AP NEWS

Old police HQ site will be a rare empty lot for now

April 8, 2019

STAMFORD - The site of the old police headquarters at Bedford and Hoyt streets is scheduled for an unheard-of use for a downtown acre.

Grass.

The 1955 building has been approved for demolition but the city now has no plans for the parcel except top soil and seed, Director of Administration Michael Handler said.

“The only mandate now is to demolish it, remediate the land, and leave it as is until some future date when we decide what the use should be,” Handler said. “Some people may want to sell it, but I think it’s better to protect it and see what the city’s needs will be down the line.”

Handler said the lot — adjacent to the state courthouse on one side, the new police headquarters on the other, with large apartment complexes across the street — will not be used for two things residents may want.

“It will not be a dedicated park, or dedicated for parking,” he said.

The acre at the edge of downtown is too valuable for that, he said. He does not even want it to be a temporary park or parking lot, Handler said.

“Once you do that, it’s hard to change to another use. My concern is that if people start to treat it as a neighborhood park, and the city finds a use for it five years down the road, people will feel like they’re losing something. I hate to do that to people,” Handler said. “The same is true for parking spaces. Once people start parking cars there, the city will never get it back from them.”

Still, Handler said, “I really would not want to put an ugly chain-link fence around it” once it becomes a field of grass.

“There is no easy way to preserve it for a future use,” he said.

According to tax records, the land last year was valued at $3.3 million, though it’s not known what price it would fetch on the market. The city obtained the acre at no cost in 1940, tax records show.

Last week the Board of Representatives approved demolition of the old headquarters — a $4 million project that will include containing lead and asbestos known to exist in the building, and restoring the site to level ground. Mayor David Martin requested the demolition because a renovation would be cost-prohibitive, according to a letter he sent to the board.

The new $43 million, 94,000-square-foot police headquarters next door is set to open May 7, according to police.

It will have a gun range with moving targets that will be large enough to drive in a police vehicle to simulate a street shooting. It will have a lobby with 20-foot ceilings, several interview and meeting rooms, community space, and a lounge and lockers for officers. The 214-space parking garage will house the department’s maintenance division and motorcycle unit.

The old headquarters was slightly more than half that size. The department so outgrew it that the training division, Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Squad, Motorcycle Unit, Bomb Squad, Special Response Team and K-9 Division had to work out of other buildings.

For years, the city provided bottled water for the building because lead levels in the drinking water were so high. Five years ago officials posted warning signs for asbestos, and hundreds of officers filed notices with the state claiming compensation for illnesses they said were brought on by the airborne fiber, which can cause cancer.

Handler said other city buildings are old, too, which is why he wants to hold onto the parcel at Bedford and Hoyt streets. One such building is Central Firehouse on Main Street.

“If the fire station has to be remodeled and we need a temporary site for it during construction, we might put it” at Bedford and Hoyt. “Or there may be value in selling the parcel where the fire station is, and creating a public-safety complex” at Bedford and Hoyt, he said. “Or there may be a use I’m not even thinking of.”

Handler said the city has other land — he mentioned the parcels on Haig Avenue in Springdale — that it makes sense to sell.

“I would put Haig Avenue up for sale as soon as possible,” he said. “It doesn’t have value to the city.”

The opposite is true for the acre at Bedford and Hoyt, he said.

“I see no point in selling that because the greater worth is in the use,” Handler said. “There is no money to build anything right now, so I would rather wait for a few years and see what comes up.”

acarella@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2296.