COMMENTARY: What will happen with the downtown Shelton fire site?

The Matto property on Howe Avenue has been vacant since an early January fire destroyed the retail and apartment building that occupied the space.

The Matto property on Howe Avenue has been vacant since an early January fire destroyed the retail and apartment building that occupied the space.

Sleepy eyed residents awoke suddenly, startled out of their warm beds into the coldness of a dark bedroom. The middle-of-the-night noise of blaring sirens was enough to jolt a narcoleptic out of a deep sleep.

Outside their windows, plumes of black smoke rose through the ice-cold air. Howe Avenue’s snow-covered sidewalks quickly became crowded with dozens of firefighters from Shelton and several surrounding towns.

Dancing orange flames weaved the spray from the fire hoses until the sunrise of the early morning. Throughout that whole following day, water was still being pumped out to quell the burning embers of what was left of the 1880s structure.

This was a scene from Jan. 6, when a four-story building in Shelton’s downtown area caught fire and completely collapsed. The fire displaced at least 27 people and destroyed or damaged several restaurants and shops.

Thankfully, neither the displaced residents nor the firefighters emerged with any serious injuries. Sadness from the fire has diminished with the passing time.

More than 10 months later, the large hole where the building once stood still remains as part of the downtown skyline, leaving the people of Shelton wondering what’s in store for the future of this site.

 

Privately owned

First, one must remember that this property is privately owned and the ultimate decision of the fate of this lot lies with the owners. Many Shelton residents, however, are still voicing their opinions on what they feel would benefit downtown Shelton the most.

The speculation has ranged from returning the space to the previously displaced businesses to expanding the city’s downtown nightlife with a bar or restaurant. Another idea with much promise, and a large consensus, is the construction of a market or small grocery store.

The updated conceptual plan for the 0.4-acre site, as seen from Howe Avenue, includes fewer but larger apartments, retail stores, a second-floor flex space room for indoor activities, and off-street parking in the rear.

The updated conceptual plan for the 0.4-acre site, as seen from Howe Avenue, includes fewer but larger apartments, retail stores, a second-floor flex space room for indoor activities, and off-street parking in the rear.

Downtown Shelton has a rich industrial history, very evident from the several empty mills and factories along Canal Street. Over the past decade, the city has decided to preserve this historic architecture but also transition the downtown area to benefit the changing needs of its citizens.

This revitalization effort has already had many positive impacts, such as the Riverwalk, the Farmers Market Building, and the 254-unit Avalon Shelton apartment complex.

New restaurants and bars have contributed to a busier nightlife scene. City plans have expressed a desire to put in more residences as well as office and commercial spaces.

 

Emerging downtown hub

Along with better pedestrian accessibility, a market or grocery store would be a fitting addition to the emerging downtown hub that has developed from the influx of new people living in downtown Shelton.

For the time being, residents of Shelton will sit and wait, left with a growing curiosity of what is going to happen to this empty lot. Assuredly, the downtown Shelton site serves as a hope for the future and new things to come.

 

Brianne Perez of Shelton is a student at Southern Connecticut State University.

 

 

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