New retail, 106 apartments on the way at outdated CT strip mall

New retail, 106 apartments on the way at outdated CT strip mall

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Building more than 100 apartments on the site of an outdated strip mall in the heart of Windsor will benefit the town and chip away a little at Connecticut’s persistent housing shortage, speakers said Wednesday at the groundbreaking for Founders Square.

The project will bring about 12,000 square feet of retail space along with 106 one-bedroom and studio apartments, developer Gregory Vaca told more than 100 local business leaders, longtime town residents and state leaders including Gov. Ned Lamont.

“Founders Square is going to be something that future residents will be able to enjoy in close proximity to our train station, the Windsor Arts Center, the public library, the Windsor Center river trail, restaurants and shops,” Mayor Nuchette Black-Burke said.

Windsor Mayor Nuchette Black-Burke talks at the groundbreaking for the Founders Square in Windsor Center on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Windsor Mayor Nuchette Black-Burke talks at the groundbreaking for the Founders Square in Windsor Center on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

Since Founders Square is a key catalyst in a town center makeover and provides new workforce-priced apartments as well as market-rate units in a transit-oriented development zone, there has been widespread support for Vaca’s $30 million project at all levels of government.

The state put up a $3.2 million grant, the town is giving a temporary future tax incentive worth about $2.8 million, and U.S. Sen John Larson’s office helped secure $3 million in federal aid for a so-called road diet that will reduce travel lanes on part of Broad Street serving the new complex.

Developer Gregory Vaca plans 106 apartments in the heart of Windsor at site of the Windsor Center Plaza, seen here in 2022. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com
Developer Gregory Vaca plans 106 apartments in the heart of Windsor at site of the Windsor Center Plaza, seen here in 2022. Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com

And while most ceremonies for privately owned housing initiatives draw only local politicians and perhaps a few business leaders, about 120 people, including many Windsor residents with no financial interest in Founders Square, stood in a cold wind through a series of speakers Wednesday afternoon.

One group that was markedly less receptive was the handful of pro-Palestinian protestors who started loud, repetitive chants almost immediately after Vaca and officials posed for photos with shovels for the ceremony. They screamed that Lamont is endorsing genocide by Israel, and continued chanting for at least 10 minutes after he’d driven off with his security team.

Some of the main crowd yelled for the protestors to stop or reduce the volume, while one protestor shouted back “Do you even care about Palestinian children?”

(Aaron Flaum/ Hartford Courant)
(Aaron Flaum/ Hartford Courant)

Other state and town officials stayed to take photos with Vaca, ignoring the chants.

Vaca’s Grava Properties plans to demolish the Windsor Center Plaza, an aging strip center at Route 75 and Route 159. The brick Windsor Center building dates to the early 1960s and is a collection of small storefronts anchored by what was once a small A & P supermarket. The complex is behind a sprawling parking lot facing the center of town.

Vaca sees the property as a leftover from a car-centric era, especially since it’s less than a five-minute walk from the train station that serves CTrail and Amtrak. A modern apartment complex with co-working spaces, a video conference room, a dog park, an extensive gym and other contemporary amenities will be a far better use of the site, Vaca said.

During his brief talk, Lamont focused on the significance of the train station, predicting that service will get more frequent on the New Haven to Springfield, Mass. line that runs through town.

Greg Vaca, president of Grava Properties, speaks Wednesday about his Founders Square project in Windsor. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)
Greg Vaca, president of Grava Properties, speaks Wednesday about his Founders Square project in Windsor. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

“We’re going to be doubling down on the rail service between Hartford, here, Windsor Locks and Springfield. Lots more frequent service (will be) brought by more housing, and we desperately need the housing in this state,” Lamont said. “For the first time in a long time, we have tens of thousands of families moving into Connecticut, not leaving. And if I’m going to keep economic growth and opportunity for people, it starts with housing just like you see here.

“In terms of what this state and region look like in 2035, I mentioned additional rail service. Massachusetts is extending rail (from Boston) right through to Springfield. So within the next eight to 10 years, I think you’ll be able to go right from Hartford through Windsor to Boston, connecting this region in a way that opens opportunity to folks,” Lamont said.

Vaca plans a two-stage development, with the first building to go up right along Broad Street. That will give the commercial tenants of the plaza a new location to move to before it is torn down to make way for the second state of construction.

Based on the current economy, Vaca predicted rents for the one-bedroom units would be $1,900 to $2,100, with studios at $1,600 to $1,700.  But that could change based on inflation.

The apartments set aside as workforce housing will be priced toward people earning 80% of the region’s median income.

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