Mayor Mark Lauretti opposed the idea of moving City Hall in the early 1990s, when he was first elected to office, but he may be more open to the concept now.
“Twenty-three years later, maybe we’re ready,” Lauretti said. “Maybe now the conditions are right.”
The 12-term mayor has a possible location in mind — downtown, piecing together some parcels owned by the city, private individuals and other entities.
The January fire that destroyed a historic apartment and retail building on Howe Avenue has opened up property that abuts — or is near — multiple municipal properties. This includes much of the land between Howe Avenue and Coram Avenue, and Center Street and White Street.
And that has the mayor thinking — although it’s only an idea for now, and far from certain that it will be pursued. “There is plenty of land there,” Lauretti said.
This includes the privately owned Matto property that is vacant due to the fire, and the post office building and its side parking lot.
Many municipally-owned parcels
The city already owns the large parking lot in front of the post office, the Echo Hose firehouse on Coram Avenue, the L-shaped parking lot off White Street between the firehouse and the Pierpont Building, the probate court building on White Street, and a vacant building at 479 Howe Avenue that previously was a health district office, police station and firehouse.
The city also leases the former Hunter’s Corner site at Howe and Center, which serves as a small pocket park.
“There’s more land there than there is here,” Lauretti said of the current City Hall, which occupies an old school building on Hill Street.
The historic Pierpont Building (or Pierpont Block) would obviously remain, as would some other small commercial structures on Howe Avenue and Center Street.
The city is likely to replace the Echo Hose firehouse in the future with a new facility more central to both downtown and the Bridgeport Avenue retail/corporate corridor.
The current City Hall was built as a school in 1921, serving as Shelton High and then Fowler Elementary before being renovated into City Hall. Prior to that, Shelton City Hall had been in the current probate court building.
‘Make a statement’
Lauretti said when he first took office in late 1991, some people wanted to move City Hall from its current location. He opposed the idea at the time because he said the city had other priorities.
However, he recently said the city has come a long way since then, and now might be a time to begin thinking about the possibility of moving City Hall.
When asked, he reacted negatively to constructing a new City Hall on the city-owned Mas property off Bridgeport Avenue (where a new section of Constitution Boulevard might be built) or on city-owned land off Constitution Boulevard South.
“If the city needs to make that kind of commitment, it should be in the downtown area,” Lauretti said.
Lauretti said a new city hall in the central city would “enhance” the surrounding area, providing an economic benefit to nearby businesses such as restaurants and retail stories. “It’s all about the foot traffic,” he said.
A new City Hall in the heart of downtown would “make a statement,” according to the mayor. “It would be a focal point,” he said. “And these opportunities only come along every 100 years or so.”
Matto site’s future
Lauretti has reached out to the Matto family to discuss the possibility of the city buying the land. “I am talking to them, and to others in the city,” he said of properties that would need to be acquired.
The Matto family is planning to construct a new building on its property to replace the one destroyed in the fire.
They have yet to seek zoning approval, although if the new structure — tentatively called the Shelton Phoenix Building — is similar enough to the old one that process might be somewhat expedited.
Lauretti and some other city officials have indicated they might like to see something bolder built at the site, although any major deviation from the previous structure could complicate the zoning process for the Mattos because of parking and other requirements.
Elaine Matto said the idea of the city buying their property to combine with other land for a new City Hall has been broached only in a limited way. “We haven’t talked about it with numbers, but are aware of it in a vague way,” she said.
Matto said family members expect to meet with Lauretti again soon on what might happen with the site. “We should be moving in the direction of rebuilding rather than selling, but we are open to talking” with the city, she said.