Future Of Army Engine Plant In Focus
By John Burgeson
The Connecticut Post
January 6, 2014
STRATFORD -- The former Stratford Army Engine Plant, today little more than a 77-acre industrial wasteland, will become a vibrant community with park lands, apartments, retail stores and entertainment outlets, developers of the long-awaited project announced at a news conference Monday.
"This an extraordinary day," said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "This allows us to compete for the future. We are in tough economic times. The way forward is economic development and revitalization, and the people in this room are at the center of that effort."
Although many hurdles remain, the developers say the plant that once produced the Corsair F4U that ravaged Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater in World War II will become a "crown jewel" of the region. Demolition, they said, will begin in about a year, and hopes are that construction will follow soon thereafter.
"We have brought properties back to productive use, and that's what we intend to do here," said Jeffrey J. Loureiro, one of the principals of Point Stratford Renewal or PSR, the group of developers that got the nod to proceed with the effort.
The challenge that developers face will be dealing with the decades of spilled paints, lubricants and other toxic waste. This is to be done mostly by capping over the property with asphalt, concrete and clean soil. There is still some debate going on about cleaning up the offshore sediment, the developers said, adding that they are talking with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on that matter.
Meanwhile, the core group that makes up PSR say that other developers are being sought to take on specific projects, such as housing and retail efforts.
"When I bring people through, they don't realize how wonderful this property is," said Ted Lane, one of the developers. "They tell me, `This is the most beautiful shorefront property in the state of Connecticut.' "
PSR will get the property from the U.S. Army for free -- the catch being that the developers will have to pay for the massive cleanup and encapsulation effort.
Lane said some ideas being discussed include a hotel, an outdoor beer garden, a sports and entertainment complex, a transit hub, shops and possibly a community college and senior housing. At its center would be a wide boulevard and a "town square" setting, he said.
The office of Mayor John Harkins announced in October that PSR was the developer that would take on the massive project. The significance of Monday's announcement was that it marked the point at which the developers would take over the responsibilities, as they said, of "pushing the rock up the hill," a task that until now was largely up to DeLauro, Harkins and others in government.
"Truly, this is a big moment for Stratford," Harkins said. "When I drive by and see this site, I don't see an old, industrial plant. What I see is a place where people will like to live and visit."
The mayor was effusive with praise for DeLauro.
"Without her help, this would not have been possible," he said. "She was there since Day 1."
During the Vietnam War, the plant kept three shifts busy building the T53 "folded" turboshaft engine, which powered just about every Bell UH-1 "Huey" Iroquois helicopter, the most iconic aircraft of that era. Monday's news conference took place in what was once one of the Avco-Lycoming conference rooms, located down a 1960s-era hallway that looked like something out of the set of "Mad Men."
As recently as 1985, 4,300 people worked there. The site has three main buildings and more than 40 smaller structures.
"It's a haunting experience, walking though its corridors," DeLauro said.
She said she still holds a lot of ill feeling toward the Army, which decided to move production of the M1 Abrams tank engine to Alabama in the mid-1990s.
"We fought and fought and fought to keep this plant running," she said. "Unfortunately, it was one of the battles we lost. The history of this place is unbelievable."
The plant went by a number of different names over the years: Avco-Lycoming, Lycoming-Textron, Avco Lycoming-Textron and just simply "the Avco plant."
Textron Inc., based in Providence, R.I., took over Avco in January 1985 for $1.4 billion. Its history dates to 1929, when it was where the majestic Sikorsky S-42 Clipper flying boat was built, an aircraft that was the backbone of Pan-Am's international service in the Pacific during the 1930s.
"You can't give up," said DeLauro, remarking on the 20-year effort get something going at the shuttered plant.