Fairfield plans to use pandemic relief funds to redevelop Riegert Square

Fairfield city officials have put together a plan to use ARPA money to make over the Riegert Square plaza that was developed in the late 1970s and hasn’t been updated since. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

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Fairfield city officials have put together a plan to use ARPA money to make over the Riegert Square plaza that was developed in the late 1970s and hasn’t been updated since. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

‘We want businesses to be attracted to the center,” economic development manager says.

Fairfield City Manager Scott Timmer previously said some of the city’s America Rescue Plan Act funds should be spent on one-time transformational projects.

The city’s economic development team said redeveloping Riegert Square’s parking lot would be one of those projects.

A $1.45 million renovation project backed by City Council would reduce the 14 curb cuts at Riegert Square down to four driveway entrances for the plaza that’s remained relatively unchanged since it was developed in the 1970s.

“We have four goals here, the first is to increase vehicle and pedestrian safety,” said Economic Development Manager Nathaniel Kaelin. “We know that’s critical, if you’ve driven on Pleasant Avenue along that stretch, you know some of the hiccups with all the curb cuts and the parking lot configurations.”

The overabundance of curb cuts puts pedestrians and motorists in danger, and the uneven sidewalk is a hazard for walkers.

The project would also improve the corridor aesthetics, enhance the quality and image of Fairfield’s Town Center, and create a healthier environment for business growth.

“Pleasant Avenue is a major street, major thoroughfare. It’s right in our Town Center, our downtown area. We want that to reflect well on the city,” Kaelin said. “We think that will then create a healthier environment for businesses to grow. We want businesses to be attracted to the center.”

The city would use $1.25 million of its $4.465 million in APRA funding to pay for the project, and City Council voted on the design contract Monday night.

The remaining $190,000 is to potentially purchase one of the eight buildings in the plaza, which would be paid for through the North Town Center TIF District. Development Services Director Greg Kathman said the building has been on the market for a while, and the owner didn’t want to commit believing it could impact a potential sale.

Kathman said the city most likely would put it back on the market once the project is completed. The target construction is in 2023.

Riegert Square was redeveloped from a residential area to a business district, having been completed nearly 40 years ago. And 14 of the 27 curb cuts between Nilles Road and Pleasant Run Creek area on the east side of Pleasant Avenue.

“They only developed it one at a time in pieces,” said Kaelin. “These were developed on lots that are not that deep, pretty narrow and they all developed one at a time. They’re in separate ownership, there wasn’t a lot of thought about how they pieced together.”

The parking lot improvements would also replace the existing pole signs, which are not in compliance with recent zoning updates, with monument signs to include all businesses. While all 30 businesses have storefront signs, only about a dozen have a sign by the curb.

Additionally, it’s being proposed to have a three-foot strip of grass along the Pleasant Avenue curb, a five-foot-wide sidewalk, and a seven-foot area for landscaping and signage.

“It gives you a nice green buffer between the roadway and the parking lot,” said Kaelin.

The plan presented is conceptual, and the details of a final plan may look different, Kaelin said.

Redevelopment of the plaza had been attempted a handful of times since the early 1980s, but because there were so many property owners ― some buildings were owned by multiple investors ― it made improvements difficult.

But now with eight property owners, one of which potentially being the city of Fairfield, getting owners on board with the redevelopment project is manageable, city officials said.

Seven of the eight property owners have verbally committed to the project, and three have signed letters of intent, agreeing to the parking lot redevelopment. Kaelin said he expects the other four to sign letters of intent soon.

The eighth property owner would potentially be the city, pending the completion of any sale.

Council would still need to take action to approve development agreements, and move forward with construction.

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