DANBURY -- In recent years, the Route 6 corridor between Exits 2 and 4 off Interstate 84 has been one of the fastest growing business locations in the city.
A major manufacturer of control valves used in the heating and air conditioning is building a $40 million facility there. New restaurants have opened. And improvements to Western Connecticut State University's west side campus, including new dormitories, the Ives Concert Park and a performing arts center that is scheduled for completion next year have helped add to customer bases of other area businesses.
"The Mill Plain corridor is definitely booming," said Mayor Mark Boughton. "It's becoming a great lifestyle place as well as a destination spot in the city."
But while the corridor has been getting busier, one 27-acre parcel in a prime location near the university remains a wooded, undeveloped anomaly.
That was not the expectation.
For nearly seven years, plans for a Campus Research Park that could eventually provide thousands of jobs and add millions of dollars to the city's tax base have languished, a victim of a still-sluggish economy and an inability to attract potential tenants.
A research park is a facility that is often linked with a major research university, providing incubators for companies in the bio-tech industry.
There are more than 170 such parks in the United States. Several are located in Connecticut, but there are none in the western part of the state, according to Paul Pescatello, head of government relations for Connecticut United for Research Excellence, a network of life and health care sciences companies, universities, entrepreneurs, business experts, and investors.
"Research parks are attractive to both the state and localities because every time we look at creators of economic growth, bio-pharma always comes out on top," Pescatello said.
"What we talked about originally would have had great promise for the university and the region," he said. Western is home to the Ancell School of Business and its entrepreneurial management program, among many offerings.
In 2004, city officials approved a zone change that would allow construction of such a facility on Mill Plain Road adjacent to the university, now owned by Albert Salame, who has built homes, condominiums hotels and office buildings across the country.
But the 27-acre parcel remains undeveloped, although Salame recently took steps to rekindle interest in the project, placing a full-page ad in the latest edition of the magazine published by the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.
Called WestConn Park, the development would include 260,000 square feet of office, and research and development space, along with housing and 260,000 square feet of retail space.
Salame, whose business at 131 West St., Danbury is Salame Affliated Companies, was unavailable last week to discuss the project.
But city officials and Pescatello said the activity may be a sign that the economy is improving to a point where such a venture could eventually become feasible.
"The state has made a strategic investment in life sciences, and biotech is having a bit of a renaissance. We are starting to see the fruits of that," Pescatello said.
In New Haven, for example, a formerly vacant 120,000-square-foot former telephone company building at 300 George St. was recently renovated for such companies.
"It's completely full," he said.
Yale University has also been successful with its bio-tech incubator.
At Western, President James Schmotter has said in the past the university can't publicly endorse such a project.
"We wish him well in developing his venture," Schmotter said last week.
In addition to finding tenants, the condition of Mill Plain Road could be another impediment to the project.
In his ad, Salame tied the development to the widening of the road, which is now restricted to two lanes in some sections, four lanes in others.
Years ago, during the administration of former city Mayor Gene Eriquez, the state Department of Transportation was eager to widen the road, but the plan was scrapped as a result of overwhelming opposition from area residents concerned about the increase in traffic, Bull said.
"There was a public hearing, and people came out in droves," he recalled.
Today, according to DOT spokesman Judd Everhart, any improvements are years away, at best.
"The project has been on our list for years, but has never been funded and is not -- right now, anyway -- a priority because there is no safety issue there," he said. Preliminary estimates are that the work would cost between $20 million and $30 million.
"Even if we decided to prioritize it today and found the money for it, it would still be several years before any work would begin. Bottom line, the project is on our list, but has no funding and is not considered a priority," Everhart said.
Nevertheless, Bull said, something will eventually be built on the site.
Whether it will be a research park remains to be seen.
"It's not a question of if it will be developed, but when," Bull said.