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September 20, 2023

Negotiations to sell 17.4-acre former manufacturing site in Waterbury to aquaculture company fall apart

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O'Leary in front of the Anamet factory.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary has pulled the plug on negotiations to sell or lease the city’s 17.4-acre Anamet manufacturing site to local aquaculture business Ideal Fish, and will soon begin angling for a new development partner.

O’Leary, on Tuesday, said Ideal Fish failed to produce information needed to move forward with a deal, prompting his call for a halt to negotiations.

Once a bustling manufacturing site housing hundreds of workers on rotating shifts, Anamet closed its complex at 698 South Main St., in 2000. Neglected, the complex’s buildings began to fall into disrepair and became magnets for crime, as well as an extreme fire hazard.

A redevelopment company formed by the city bought the property in 2017, and officials have since spent millions in city and state dollars demolishing most buildings on-site and repairing the roof of a single, 220,000-square-foot industrial building kept for reuse.

In April 2022, the city issued a “request for proposals” for potential buyers and tenants of the surviving property. Only two respondents were deemed viable.

A selection committee opted to focus on Ideal Fish, an aquaculture company launched in a 65,000-square-foot leased industrial space in Waterbury’s East End in 2018. There, Branzino, a European sea bass, are grown in massive tanks until they are ready to be harvested and sold.

At the outset, Ideal Fish founder Eric Pedersen touted plans to expand in industrial spaces left vacant by the collapse of Waterbury’s brass industry. It was hoped that vision would begin to materialize with the Anamet property.

“They were going to make it into one of the largest fish manufacturing sites in the Northeast, and possibly on the Eastern Seaboard,” O’Leary said. “It was very attractive to us because of what they are doing in the East End of Waterbury. We thought it would be a good match.”

O’Leary said he decided to end negotiations after Ideal failed to furnish certain information requested by a deadline. He declined to divulge further details about the negotiations. 

“We sat with them for almost six months, and we just couldn’t get to where I had a high level of comfort the deal was going to be in the best interest of the city,” O’Leary said. “A lot of unanswered questions.”

Pedersen declined to comment.

Thomas Hyde, interim director of the Waterbury Development Corp., said the city will issue a new RFP in October. He is optimistic there will be more interest. The city has performed additional cleanup and site investigation. It also has $2.5 million in grant funds set aside for further environmental cleanup at the site.

“It just makes sense to go back out to RFP,” Hyde said. “We have a better sense of the environmental contamination, and we should get more interested bidders.”

O’Leary said another respondent to the 2022 RFP continues to be interested and is expected to respond to the pending RFP. Ideal could reapply as well, he said. O’Leary said he expects robust interest.

“We are going to do OK,” O’Leary said. “That property is much more attractive than it was a year ago from the additional work.” 

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