The Matto family has presented an updated concept plan for replacing the structure destroyed by the massive downtown fire in early January of this year.
The new four-story building on Howe Avenue would combine residential, retail, office, and activity space. This combination is important “in creating a vital block,” said architect
Joseph Matto, when presenting the plan on an informal basis last week to the Downtown Subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z).
There would be 16 to 20 apartments, four retail stores, two restaurants, and a 2,600-square-foot flex space designed to be rented for activities such as yoga and ballroom dancing.
Also included would be office space for two Matto family businesses, possible rented office space, basement storage areas for the residents and stores, and 24 on-site parking spaces.
The number of apartments is uncertain because up to four units could instead be used for offices, depending on market demand.
Apartments up to 750 square feet
The apartments would all be one-story, varying in size from about 575 to 750 square feet. The top-floor apartments would have additional loft space of up to 300 square feet, which could be used for home offices but aren’t intended as second bedrooms.
The restaurant spaces are being created for Liquid Lunch and Joy Lee (Chinese food), both of which are expected to move back into a new building. The flex space — being called the Wellness Activity Center — would be above the restaurants.
The destroyed building also was four stories with a basement, and had about two dozen apartments and a half-dozen storefronts. The property is 0.4 acres.
Five Matto family members — owners Ralph and Elaine plus their three sons, architect Joseph, Marc and Richard — were present at the meeting.
The updated look
The overall design is intended to match other buildings downtown, partly due to concerns that an earlier proposed concept was too industrial looking.
“This is more in line with your comments,” said Dominick Thomas, the family’s land-use attorney.
To come up with the architectural look, Joseph Matto said he traveled around downtown and noted what he liked in other buildings. The building would feature a mostly brick facade in front, bay windows, gabled roof, upper-floor railings (no actual balconies), and ground-level awnings.
Matto family members and Thomas said it’s important that the Phoenix Apartments building make a statement because of its gateway location downtown, especially when coming across the Derby-Shelton Bridge.
P&Z members and other attendees seemed to like the new design, including the proposed building’s rounded corner at Howe Avenue and Bridge Street. P&Z member Virginia Harger complimented it as “a modern turn-of-the-century look.”
One of the design challenges is that the elevation in front of the building on Howe Avenue is nine feet higher than in the rear, at the post office lot. “You think of it as a flat [area] but it’s not,” Elaine Matto said.
Higher-end apartments is goal
The help attract higher-end tenants, apartments would have separate washer-dryer units and one designated parking space, and the activity space would be promoted as “a value-added element” because of its proximity.
The activity center would serve private entities that need part-time space for uses such as yoga, ballroom dancing, Pilates, and cheerleading.
Another goal is to attract higher-end retail stores. Ruth Parkins said she wouldn’t want to see places specializing in selling lottery tickets and cigarettes in such a visible location. “That corner is too important,” she said.
Designated parking in the rear
The new parking area would be in the rear of the building, near the municipal lot used for the post office, and would be for apartment tenants and store employees.
Flex-space users, office tenants and store visitors would rely on nearby off-street and on-street public parking.
Joseph Matto said compared to the old building, the new plan would provide considerable private, designated parking.
Thomas said the proposed building would fit in well with possible plans for a new City Hall complex on surrounding properties, stretching from the post office lot to White Street.
“It doesn’t clash,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t prevent anything from taking place.”
Some discussion focused on Hunter’s Corner, a small empty lot at Howe Avenue and Center Street that the city now leases and might purchase in the future.
Matto said he’d like to see that remain green space, which would benefit the adjoining restaurants by creating an outdoor public space where people could mingle and eat.
The Mattos are expected to seek zoning approval for the new plan in the coming months, looking to create a Planned Development District (PDD). Architectural and engineering plans will be completed for the application process, and financing for the project solidified.