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Thursday, April 25 Local

Derby’s VARCA building sold to Southport’s Soccer & Rugby Imports

DERBY — The VARCA building, which once served as a social center and job training facility for developmentally challenged Valley children and adults, has been sold for $450,000 by the Board of Alderman to Soccer & Rugby Imports of Fairfield.

Soccer & Rugby Imports offered the highest bid of the three firms that were interested in the building. VARCA was forced to close last spring after state and federal funding dried up. The property reverted back to the city’s ownership as part of the original agreement drawn up when it opened nearly 50 years ago.

“We’ll be moving our corporate headquarters and our production people there, probably in the fall,” said Gus Avalos, who with his family owns the five-store soccer and rugby business “Our busiest time is May to September, so it will probably be after that.”

Avalos said the company’s facility in the Southport section of Fairfield would remain a retail store, much like his other locations in Greenwich, Ridgefield, Madison and Bronxville, N.Y.

In Derby, Avalos said, production workers will be customizing uniforms purchased from companies like Adidas and Nike with team names, player names and numbers.

He said he looked at other sites in the area, including in Bridgeport and Derby, before settling on the VARCA building on Coon Hollow Road near the Public Works facility.

“We’re excited that they are coming here and they are excited about being here,” Mayor Richard Dzieken said. “What impressed me is how quickly they grew from what you’d call a mom and pop operation to a big company with several retail outlets.”

The mayor, who is an Air Force veteran and retired Hamden police officer, also liked Avalos’ offer to hire veterans, high school students and possibly some of VARCA’s former clients.”

Prior to accepting Soccer & Rugby’s offer on Thursday night, the aldermen interviewed all three bidders in a private, executive session. The interested companies had submitted sealed bids.

The bidders included Svasthya Body and Mind, which makes health and beauty aids and offered $355,000 and On Time, a screen printing and embroidery company with buildings on New Haven Avenue, Derby, and Bridgeport Avenue, Milford. On Time offered $350,000 — Derby’s minimal asking price.

Michael Klein, On Time’s owner, brought a newly designed baseball catcher’s mask which he told the Aldermen his company would be assembling

“(Klein) had several contingencies, including parking requirements, that we just could not meet,” Dziekan said. “I wish we had three buildings, then we could sell one to each.”

But Carmen DiCenso, a former Ansonia businessman, Derby alderman and now Dziekan’s economic development consultant, said there may be other locations in the city for On Time.

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“I’m certainly going to work hard to try to fine some,” he said.

The 26,000-square-foot building that housed VARCA — and the related George Hegyi Industries, where clients were paid to assemble and package materials for area manufacturers — opened to much fanfare on June 6, 1971. The late U.S. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, D-Minn., who served as vice president to Lyndon Johnson and ran unsuccessfully for president against Richard Nixon in 1968, spoke at the dedication.

The center remained open until April 2018 when state and federal funding dried up with the new approach of mainstreaming into the workforce. The building and its land reverted to city ownership as part of the original agreement with the nonprofit group.

“We owed it to our residents to put this building back on the tax rolls as soon as possible,” said Andrew Baklik, Dziekan’s chief of staff. “It was great to see three companies come to use with comprehensive business plans and compete for this building.”

Shortly after VARCA closed Ansonia and Derby considered using the building for a regional senior center. Those plans fell through when it was determined that asbestos remediation, the installation of a sprinkler system and various other upgrades could send the renovation costs spiraling to close to $3 million. As a result, the city chose to sell the structure.

In stepped Soccer & Rugby Imports, which opened in 1993 as a small retail store in a Westport strip mall.

The Avalos family took over the business in 2000 and grew the business as the popularity of soccer and rugby took off. They moved from Westport to Southport and have since opened retail stores in Ridgefield in 2005, Greenwich in 2009, Madison in 2012 and Bronxville. N.Y., in 2014.

In addition to customizing soccer uniforms for local teams, they also cleats, practice gear, shorts, warm-ups and backpacks.

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