“Where is everybody?”
It’s a fair question to ask for Melanie Allen, whose Avance Day Spa last July became the first business to officially open in Newtown’s highly-touted Village at Lexington Gardens.
There is a total of 65,500 square feet available for businesses at the multi-building commercial complex at 32 Church Hill Road. At a year-plus after Avance relocated there from Newtown’s Sand Hill Plaza, at 228 S. Main St., the site remains vacant — except for the 3,000-square-foot day spa, the 3,000-square-foot Newtown Counseling Associates and the 15,000 square feet occupied by anchor tenant Dental Associates, making it the largest dental facility in the state.
Allen said that the clientele built during Avance’s 25-year history has kept her 14 employees busy but that she’s been disappointed by the lack of new tenants.
“We get some spillover from Dental Associates,” she said, “and our customers come in and remark about what a beautiful space it is. But we’re sort of here all by ourselves. We used to hear a lot of rumors about what’s coming in — a Mexican restaurant, an Italian restaurant, an organic juice bar — but we haven’t heard anything lately.
“We’re wondering about what’s going on just as much as everybody else,” she added.
Compounding the visual impression of unrealized potential is the fact that Avance is the only first-floor tenant throughout the complex; Dental Associates sits atop the second floor of Lexington Gardens’ center, while boxes are stacked up against the windows of the floor below it.
But those behind the project say progress is being made, even if it doesn’t look like it to some.
“I’ve hardly had a day where there weren’t workers here building or fixing up something,” said Doug Rose, vice president for asset services at Coldwell Banker Commercial/Scalzo Group, the real estate broker for the site.
While Rose admitted that some 26,000 square feet is still available, he noted that such firms as Newtown Savings Bank and Market Place Kitchen & Bar will be opening there shortly; in fact, the bank was in the midst of moving materials into its 10,500-square-foot standalone building on Aug. 2, though bank officials said an official opening date had not yet been decided. NSB will occupy a standalone building in The Village for customer activities while maintaining its back-office operations in its current location at 39 Main St.
Meanwhile, Market Place — a popular eatery with locations in Danbury and Woodbury, and another on the way in Avon — announced last year that it planned to open in July. Rose said that owner Market Hospitality Group had since decided to make Lexington Gardens its corporate site, and plans to open sometime in October.
“We still feel that it will be a primary commercial base for the town,” said Newtown Deputy Director, Economic and Community Development Christal Preszler. “Things are definitely happening there, and at other sites around town.”
The February installation of a new set of traffic signals at the four-way intersection of Church Hill Road, The Boulevard, and the main driveway for The Village has helped regulate traffic flow, she noted, although their effectiveness will truly only be tested once The Village is more fully occupied.
Preszler said she also understood that Coldwell had reduced its asking rate for tenants, though Rose said that was “something of a misnomer.” Depending on whether a business does its own construction, square-foot prices range from $25-32, he said.
While saying he understood the puzzlement expressed by Allen and some residents over the apparent lack of tenants, Rose insisted that visual signs of progress will pick up over the next several weeks. He’s in negotiations with a “national marketing company” to occupy 3,000 square feet, he said, and is willing to show “quite a bit of flexibility” when it comes to the remaining available space.
“The plan has always been for another restaurant directly facing Market Place, mirroring it,” he said. “But we can do anything from 6,500 contiguous square feet to as little as 1,680.”
He said he’s also been in talks with a dress shop and jeweler about joining The Village.
Rose further noted that he has turned away some inquisitive businesses, mostly restaurants. “We’re trying to be very selective. Somebody wanted to open up a pizza place, but there are five pizza places in town already. Another asked about opening a sushi restaurant, but we already have Toro nearby. Another one wanted to do a nail salon, but Melanie kind of does that already with the packages she has.”
The Bagelman chain was also turned down, given the well-established presence of Bagel Delight at 30 Church Hill Road, as was a proposed liquor store, given the fact that two are already essentially within walking distance of The Village, Rose added.