Monday, March 01, 2021

Local News

‘Historic’ Designation May Aid Unilever Brewery Re-Use

The former Unilever headquarters building has been added to the National Register of Historic places, which could pave the way for the brewery application at the former Unilever headquarters to be resubmitted. However, no action on the brewery application appears to be imminent.

Almost exactly one year ago, many Clinton residents were excited about an application filed by 1 John Street Clinton, LLC and developer Michael Massimino to build a 24,321-square-foot brewery and restaurant into a portion of the large former Unilever headquarters building on John Street. The developer tapped Kinsmen Brewing Co., an active brewery that has a location already in Milldale to be the tenant in the brewery.

While the public was largely supportive of the proposed project, the application was withdrawn in March 2020 largely due to the timeline needed for the state to review an application for historic building preservation. Massimino told the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) that review was expected to last into the summer, which would have gone beyond the allowed duration the PZC is able to keep an application open. He said he intended to resubmit the brewery application once that process is complete.

Massimino could not be reached for comment on this story. No application had been submitted as of press time.

Shortly after that meeting in 2020, the town’s consultant planner John Guszkowski explained why Massimino would have an interest in the historic status of the building.

“If the building is deemed to be historic—i.e., it is on the National Register of Historic Places—then some of the cost of improving/restoring the building can be reimbursed through tax credits. There are many conditions about the materials allowed to be used and the specific architectural character of the building to be maintained, but many developers believe that the tax credits are worth the cost and time of that documentation,” said Guszkowski.

Now, it appears that status has been granted due to an application that had already been submitted long before the Unilever property had even been sold to Massimino in 2019.

The High Street District

Peggy Adler, a member of the town’s Historic District Commission (HDC), contacted the Harbor News to point out that the building had already been added to the National Register of Historic places in August 2020.

More than five years ago, the HDC had recommended that portions of High Street and John Street be added to the National Register of Historic Places. There are a number of historic homes in the area and the former Unilever headquarters at 1 John Street was also signaled out for its unique architecture and design, which is typical of the era it was constructed in.

Despite being recommended to be added to the register in 2015, the property was not officially added until August 2020. Adler forwarded to the Harbor News an email from Jenny Fields Scofield, the National Register & Architectural Survey coordinator in the State Historic Preservation Office, which explained the hang up.

The email was sent to Adler on Aug. 14, 2020 and stated in part “As you might recall, the State Historic Preservation Review Board voted to recommend this district eligible for listing in September 2015. The project was delayed because the consultant struggled to make the final edits and create a district map.”

The email stated that as of Aug. 10, 2020, the following properties were added to the register as part of the High Street Historic District: 7 Central Avenue, 19-114 High Sreet, and 1-62 John Street.

By being one of the properties added to the national register, the Unilever headquarters building is likely eligible to now be considered for the tax credits, according to Guszkowski.

“Yes, I think that this overall historic district being added to the National Register with 1 John Street as a ‘contributing’ property to the District would mean that the Unilever project would be eligible to apply for historic preservation tax credits for improvements and renovations. That would mean, however, that in order to use those tax credits, the project would have to respect the architectural character of the building and would need to ensure that any exterior changes would satisfy the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation,” Guszkowski said when sent a copy of the application by the Harbor News on Jan. 13.

While getting the building added to the register is one step closer to making the brewery a reality in Clinton, it is far from the only one needed. When the application was originally before the PZC in 2020 the application was lacking information such as studies related to the septic system, traffic flows, and lighting. The lack of the required information had alarmed some members of the commission as well as the land use office as it appeared the application was incomplete.

Additionally, Guszkowski said that it had been several weeks since he’s had any contact with Massimino, meaning that there is no timetable for when the brewery application might be back before the PZC.

Not all development on the property is as uncertain as the brewery application. When the brewery application was in front of the PZC, it was paired with a separate application also from Massimino that proposed to convert the old office building located at 9-15 John Street into an apartment complex. The office building is located on the Unilever property across the parking lot from the main headquarters building. That application was approved and as of December a building permit for that building was approved by the town’s building inspector meaning work could begin on that aspect of redeveloping the property.

The Unilever plant was a significant part of Clinton’s economy for more than 100 years, but Unilever closed the plant at the end of 2012. The site sat vacant over the course of nearly seven years and through a series of proposals for reuse that never came to fruition. In July 2019 the sale of the Unilever property to Massimino was a well-received surprise to many in the town.

The developer has dubbed the redevelopment of the property The Station at Clinton and, if built to completion, it will contain apartments, the brewery and restaurant, an indoor recreation facility, and commercial space.


Eric O’Connell covers news for Clinton for Zip06. Email Eric at e.oconnell@shorepublishing.com.

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