June 28, 2022 | Matt Conway

Planning Director Lee Pouliot discusses the request for additional Uniroyal funding.
Photo Credit: ChicopeeTV
CHICOPEE – City Councilors approved additional funding for cleaning up the long-dormant Uniroyal property during their June 21 meeting.
Constructed in the 1870s, the Uniroyal property remained a significant manufacturing space for over a century in Chicopee. The Grove Street location is most synonymous with Uniroyal’s use of the area from 1891 to 1981, with the company utilizing the site to produce bicycle, automobile and truck tires before shuttering operations, according to the city’s website. Since its closing, parts of the building continued to be leased, but most of the site’s 33 buildings remained vacant.
Planning Director Lee Pouliot, who served in the Planning Department throughout the 12-year cleaning process, detailed the extensive effort behind the space’s cleanup. He revealed that a key component in reinventing the location came with the initial construction of a redevelopment vision plan. “It really set the expectation for what assessment and cleaning needed to be addressed,” said Pouliot in an interview with Reminder Publishing.
While the space’s dormancy ensured an active cleanup process, Pouliot shared that the skeleton of the building is still being preserved in some capacity. The reinvented space will feature four of the preexisting buildings on the lot, including the former Uniroyal administration building, two production buildings and a smaller space utilized as a company store.
Once the cleaning process is complete, Mayor John Vieau envisions limitless potential for Uniroyal, citing its proximity to Chicopee Falls and the approximately 12 acres available for different developments.
“There’s a lot of potential [in the Uniroyal site], we want to unleash that potential,” said Vieau in an interview with Reminder Publishing.
The project’s expenses total over $40 million to date.
City Council
Pouliot and Vieau presented an order of $102,578 from the city’s free cash account toward additional cleaning of the Uniroyal site. Pouliot explained that the Planning Department is teaming with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to advance the permits needed in completing the project.
“Anything that really dealt with the flood control system originally would track separately and be done through the DPW. … That project, through time, has not tracked on the schedule we need, so we determined the best bet at this point is to integrate all that scope back into the project [and] advance the permits we need to do,” said Pouliot.
Pouliot said the city will now look to acquire permits at a federal level to address water intakes located near the Chicopee River. The funds will also address the removal of a nearby levee and the demolishing of a pumping station located near the levee before part of the Uniroyal site is backfilled.
“We need to get that work done to allow the backfilling program to happen, which is why we are looking for this additional funding, to get these components designed and permitted,” said Pouliot.
Vieau stressed that the funding will forward the Uniroyal cleanup’s progress toward the request for proposal (RFP) process.
“We are getting closer and closer to getting that RFP together for the 12-acre Uniroyal site and getting that property back on our tax rolls,” said Vieau.
The council expressed support for the city’s additional cleaning efforts. Ward 1 City Councilor Joel McAuliffe said the final stages of the cleanup is “something to celebrate” for the city.
“We’ve watched building after building come down, we’ve paid expenditure after expenditure … and we’re getting super close to the end of that and getting this property back,” said McAuliffe. The councilor said the property would have existed in dormancy for “eternity” without the city’s cleaning efforts.
Ward 8 City Councilor Gary Labrie said the order is the cheapest request yet regarding Uniroyal. City Councilor-at-Large Robert Zygarowski and Ward 4 City Councilor George Balakier also advocated for supporting the finishing cleaning touches on the property.
“We have to allocate this money to get this project finished. … It has to be finished. It’s a small amount of money compared to the economic windfall that’s going to happen to this city,” said Balakier.
The City Council ultimately approved the order in a unanimous vote.
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