‘Everything’s starting to gel’: Shelton’s downtown booming

SHELTON - Build them and they will come.

New construction along Howe Ave. and Canal Street over the past two years have accounted for 646 new apartments and all are occupied — with most of the units filling even before the structures were complete.

Another five projects — one of which is under construction (Vista Apartments II on Howe Avenue), another about to start (Perry Pettis’ land at 356 Howe Ave.), and the other three presently on hold — account for another 332 apartments that are helping continue the downtown’s transformation from an eyesore to a crown jewel.

“All the apartments downtown, before they were even finished, had 100 percent occupancy,” Downtown Development Director Ken Nappi said.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said this comes as no surprise that downtown continues to draw developers and people to live.

“Investors are smart. When the return is there, they know it,” Lauretti said. “The goal was always getting people to the downtown. And the apartments do that. The downtown is coming of age. People do not realize what it was really like. How bad (it was). It’s really coming of age.”

In turn, Nappi said businesses are beginning to filter into downtown.

“Everything is starting to gel now that the apartments are online,” Nappi said.

Mat Calandro, owner of Caloroso Eatery & Bar on Center Street and the commercial building at 509 Howe Ave., said he has become quite active with downtown Shelton, meeting many new people and getting new customers frequently.

“Walkability and parking are preventing exceptional retail growth,” Calandro said. “While there is fragmented parking available, the addition of substantial centralized parking and well-lit sidewalks would take downtown Shelton to new heights.”

According to numbers from the Shelton Economic Development Commission, more than a dozen businesses have opened or will soon set up shop downtown.

Tacomida restaurant, Maffe Financial Group, Vibes Hair Salon and M&T Nails are at Bridge Street Commons I, which has 40 apartments on the upper levels.

Tacomida owner Hartin Ballabani will soon be opening a new restaurant, Chaplin, in Bridge Street Commons II, developer Angelo Melisi’s new building at 427 Howe Ave. that has 72 apartments already filled.

“We are happy to continue to be part of the revitalization of downtown Shelton,” Ballabani said about choosing to open a second restaurant downtown.

Just down the street, 502 On Howe, former site of the Webster Bank building, has 56 apartments. The building will soon be opening a small Webster Bank space along with Common Grounds on the corner. Common Grounds is relocating from its present Bridgeport Ave. location and is expected to open in March.

Another recently completed development, Cedar Village at Carroll’s, holds 33 apartments in addition to commercial space along Howe Ave. Two businesses are already open - Butterfly & Sage and Bello’s Barber Studio - with Steady Habits, local basketball legend Maria Conlon’s high end tasting lounge, opening soon.

“Downtown is so up and coming now,” Shelton native Makayla Kraynak said about why she chose Howe Ave. to open Butterfly & Sage.

Work will soon begin on Riverwalk Place, a multi-story structure that will have first-floor retail and 35 apartments on the upper floors, located on vacant land at 356 Howe Ave. The new structure will sit next to the building that has housed Johnny’s Pizza and the soon-to-open Beastie Burger.

“We have some great additions to the community and the vibe is really getting there given the private sector’s efforts and investment,” Calandro said. “I'm hoping to see some municipal investment in the near future to keep up with the parking demand and increase curb appeal further.”

Nappi said Calandro, who has approval for a development with 27 apartments for the 509 Howe Ave. Site, which is home to a handful of stores, including Children's Studio for the Performing Arts and Shelton Kitchen, is working with neighboring property owners to combine efforts to redevelop the entire strip from the corner of White Street to the lot abutting the Pizza Palace.

New businesses — CeCe's Bubble Tea Café and Polaris Crystals — are also moving into space at 434 Howe Ave., the former Matto property. Nappi said no plans have been submitted for the site yet.

The new developments and businesses bring with them more traffic - something not lost on local developers as they call on the city to find more parking.

Nappi said the city has an agreement to lease 70 spaces from the Yankee Gas lot across the street from Cedar Village at Carroll’s, which brings the city’s downtown parking totals to nearly 600 spaces. The problem, according to many downtown, is that the spaces are not well lit or properly identified for drivers.

Nappi said the city is working to increase the lighting in those areas and install proper signage to alert drivers to available public parking.

Another plan is a trolley system. Nappi said some developers and downtown business owners are creating an LLC through which they would oversee the trolley system. The city has agreed to donate two former Valley Transit buses for use as transport vehicles.

“The trolley could help alleviate some of the issues with parking,” Nappi said.

“With the increased traffic, retail and residential units, a Derby-Shelton train station, beautiful redevelopment of the Derby-Shelton Bridge, and the City of Shelton's experience with bus routing, it would seem that a trolley service run by the City of Shelton is a no-brainer,” Calandro said.

Calandro called today’s society one of convenience.

“This would be convenient for downtown patrons and inter-Shelton, Valley commuters,” he said about the trolley system. “It would help alleviate some traffic and bridge the fragmented parking areas that exist in the downtown area currently.”

While no numbers have been finalized, Calandro said the cost would be nominal and the ad revenue from the trolleys would just about pay for operations.

“If done properly I'm sure the state would kick in for an infrastructure and green project like this,” he added, “especially if it involves multiple towns.”