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Updated: April 7, 2020 Town Profile: Rocky Hill

Rocky Hill officials hope pandemic doesn’t stunt economic development momentum

Photo | HBJ File Rocky Hill Economic Development Director Raymond Carpentino said the coronavirus hasn’t delayed any projects in town yet, but the outlook remains uncertain.
Photo | Contributed German machine manufacturer Arburg is adding a 25,000-square-foot addition to its West Street facility.

Rocky Hill officials have worked hard to expand their town’s commercial tax base, and have been rewarded over the past few years with several hundred thousand square feet of new manufacturing and medical facilities, as well as several dozen new businesses.

Now, economic development officials and real estate deal-makers, like those in virtually every community across Connecticut, are wondering what the future holds, as the state’s COVID-19 infected count continues to climb, forcing brick-and-mortar business closures and skittishness among some investors.

“Retailers are having a little trouble,” said Raymond Carpentino, the town’s economic development director. “I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I think we have to cross our fingers right now.”

It goes without saying that the coronavirus is an unwelcome event for Rocky Hill and many other municipalities. Town halls have shuttered, public meetings have canceled, property tax appeals are delayed indefinitely, and officials and families have scrambled to deal with the sudden and likely early end of the school year.

However, Carpentino said the pandemic’s timing hasn’t delayed or canceled any major building projects in Rocky Hill, including planned construction of a medical office building on Cromwell Avenue.

Meantime, construction has continued at several sites in town, including a 25,000-square-foot addition to German machine manufacturer Arburg’s West Street facility and a new Shell gas station and convenience store along Silas Deane Highway.

The building department is still doing exterior inspections, and has begun accepting photos for certain interior inspections.

Carpentino continues to plug away at finding tenants interested in several office parks in town, including Corporate Ridge, which has two sizable development lots remaining.

He’s also still on the hunt for developers interested in the long-vacant Ames corporate facility on Main Street.

He had meetings set in March with two developer-investors, but was forced to cancel them due to the pandemic.

“That kind of puts a crimp in things,” he said.

However, he’s hoping it’s a temporary roadbump.

“I don’t think it’s going to put anything in jeopardy for us, particularly for the Ames property,” he said.

Spotlight goes dark for now

State Rep. Kerry Wood (D-Rocky Hill)

State Rep. Kerry Wood (D-Rocky Hill), who is a commercial real estate agent by day with New England Retail Properties, had been looking forward to a March event she organized for developers, investors and businesses to spotlight Rocky Hill’s business-friendly zoning changes and recent development momentum.

The “Rocky Hill Showcase” at the Sheraton Hotel, organized with the town and sponsored by Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, had drawn interest from near and far, with approximately 100 people registered.

But as the day drew near and the coronavirus spread, organizers were forced to pull the plug.

Wood hopes to reschedule once the state and country can tamp down the pandemic, but she perceives broader worries for the coronavirus and local development across the state.

“I’m very hopeful that towns and cities will take into consideration their inspectors and people issuing permits and approvals and not completely shut down,” Wood said.

If builders want to build during the crisis, especially outdoors, they should be allowed to, assuming everyone keeps a safe distance from each other and adheres to disease-safety protocols, Wood said.

If a recession is indeed coming or here, as many now predict, it will be that much harder to recover if new construction revenue and the jobs associated with the projects are lost.

“If projects are in the pipeline and we delay, it just means those tax dollars aren’t coming in,” Wood said.

[Read more: HBJ examines developments in CT towns, cities]

The coronavirus is striking Connecticut at a time when the building season traditionally gathers steam. Depending on how long the outbreak lasts, Wood worries about a lost year.

She’s seen a mix of reactions so far among her commercial retail clientele.

“We are still talking about new deals, we are still moving negotiations forward,” she said.

However, for some, particularly smaller businesses, she has seen uncertainty over continuing to pursue planned investments.

For projects in the letter-of-intent or leasing phases, investors and developers are wondering whether they can get permits in a timely fashion. Others who have had to shut down businesses are worried whether they can still afford a new project.

“I have seen some signs of nervousness or pullback,” she said.

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