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April 26, 2024

Two sisters plan ambitious mixed-use redevelopment of Collins Co. ax factory site

Andrew Larson | Hartford Business Journal The Collins Co. ax factory in Canton.

A new plan to redevelop the Collins Co. ax factory in Canton features a mix of housing, retail, industrial and community space, with a focus on preserving the site’s historical character while adapting the property for reuse.

The village of Collinsville, a section of Canton, was built around the ax factory, which sits along the Farmington River at 10 Depot Road. It once produced axes, machetes and steel-edged tools.

The factory closed in 1966, after several of its buildings were destroyed in the Flood of 1955. Since then, the 19-acre parcel – which has 28 buildings, some of them interconnected – has been the subject of numerous development proposals.

Most recently, a New York developer, Ranger Properties, proposed converting it into 200 apartments along with retail. The developer backed out after a neighbor filed a lawsuit.

Now, the property sits underused, with just a handful of tenants, including an antiques shop, hair salon and spring factory. Parts of the building have been condemned, don’t meet current building code or are inaccessible.

Sisters Lisa and Merritt Tilney have formed Collinsville Redevelopment Co., which submitted its first plans for the project to the Inland Wetland Commission on Thursday.

Lisa and Merritt Tilney.

They say the project will benefit the community by reactivating unused portions of the site and unlocking views of the river, while preserving the property’s historical and cultural significance.

“It is such a gem, and I think now is the time that we need to start cleaning up the site and get going so that we can ensure the buildings remain intact for the next 140 years,” Merritt Tilney said in a recent interview with the Hartford Business Journal.

Lisa and Merritt are daughters of property owner Rusty Tilney, who bought the site in 2002 with the goal of revitalizing it. Recently, his health has declined and they are taking the reins.

The Tilney sisters have an option to purchase the property contingent upon necessary approvals.

A Phase III environmental study, paid for by the town, has been completed. They’re working to secure $2 million to $3 million in state and federal grants for the remediation. 

Remediation work could begin in 2026 and is expected to take 14 to 18 months. Construction would take another six to eight years, they said.

The project would occur in phases, with the goal of keeping current tenants for as long as possible. Of the 28 buildings, 24 would be redeveloped. Four would be demolished.

Three new multifamily buildings would contain roughly 224 apartments and 48 condominiums. Also, the oldest building on the property, the Granite Building, would be converted into 16 condominiums.

There would also be a mix of retail, offices, light commercial, and possibly food and beverage establishments throughout the rest of the site.

The project includes building a grand staircase and an ADA-compliant ramp reopening access to the lower levels of the factory building.

It also involves constructing new road infrastructure and utilities. 

The Tilneys said they’re planning the project to be as carbon-neutral as possible. The project also will remove invasive plant species, and reintroduce natives.

The building’s existing 155,000-square-foot space will be completely renovated, and 2,000 linear feet of waterworks will be repaired. 

A historical photo of the Collins Co. ax factory in Canton.

The project requires approvals from various entities, including the State Historic Preservation Office, as the property sits on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Tilneys say they have a pre-development team in place including a soil scientist, multiple engineers, landscape architect, several consultants and a law firm.

As the project gains steam, they plan to partner with investors and secure additional grants.

The Tilney sisters grew up in nearby Bloomfield and are both Yale graduates.

Lisa Tilney has a background in architecture and has worked for firms in New York City and Berlin, Germany.  She has also worked as a site manager and began her career on Wall Street working for a hedge fund.

Merritt Tilney runs AMT Coaching, a leadership advisory consultancy that she founded. She also has experience as a management consultant at Booz-Allen & Hamilton, as well as ETRADE, Citigroup, Gap and several startups.

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