By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- With the construction of the new Center Fire Station on schedule, selectmen are preparing to sell the existing firehouse on Station Avenue with one goal in mind: Igniting downtown makeover fever.
The town recently issued a request for proposals for the sale of the 74-year-old Center Fire Station on Station Avenue. The town is inviting all interested parties to submit their offers by Thursday, Jan. 23 at 10 a.m., along with the description of intended use of the property, project timeline and how it would be financed.
Though the mixed-use district regulations allow for a wide range of land uses, from shops to offices, some residents are already envisioning the two-story firehouse to be transformed into a hub of local nightlife.
"A lot of people talked about pub-type of business," Selectman Anna Eliot said.
Beer and wine would help bring people out downtown, Selectman Joshua Degen also said.
"My personal belief is that it needs to be something that jump-starts the Station Avenue development," Degen said.
"I would like to see it become something that creates a draw for future developments in this area," Eliot said.
Behind Town Hall, the firehouse sits in the midst of the Station Avenue Overlay District that town officials have long tried to transform into a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use neighborhood with the "New England village" atmosphere. Town Meeting has given the district the "priority development site" designation to allow for expedited permitting to benefit prospective developers interested in the neighborhood.
Despite such efforts and anticipation, the town could not find any developers wanting to buy and redevelop Groton Electric Light Department's land on Station Avenue when issuing an RFP for it in late 2009. GELD, which originally intended to sell the land and rebuild elsewhere in town, then decided to stay. The town relaunched a search for developers in late 2010 by combining the contract for reconstruction of GELD's office and garage with a mixed-use development on a portion of the land. All developers who responded to the RFP were only interested in the construction job, however.
Some people have blamed the national economy and real-estate doldrums for the lack of interest from developers, while others believed GELD's decision to stay on the block, instead of moving elsewhere to free up the land for redevelopment, killed the initiative. Whatever the case, the district has since then remained unchanged.
But now that the Center Fire Station crews are expected to move into the 18,500-square-foot new firehouse on Farmers Row next summer, the town wants to sell the existing one on Station Avenue.
The RFP asks developers interested in the property to send in proposals along with a bid bond equal to "10 percent of the purchase price or $5,000, whichever greater" as well as the proposed design, description of their past development experiences and other information. The firehouse built in 194f0 as a Masonic Temple, has "historic value" but is outside the Historic District, according to the RFP.
"The Board will give a preference to a (developer) that intends to reuse the existing building with or without substantial modifications," according to the the RFP.
When asked what type of use he envisions for the firehouse, Degen said a restaurant or a pub that stays open at night and serves as a venue for live music performance could be good because the town lacks such establishments.
Degen and Eliot said, however, limited parking on Station Avenue could be an issue. The firehouse measures just 0.26 acres in total lot space.
Eliot said the town could explore the possibility of sharing the Town Hall parking lot after hours with a business that opens in the firehouse.
But whatever the business, "it's going to have to be something compatible with the residential homes and businesses around there," Degen said.
The RFP will be posted on the Central Register -- the state government's weekly bulletin about state, county and municipal contracts being put out to bid -- by Dec. 4. The town will also advertise the RFP in newspapers and through real-estate agents in coming weeks, Eliot said.