood.
2. 596-598 George Project: Commence phased rehabilitation to preserve an historic building for
homeownership with rental units.
3. 177 Winthrop Avenue – City of New Haven (Owner/Developer) gut rehabilitation into 2
family (2nd/3rd Floor Owner units with 1st Floor Rental; Design Phase
4. 455 Howard Avenue – Hill South Management Team partnership – new construction 2 family
homeownership structure; 2nd/3rd floor combo unit. Design Phase
5. Ashmun/Canal: City owned parcel LCI will negotiate agreement with selected developer, RJ
Development, for mixed use mixed income development with rental and possible
homeownership and communicate to Board of Alders for approval.
6. Union Square Redevelopment: Partnership with New Haven Housing Authority and
Northland Development Corporation to provide affordable and market rate housing on former
site of Church Street South.
7. 188 Bassett Street: for economic development wealth building initiative build out.
8. Antellian Manor: New construction of 31 units affordable units.
Section III – Agency Narratives/Performance Indicators 3-101 Section III – Agency Narratives/Performance Indicators.

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