Bristol is looking for developers interested in re-habilitating the J.H. Sessions & Sons building into apartments, condos, offices, commercial space or light manufacturing. Even though it’s a half-mile east of Bristol’s center, the former factory and metalworksbuildingis an importantpart ofrevitalizing the downtown, city officials said.
“It’s an iconic structure along a gateway that needs some love,” said Justin Malley, executive director of the Bristol Development Authority.
The four-story brick building has dominated the view along western Riverside Avenues inceit went up in 1906. Unlike many former mills in Connecticut, though, it is not pock marked with shattered windows, boarded-up doorways and graffiti. The walls don’t sag, and the property is not ringed by barbed wire. Major manufacturing ended decades ago, but the building wasn’t simply abandoned. Most of the space has been used for storage since the Sessions company stopped operations in 1993, and a collection of tiny businesses including an engine repair shop rent some of the roughly 85,000 square feet of floor space.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development helped Bristol pay for an environmental study that concluded the building and its 3.5 acres need upward of $750,000 to clean up oil-soaked floors, contaminated dirt and other after-effects of the old factory operation. Now the city is advertising for developers to come forward with ideas by Sept. 5. It hopes to pick one, andthen present the plan to the state with a request for aid in doing the clean up. Getting the building back to a fully productive use would go far toward freshening up all of Riverside Avenue, one of the chief gateways to downtown from the east.
That’s been a priority in Bristol for years. A municipal report from 2012 on beautifying the roadway summed up the situation:
“Riverside Avenueis a veritable hodgepodge of automotive, manufacturing, retail, office and even residential uses of varying scale, condition, quality, and appearance.”
The dominant feature is the Sessions building. The company started out manufacturing hinges, locks, clips and other components for steamer trunks, and later produced a variety of metal products. The building between Riverside Avenue and the Pan Amrail roadtracks could be successfully remodeled into condos, apartments, offices or other uses, Malleysaid.
“We’ve seen those kind of projects work elsewhere. Why not here?,” he said.
Bristol is pushing to continue there vitalization around its downtown core, where Bristol Hospital just opened a 60,000-square-foot office and outpatient medicalservices building. Making Riverside Avenue more attractive can only help, according to the city.
“As a gateway, Sessions and Riverside Avenue are important to downtown, as is Memorial Boulevard,” Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassusaid.
“So we are happy tosee many of these pieces starting to come together.”
Don Stacom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.