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June 26, 2017

Former Vernon textile factory set to start renting apartments

For Vernon's Main Street residents who witnessed the slow decline of the former Talcott Brothers Mill, its path to a new purpose has at times seemed like a lifetime in the making.

For Al Pedemonti, the mill’s owner, the wait has undoubtedly felt even longer.

Pedemonti, who has been involved with efforts to rehabilitate the old textile facility since the mid-1990s, was deservedly jubilant Thursday morning, as a crowd of around 100 gathered in the building’s parking lot to celebrate the near-completion of the town’s longest-running revitalization effort.

“I sometimes have to pinch myself and say, ‘Is this really happening?’” Pedemonti told the group, many having links to either the project or the neighborhood. “I’ve been involved with this mill for two decades. It’s almost become a part of me.”

The former industrial site now boasts 83 apartments, including studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. When showings begin Saturday, it will mark the start of a new era for the site — one that few would have predicted even eight or nine years ago.

Pedemonti, alongside several partners, first closed on the mill in 1994, during what he described as a downturn in the state’s real estate market. The mill languished in disrepair, however, as the owners refocused their attention on other locations with more obvious and easily realized promise.

“This project actually became a bit of a lost child,” Pedemonti said.

Frustrated and convinced that the group would never make a priority of the Talcott site, Pedemonti decided to buy out the other partners, making him the sole owner. He described the decision as one made in the blur of a beautiful morning, one in which “you get up and say, ‘I can conquer the world today.’

“It didn’t take long for reality to set in,” he continued. “And all at once I said, ‘Oh my dear God, what have I done?’”

Pedemonti soon assembled a team of experts to get the project off the ground, including architect William Crosskey and planner Peter DeMallie, in addition to attorneys and a patchwork of banks, lenders, and advisors who’d supported the effort since its 2010 launch.

One of Pedemonti’s most critical partners, though, happened into the project by a lucky alignment of the stars.

Seven years ago, Laura Knott-Twine, a former head of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, was renting an apartment in one of Pedemonti’s buildings in Hartford. The two became friends and, noting her background, Pedemonti asked her to take a look at the languishing mill site to get her opinion.

“I was overwhelmed by how great it was,” Knott-Twine said. “It was this little country mill, sitting on a quiet little street.”

Knott-Twine became the resident expert and a guiding force behind the renovations, ensuring that plans conformed to state rules governing historic properties. Despite the slowness of a process that was at one point entirely held up by a since-revoked flood zone designation, Knott-Twine said the deliberate pace was necessary to secure funding and guarantee compliance with regulations.

“A lot of people jump the gun” on projects like the Talcott Mill, she said. “The ones that succeed do it the right way.”

By November 2015, Knott-Twine said, all the funding was in place, and contractors began the heavy lifting. Workers removed hazardous materials, installed new heating, lighting, and plumbing, restored the bell tower, and put in 140 feet of monitor windows. Even as celebrants toured the facility Thursday, the hum of construction continued both inside and around the building.

Those getting a first glimpse inside the old mill also saw a special piece of Knott-Twine’s handiwork: a glass-encased exhibit celebrating the site’s industrial past. On display are old pieces of machinery, milk bottles once used by workers and dug up by contractors, and mannequins dressed in period garb.

The exhibit is not open to the public, Knott-Twine said. Instead, it will act as something special for residents, effectively linking the past to the present.

“This building was once used by workers,” she said. “And now it will be lived in by workers, used in a different way.”

The mill was originally built in 1870, at the same address as an earlier textile factory, and became an anchor of Talcottville, the tight-knit community that grew up around the industrial center. The plant saw several notable additions in the decades that followed, and its distinctive bell tower became a symbol of the industrial strength of the many mills lining the Hockanum and Tankerhoosen rivers.

Like many of the larger mill complexes in town, however, the former Talcott facility fell into disrepair in the years following its closure. Mayor Daniel Champagne recalled investigating trespassing complaints at the site during his time as a local police officer, once even walking the property with Pedemonti while in search of intruders.

“I remember coming into the mill because people were inside,” the mayor said. “So I’ve seen it on both sides.”

Now marveling at the extent of the renovations, Champagne noted the progress made by the town as a whole in finding new uses for structures that had outlived their industrial intent.

“This property is beautiful now,” he said.

Standing alongside Sen. Anthony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, and Pedemonti, Champagne cut through a ribbon with oversized scissors, drawing excited applause.

After the ceremony, Pedemonti compared his feelings to the thrill of a skier exhilarated by his latest run.

“You simply can’t describe it,” he said.

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