After 114 years, the brick-and-stone J.H. Sessions & Son industrial building that looms over Bristol’s Riverside Avenue is on track to become an apartment complex.

Gov. Ned Lamont visited the city Monday to announce that Connecticut will kick in $2 million for the project, which is intended to brighten one of the city’s main gateways and add more than 90 housing units.

“What this reminds you of is how much of an industrial center Connecticut was in 1907, 1908,” Lamont told an audience of city officials, business leaders and residents gathered outside the building. “We are reinventing ourselves every day.”

The hulking four-story factory has been problematic for Bristol for several decades, but was once the headquarters of a prominent manufacturer of iron bolts, locks, latches, hinges and other hardware for shipping trunks.

Sessions gradually cut back operations in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and closed altogether in the mid-’80s. Bristol tried for years to interest small manufacturers in redeveloping the building, but the site needs extensive environmental cleanup and the floor plan was laid out for industries of a century ago.

Artists and a few very small businesses have rented some space over the years, but the building’s deterioration continued. Civic leaders have pressed for a major restoration, partly because the Sessions building is the most noticeable part of the landscape as drivers head downtown from the east.

“We’ve been waiting over 15 years to stand here and be poised to do this project,” Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said Monday.

The project is part of Zoppo-Sassu’s vision of reviving downtown, which never recovered from the large-scale demolition of many commercial buildings several decades ago. Some were replaced by the Bristol Centre Mall, which fell on bad times and was demolished about 15 years ago.

“Downtown has been one of the clear examples of having almost the heart of the community ripped out for urban renewal,” Zoppo-Sassu said. “Housing is critical in the city of Bristol right now. To be able to bring on 91 units, we know we can sustain and support that.”

Vesta Corp. and the Bristol Housing Authority plan to thoroughly remodel the structure into one- and two-bedroom apartments, and construct a 45,000-square-foot building on the same property for more.

“This will create quality market-rate housing to serve the needs of Bristol residents including city employees, firefighters, police, EMTs, teachers, hospital employees or other workers who make between 80 and 120% of the region’s median income,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said. “The state of Connecticut is thrilled to be investing in Bristol. This is going to help change the landscape of this city.”

The state aid is part of a $19 million package of Brownfield remediation projects that Lamont approved. It covers 31 projects in 23 different communities across Connecticut; Bristol tied with Vernon for landing the second-biggest share of the money. Only Waterbury, which will get $4 million, did better.

Bristol will use its share of the funds for environmental cleanup, an expense estimated four years ago to run more than $1.7 million. Vesta and the Bristol Housing Authority then anticipate hiring the local D’Amato Construction Co. to do the remodeling.

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Image credit: Mark Mirko/The Hartford Courant

Author: ross