Council yields sixth extension to movie studio; two residents opposed
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jul. 18, 2013
“How much has the town spent and wasted on this project?” asked South Windsor resident Michael Sullivan, speaking before the Town Council on Monday, July 15. He was referencing the Connecticut Studios project, which could bring a movie studio to the intersection of Route 5 and I-291. The council was set to decide whether to extend, for the sixth time, the developer's deadline to begin construction, and thus avoid the land reverting back to the town.
“We keep hearing, 'Things are improving, there's more information.' There isn't enough information to fill a thimble on this project,” continued Sullivan. He said he hoped the town's experts would still analyze the project and determine if the town should continue backing it, or to get the property back.
A second resident, Barbara Hoff, took the podium. She showed the council a photograph of what she called “weeds.”
“I took pictures of what we've had for five years,” she said. “It's been useless promises, useless discussions with these people. Nothing is going to happen with this [project].” She said she wished the property could have been sold to a local business, like nearby DST.
Before deciding to extend the “reverter clause” to Sept. 30, Town Manager Matthew Galligan updated the town on the project's status. He said that the infrastructure improvements necessitated by the project have been broken down into public and private items - that is, improvements that benefit the studio alone, and those that are of value to the town as a whole.
“I've consistently voted against the reverter extensions, because I've said the infrastructure agreement is how we are going to control the project,” said Councilor Keith Yagaloff. He said he would vote against the reverter extension, saying that the provision should lapse.
When Mayor Thomas Delnicki asked Galligan how he would respond to the concerns of residents, Galligan explained that it was a $1.6 million state grant that helped the town offer a shovel-ready property, which was one of the reasons Connecticut Studios selected South Windsor. About $800,000 of that grant is still left.
He noted that the lot near I-291 has been vacant for 30-odd years, and that the town has tried to attract other development projects to no avail. He also noted that the Connecticut Studios project will pay for the public improvements to the area. “I think it's a good deal, and we should move forward with it. But we still have a lot of work to do,” Galligan said.
Councilor Kevin McCann explained that he had long been skeptical of the project when details were scarce. But now, in light of the developer attaining a power purchase agreement in which CL&P will buy power generated from fuel cells located at the studio, he has more confidence in the project.
“At this point I don't want to do anything that will upset the apple cart,” McCann said. “I think the September 30th deadline is a reasonable one to get the needed items in place, and if they're not in place, we have the opportunity to say, 'no more.'”
Delnicki felt that while the project has gone slower than all had hoped, the developers always pull through at the last minute. “We see action – albeit action at 11:59 to the deadline – on each one of the reverters. But quite frankly, that's the kind of pressure they need to get something done,” he said. “The last time, they brought forward the power purchase agreement. Time before that, legitimate financing from a reputable financing institution.” Another factor that Connecticut Studios has in its favor is the continuation by the state of Connecticut of tax credits that the movie studio will qualify for.
“I want to assure the public, we're working hard at this,” said Councilor Edward Havens. “We're trying to make rational decisions with the information the professionals give us. So we're going to give it one more time. How many more 'one more times' we have, I don't know. But I'll support this 'one more time' again.”
All save Yagaloff voted in favor of the extension.
When the public was allowed additional input at the end of the meeting, Sullivan spoke again. “It doesn't surprise me that there's been a $1.6 million budget that's been eroded away by half. Does anyone know how? Does anyone care?” he asked. “It seems I'm the only one asking the question and there's never an answer.”
Craig Stevenson, the economic developer working with Connecticut Studios on the project, also addressed the council, saying that the movie studio project is just one part of a larger plan to redevelop the I-291 area. “The I-291 Development Project has been going on before Connecticut Studios, and I suspect that after Connecticut Studios is completed, there will be a series of projects in the I-291 area going forward,” said Stevenson.
He said that the state monies spent were for the development of the I-291 area as a whole, not just for the exclusive benefit of Connecticut Studios. The development included an extensive environmental evaluation, costing more than $250,000. The study determined that if South Windsor wanted state funds to continue, it would have to relocate a native species, the tiger beetle, which was done to the tune of $100,000.
Stevenson said a school being built in the area was also enabled by the state's investment in the I-291 area. “Of course, this is not all about Connecticut Studios,” he said. “You wouldn't be doing it if it was.”