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Owner of windmill property considers future

November 26, 2018

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Brian Driscoll loves his view of New Haven Harbor, the organic farm behind his plant and watching the wind turbine he erected steadily create green energy.

But the longtime owner of the Phoenix Press feels it is time to look for a more compact space for his business or sell the 2.5-acre site and lease back a portion of it to fit his needs.

For $3.9 million you could own: the 100-kilowatt turbine that can be viewed from Interstate 95, the long one-story building that extends from 5 James St. to 17 James St., and a dock.

“I make jokes saying ‘this is my bridge,’ because every day basically, I was here watching the construction going on. They did a marvelous job,” Driscoll said of the structure he, like most residents, refers to as the “Q Bridge,” although the proper name is the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.

“With what they had to work with, with the old bridge in the way and chopping out half of the bridge and then going back and building the rest of it, it was amazing,” Driscoll said.

If he can’t stay where he is now, Driscoll’s next choice would be to go somewhere else in New Haven. He kept emphasizing that the business is not closing, only possibly relocating.

Driscoll said he has had a lot of people show interest in the property, one person in particular, who he hopes comes through.

The building is a series of bays that over time housed several businesses and could do so again.

Driscoll originally bought the site with his brothers, Tony and Kevin.

New Haven Farms is located on his property, a successful nonprofit that works in conjunction with the Fair Haven Community Health Clinic on a wellness program that teaches diabetes patients good eating habits.

In exchange for working on the farm, listening to health and cooking lessons, they get a share of the crop.

Driscoll said if a buyer comes along during the growing season, he would make it a condition of the sale to let them finish the season.

For the first couple of years, Driscoll picked up the cost of the water and electricity for the farm, but more recently, the farm has been making a contribution.

He said he will miss the beekeepers on the property, as well as Peels and Wheels run by Domingo A. Medina, who picks up vegetable waste from area residents who want to contribute to the farm’s compost pile.

The local entrepreneur travels once a week to homes on his bicycle, which is attached to a cart where he can carry up to 16 buckets at a time.

Medina said he calls the area “the corner of sustainability,” given the wind turbine, the farm and his own composting business. The compost is continuously added to the soil at this site and other farms they run, as the natural soils of many sites in New Haven have been contaminated by metals traced back to the city’s industrial heyday.

Jacqueline Maisonpierre, the executive director of New Haven Farms, who previously was the farm manager, said they are so grateful for Driscoll’s generosity over the past six years in allowing them to operate there.

“It has been fabulous,” she said.

They don’t have a lease because it was always understood that at some point he might want to sell.

“We knew it would not be permanent,” Maisonpierre said. She said being so close to the Quinnipiac River is also problematic, although the property has not flooded in recent years.

She said they will move the soil and all the structures elsewhere if they need to, although it is “heartbreaking” to contemplate.

Maisonpierre said she hopes a new buyer might also see the value of the community contribution the present use embodies and “maybe prioritize that kind of community impact.”

They start growing seedlings in a greenhouse in February and plant in March. Currently they still are growing hardy vegetables, such as beets, kale and turnips.

“It is a unique community,” she said.

They have been working most recently with the New Haven Land Trust and City Seed on future projects.

Driscoll said his off-set printing business, which the brothers started 37 years ago, is doing well as is the digital printing component that was added some 25 years ago.

They used to have two large presses, but their footprint has dropped to one press because of their digital business.

Driscoll said his real incentive to move is to turn the maintenance over to someone else.

“I’m no spring chicken. I used to climb all over the building. I used to jump up on the roof if something was going on up there,” he said, a task he would rather turn over to a new owner.

Driscoll, 66, said if he moves he will continue to buy energy from wind farms; he just won’t be generating it himself.

“I’m still committed to renewable energy and clean business. I will do what I can,” he said. “It’s what I have become.”

The logo, which features a wind turbine, says ‘Phoenix Press - Wind to Print.’

“We can still say that. We just won’t be able to say printed using clean renewable energy generated from an on-site wind turbine,” Driscoll said. It will just clarify that the energy is generated off-site.

He said the turbine never gives them any trouble and it saves the company between $20,000 and $25,000 a year on electricity.

“Literally, it spins our meter backward when we go out to the grid,” where they get a credit for any electricity they generate. “It’s nice; we have something no one else has.”

The plant has 23 workers — with a number of them running the press and office during a mid-week visit when many were on a lunch break.

Driscoll said he has spent large portions of his life in the plant over the decades, particularly in the beginning when the brothers and their families would celebrate holidays and birthdays at the press because they would have to get orders finished.

“We would be running the presses, doing the bindery, then folding and stitching books while we were celebrating,” he said.

He first got introduced to printing at the Eli Whitney Technical High School and remembers as a teenager touring the New Haven Register presses in the 1960s as did his brother, Kevin Driscoll, now 75 and retired. Tony Driscoll, 74, ran the financial end before he retired.

Driscoll remembers the letterpress process when the Register was on Orange Street and used lead relief plates to print the newspaper. He also visited the offset printing process when it moved to Sargent Drive.

Driscoll said he has only superficially looked for a replacement site, but has been in touch with city officials and will get serious if a deal to sell the property comes together quickly.

There are various pieces of history inside the Phoenix Press, while on the wall outside Driscoll’s office there is a mural painted by a former worker on the Tomlinson Bridge, which was notorious for getting hit by barges and then having to stay open for the boat traffic for as long as it took to fix it, forcing vehicles to take other routes.

One of the press rooms has a 40-inch, two-color Heidelberg, while another has a 6-color Komori that the company bought in 2014. The digital press is used to do any kind of personalization a client wants, whether it is on a post card, a booklet or other publication.

The biweekly Yale New Haven Hospital bulletin was being printed that morning, a job Phoenix Press has been doing for 30 years.

“We never missed a date,” he said.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2BzDyYz

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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