MERIDEN — Los Angeles-based DealPoint Merrill has closed on a deal to buy the 11-acre Centennial Plaza for $5.2 million.
The agreement includes a remodeling commitment to convert most of the property to self-storage units.
The 158,000-square-foot West Main Street shopping center was home to a Stop & Shop for decades until the grocery chain closed the store in November. DealPoint Merrill bought the nearly vacant plaza from Centennial Mall LTD of Farmington and plans to model it after a similar climate-controlled storage operation in New Britain.
Stop & Shop continues to operate a store on the city’s east side.
Company representatives have said DealPoint Merrill intends to spend an additional $8 million in construction and renovation beyond the purchase price.
Some west side residents, and Mayor Kevin Scarpati, opposed the idea of storage units instead of a grocery store in the plaza. About 70 residents sent comments to city staff opposing the plan at a public hearing before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this year. The neighbors cited negative impact on the neighborhood and area businesses. They also had safety concerns about the operation.
Attorney Dennis Ceneviva, who represented Deal Point Merrill, argued that although he sympathized with the residents and the mayor, plaza owners had searched diligently for a grocery store to no avail. DealPoint Merrill won the variance because the city’s existing zoning regulations don’t provide any designated zones for self-storage.
The approval was enough to prompt Scarpati to ask the city to reconsider its zoning regulations to prevent self storage in prime commercial corridors.
While ZBA members, several of whom shopped at the plaza, said they would have preferred another grocery store on the west side, they had to evaluate the variance request based on the information before them.
"This is obviously one of the most difficult decisions in the eyes of the public in the close to 20 years that I've been around," said ZBA Vice Chairman Mark Dupuis before the vote. "What's before us is not what we want to have before us.
DealPoint Merrill has more than 20,000 storage units nationwide and its operating firm — Life Storage— has more than 30 years in the industry and is among the largest self-storage real estate investment trusts in the U.S., according to company representatives.
After an extensive market study, the company found that Meriden is overserved by grocery stores within a five-mile radius and lacking in self-storage. The Centennial Plaza units will be interior climate controlled, with no truck parking on site. The company also plans to upgrade the storefronts of three retail tenants in the plaza and develop the former Stop & Shop gas station into a full-service convenience store/gas station.
“The proposed Meriden project is very similar to what we did in New Britain,” DealPoint Merrill CEO David Frank wrote the Record-Journal in December. “About 30 percent of our space at our New Britain location is leased to local businesses...”
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest has been in close contact with the company.
“DealPoint will be a good corporate partner with the city and with all my discussions with them they have several visions for the property,” Feest said in an email. “They have been renewing several of the current tenants and are going to be working on the rest and possibly some new ones now that they own the complex.”
Renovations are set to begin next month, according to a company press release.