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June 12, 2023 Deal Watch

Long Island family of realty investors bullish on downtown Waterbury revival amid buying spree

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER Kirk Mariolis is a member of a Long Island family of investors that has purchased several downtown Waterbury buildings since late 2021, including the former John Bale Book Co. property on Grand Street (shown in the background).

John Bale Book Co. co-owner Edith Reynolds spent decades trying to kindle interest in downtown Waterbury.

Reynolds hosted live performances in her charming, 122-year-old Grand Street building. She opened a café. She repeatedly scraped together funds and donations for a downtown children’s Halloween festival. And she donated many hours to revitalization committees.

However, her bookstore and café closed during the pandemic and will not reopen. Reynolds and her husband, Dan Gaeta, last month sold the 11,592-square-foot building at 158 Grand St., for $325,000, city records show.

But Reynolds has good reason to hope the revival she sought for so long will find fresh energy in her building’s new owners — a Long Island-based family of real estate investor-developers that has built a growing downtown Waterbury portfolio since late 2021.

“Hopefully, they will see it as a community hub the way we always did,” Reynolds said of her building. “They seem very energetic. They seem to like the city. They seem to like what they are doing.”

The buyer was the Mariolis family, which owns commercial and residential real estate in Hartford, New York and New Jersey. The family realty business is headed by Ioannis Mariolis, who is joined by his children, John, Kirk, Alex and Penny Mariolis. Family members said they have 20 buildings in their portfolio. That doesn’t include small multifamily buildings in Hartford, which they are selling.

The “Broadcast Center” building at 115 South Main St., in Waterbury, is being gutted ahead of a planned conversion into apartments.

Kirk Mariolis said he likes Hartford but has found it a challenge to recoup money invested in renovating and maintaining buildings.

In Waterbury, the Mariolis family found a long-struggling downtown stocked with handsome, antique architecture that can be picked up at bargain prices.

“We own properties in many different areas,” said Kirk Mariolis, who is responsible for day-to-day operations in Waterbury. “Right now, we are focusing on Waterbury. Over here, it is more of a virgin area. It still hasn’t been tampered with yet, so I feel there is more opportunity here now.”

Kirk Mariolis said his family envisions downtown Waterbury becoming a “little Manhattan,” fostered by massive upgrades coming to the Waterbury branch rail line, recently renovated downtown parks, nearby colleges, two hospitals and a city administration eager to foster development.

Mayor Neil O’Leary has spent, and has plans to continue spending, many millions refurbishing parks and upgrading streets and underground utilities downtown.

Kirk Mariolis said the relatively cheap purchase prices of some buildings will be offset by renovations required after decades of deferred maintenance. It’s not an uncommon problem in downtown Waterbury, where some property owners have maintained first-floor retail operations while upper floors sit vacant and neglected.

“There are a couple of them that I looked at, they need a bulldozer,” Kirk Mariolis said. “They don’t need a rehab. Some of these buildings have structural problems.”

The Mariolis family bought its first Waterbury property in December 2021, paying $190,000 for a century-old, 11,040-square-foot building at 111 Bank St., that had long housed clothing retailer Tony’s Mens Shop.

Next was a $300,000 purchase of a 15,984-square-foot building at 132 Grand St., which once housed Webster Bank executive offices. Then, the family bought a long-shuttered 18,630-square-foot office building at 95 North Main St., for $310,000, and the 23,797-square-foot “Broadcast Center” building at 115 South Main St., for $615,000.

Deepening investment

The family continued diving deeper into downtown Waterbury in May, with the purchase of the John Bale building, along with a $535,000 acquisition of a four-story, 14,496-square-foot retail-and-office building at 68 Center St.

Another Mariolis-linked LLC paid $765,000 for a 9,869-square-foot warehouse at 1999 South Main St., which is home to contractor C&H Electric. That was the family’s first purchase outside Waterbury’s downtown.

Kirk Mariolis said his family expects to continue leasing the property to the contractor.

Apart from the former Webster Bank building, which is being leased as office space, the Mariolis family plans to transform most of its downtown properties into apartments. First-floor retail spaces will be renovated and maintained.

Work is already underway on the former Tony’s Mens Shop, which could yield up to 11 apartments, and the Broadcast Center.

“We are working on a game plan for all of them,” Kirk Mariolis said. “The main goal is to bring more life to Waterbury, whether it’s fixing them up as commercial or converting them to apartments.”

City officials say the family has made good on early redevelopment promises.

“Not only are they investing in the city, but they immediately go in and start working on the buildings,” Economic Development Director Joseph McGrath said. “So, it’s not like a long-term investment that they are just going to wait and see. They have a plan, and they are going one right after another.”

Mayor O’Leary said he’s happy to have solid and enthusiastic investors who don’t require grant aid.

“They have the capital to not only purchase the properties, but to rehab these properties,” O’Leary said. “A lot of these properties in Waterbury are in great need of renovation.”

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