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Melba Street firehouse conversion to pizza palace still ongoing

December 28, 2018

MILFORD — The project is taking much longer than he expected, but Marty McCarthy still plans to turn the old Melba Street firehouse into a pizza restaurant.

His goal is to have it up and running sometime in 2019.

McCarthy bought the old firehouse on Melba Street from the city in 2015 for $180,000 and is in the process of overhauling it. When he bought the building, he estimated renovations would cost almost $500,000 before it was ready to open and begin serving up brick oven pizza and more.

McCarthy owns the Fire Engine Pizza Company in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. When the old firehouse on Melba Street in Milford went on the auction block several years ago, he thought it would be a perfect location to expand, he said.

The city tried unsuccessfully to sell the firehouse starting in 2014 with an auction in May of that year, but no one showed up to bid. Mayor Ben Blake said the asking price might have been too high. The city leaders initially set $477,000 as a minimum bid.

During a second attempt to sell the Melba Street firehouse, the city set no minimum bid. But when five bids came in from people wanting to buy it, Milford’s aldermen rejected all of them.

Marty McCarthy was one of those bidders.

But McCarthy didn’t give up after his bid was rejected and worked with the city to make a deal.

“Ideally this will be our flagship location,” McCarthy said in 2015.

The Melba Street firehouse is one of two city firehouses closed when the East Side Fire Station was built on New Haven Avenue, consolidating the Melba Street and the Kings Highway fire stations. The Borough of Woodmont is now using the Kings Highway fire station for its borough hall.

And even though it has been some time, McCarthy still sounds excited about the project on Melba Street.

He said a lot has been done, but since most of the work has been on the inside, people can’t see the progress.

The inside of the building has been gutted, the electrical has been updated, and an in-ground oil tank has been removed.

“It was a lot more work than I anticipated,” McCarthy said.

He said he’s been meeting with city departments and hopes to soon apply for a parking variance and then get going on other city permits.

Joseph Griffith, director of the Department of Permitting and Land Use, said an informal/preliminary application was submitted to Planning and Zoning in July 2018, but no submissions or applications have been filed since then.

But both Blake and Economic Development Director Julie Nash said they are confident the restaurant will open next year.

“Marty and I speak weekly if not daily,” Nash said, adding, “I am very excited things are moving in a positive direction. I am confident a restaurant will open in 2019.”

Blake said he knows that McCarthy has put a lot of money into the building already, has design plans and hired an attorney to handle zoning matters.

“I’m very, very hopeful it will open soon, that this will be a great addition to the neighborhood,” Blake said.

The building, which was a dull beige, has been bright red for at least two years in preparation for the building’s change to a pizza restaurant.

The new restaurant is expected to be nearly identical to the Fire Engine Pizza Co. in Black Rock, offering a menu of pastas and other dishes as well as pizza.

“Widely known for specialty pizzas served from the 1985 International Fire Engine that was stationed on Fairfield Avenue, Fire Engine Pizza Co. was reinvented to bring together classic combinations with a modern twist,” the restaurant website states.

The Fire Engine Pizza Co. also has two repurposed fire trucks with a brick oven for mobile pizza making. One of them has been parked outside the old Melba Street firehouse. McCarthy said he plans to fire it up and offer pizza a few days a week before the restaurant opens to introduce neighbors to the pizza.

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