By KAITLYN NAPLES
If no action is taken on what to do with the vacant Memorial Boulevard Middle School building, the city and taxpayers will continue to shell out $10,000 and $14,000 per month, said President and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce Michael Nicastro.
The building recently went out to a “request for proposal,” and the sole bid on the school came from the chamber of commerce. The organization has proposed to lease the school for $2,000 per month, and turn the building into a multi-use facility, including using its historic theater, something the public has requested.
The chamber’s plan for Memorial Boulevard School calls for moving its offices in the current administration area of the school, and then using other space within the building to create an “incubator” for small, start-up businesses.
The south wing of the building will house the businesses, which will be provided to companies that fall into three business categories: media technology, bio-science, and informational technology.
In the north wing of the building, an arts community center will be created, allowing for the use of the theater in the building, as well as the gymnasium.
The incubator space is intended for businesses that are now based out of homes, and who are trying to get out into the community. Nicastro said the businesses will rotate, and when they are large enough to get out into commercial space, they will, and make room for new start-up businesses.
“We want to create something that creates new businesses, new jobs and entertainment,” Nicastro told the Real Estate Committee last week. He added he wants to create a public/private relationship with the city. “There’s no time like the present.”
There are some issues with the building the chamber is aware of, if they get the approval to lease the building. Nicastro said the school is located in an “R-40” or residential zone, and in the Bristol zoning regulations, offices and small businesses are not allowed in an R-40 zone. Also, Nicastro said parking for long-term use would need to be improved and environmental issues would have to be addressed.
In addition to the $2,000 per month, the chamber would give the city half of what it makes off rent from incubator businesses and non-profits using the space. The chamber would pay for internal improvements, while the city would cover major repairs.
“We can’t guarantee success, but we can guarantee failure if we do nothing (with the building),” Nicastro said to the Real Estate Committee.
Recently, Mayor Art Ward had suggested moving some current offices from City Hall into the school building, and at last week’s presentation, Nicastro said there is no reason that can’t still happen.
“There’s plenty of space,” Nicastro said, adding that extra space can be used for higher education classes, local non-profit organizations, meeting and presentations space and even a region or city welcome center.
Chairman of the chamber’s board, Timothy Furey, said the chamber’s proposal relieves economic pressure, while promoting business and jobs in the community.
“I strongly feel great about this alternate route to take on this valuable resource,” Furey said, “and create something that’s no longer a burden on the community.”
Vice Chair of the Board of Finance, and former student and educator of Memorial Boulevard School, John Smith said the proposal is “a major risk for the chamber,” however he said it’s worth it, especially to save the theater, which is “a major asset to the city.”
The city’s Real Estate Committee is expected to discuss the chamber’s proposal further at its next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.
By KAITLYN NAPLES