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Updated: May 4, 2020 Town Profile: Windsor Locks

Windsor Locks eyes $45M mixed-use development around planned train station

Rendering | Contributed A rendering of Windsor Locks’ planned Hartford Line train station on Main Street.

Use of public transportation has plummeted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Windsor Locks officials from pinning their future economic-development hopes on a transit-oriented, mixed-use project.

While ridership on CTrail’s Hartford Line has slowed to a trickle in recent weeks, the town of Windsor Locks in April scored a major $45-million commitment from the state Bond Commission to fund construction of a new train station downtown on Main Street.

With $62.4 million in state and federal funding now approved for the project, town officials are eyeing a roughly $45-million mixed-use development around the station as part of a public-private partnership that would include construction of several properties housing new apartments, commercial space as well as an indoor public market.

The new station will be located in Windsor Locks’ downtown, about a mile north of a platform that currently serves as a stop on the Hartford rail line.

Christopher Kervick, First Selectman, Windsor Locks

“The whole idea of this investment in our commuter-rail infrastructure is to stimulate transit-oriented development in the station areas, and before a shovel has even hit the ground, a viable plan to do just that has emerged in Windsor Locks,” said the town’s First Selectman Christopher Kervick.

Jennifer Rodriguez, Windsor Locks’ director of planning and development, said the already-allocated government funds will go toward building a 510-foot-long boarding platform, traffic improvements and station signalling.

The money will also help fund a reconfiguration of local streets and intersections, improvements to mainline rail track and construction of a new maintenance facility for Amtrak.

A request for proposals will be going out soon for a project contractor, Kervick said, but there is no construction timetable yet.

“The governor’s office is looking for projects that are shovel-ready to stimulate the economy,” after the pandemic passes, “and [the train station] fits the bill,” Kervick said.

Around the station, the town is plotting an ambitious mixed-use development.

Plans include a 30,000-square-foot, year-round indoor public market adjacent to the boarding platform, which could also house traditional station functions such as a ticket-vending facility, utility room and airport-shuttle waiting area.

The town completed a feasibility study for the public market in 2018 and is working on a formal business plan for it.

The vision is to create a “vibrant, safe and exciting new place” where residents and visitors could shop for fresh and locally produced meats, produce, dairy and baked goods as well as prepared foods and crafts, Kervick said.

Plans also call for a two-building complex that would house 200 or so apartments and ground-floor commercial space. That project would likely be led by a private developer and the town has already chosen Stamford-based JHM Group of Cos. as the preferred development partner.

A parking garage would also be built to support the entire development, Kervick said.

“With transit-oriented development we don’t just need to bring commercial buildings we need to bring a critical mass of people as well,” he said.

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

There’s already been development near the new station’s location. The $64-million, 160-unit Montgomery Mill apartment redevelopment on Canal Bank Road, debuted in August and is nearly fully occupied, Kervick said, signaling demand for more living units.

The Hartford Line currently has eight stops — seven in Connecticut, and one in Massachusetts — which have spurred various developments along the 62-mile Springfield-to-New Haven route.

Investments in new mixed-use developments near existing or proposed Hartford Line rail stations have totaled approximately $430 million, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Those projects, which encompass 1,400 residential units and 242,000 square feet of commercial and office space, date back to at least 2010, years before the Springfield-to-New Haven line expansion debuted, but in anticipation of its potential impact.

Rendering | Contributed
Windsor Locks wants to develop around its planned train station, including opening a public indoor market.

Puzzle pieces

Financing the envisioned development around the new train station remains a big question, but the town is working with the Build America Bureau — part of the U.S. Department of Transportation — which has expressed interest in the project and has two low-interest loan programs to support transit-oriented development, Kervick said.

The first selectman said the main priority is to get the station platform built and he wants to make sure the town’s economic-development aspirations don’t interfere with that effort.

He’s also cognizant of the irony in the project going forward at a time when ridership on the Hartford Line has significantly diminished amid the pandemic.

“It’s a scary prospect, but hopefully it comes back,” he said.

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