NEW HAVEN — Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest and once its largest handgun maker, was named by city officials Tuesday as one of three manufacturers eyeing a takeover of the soon-to-close Winchester firearms factory. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. confirmed Tuesday that Smith & Wesson executives will be in town this weekend to tour the U.S. Repeating Arms Co. factory at 344 Winchester Ave., where "The Gun That Won The West" has been manufactured for 150 years. Advertisement "There is a serious interest in the plant by a credible manufacturer," DeStefano said Tuesday. "Where it’s going to lead, I am not going to handicap at this point." City Hall is asking USRAC’s parent company, Belgium-based Herstal Group, to cede control of the plant to the city or another gun maker. In exchange, the city has offered to forgive $17 million in tax abatements, lease obligations and workers’ pay the city says Herstal owes. Meanwhile, the city is pressuring Utah-based Olin Corp., owner of the Winchester brand name, to grant the Winchester license to a firearms maker willing to take over the New Haven factory. Smith & Wesson’s chief financial officer, John Kelly, confirmed the visit Tuesday, but both he and DeStefano sought to downplay its significance. "We’ve been asked to come down and take a look" Kelly said. "Obviously, it’s a great brand, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. DeStefano also struck a cautious, if hopeful, tone. "Herstal does want to sell the plant," the mayor said. "Herstal has an interest in retaining the license from Olin, but Olin has said they would deal only with a bonafide manufacturer, which Smith & Wesson clearly is." DeStefano added, "This is just a step in the process. I don’t want to build expectations that are unreasonable." DeStefano said the city is courting two other interested gun makers, but he would not name them. The USRAC plant is set to go dark March 31, putting 186 factory workers out of their jobs. City officials and a slew of hired guns have worked feverishly since the closing was announced in January to find a buyer to takeover plant operations. Negotiations took on a more conciliatory tone last week after the city received a sharply worded rebuke from a Herstal executive who told DeStefano, in a letter, he was "disappointed by the approach and tone" of the mayor’s offer. Founded in 1852 in Norwich, Smith & Wesson was the nation’s largest handgun maker for decades, surpassed in 2000 by Sturm, Ruger & Co. Based in Springfield, Mass., Smith & Wesson made the world-famous .357-caliber Magnum and .38 Special, outfitting countless police departments nationwide with sidearms. Smith & Wesson and Winchester go back a long way together, and a union of the two brands now would be the stuff of American gun legend. Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson first sought to make a lever action repeating pistol in 1852, but the company ran into financial hardship two years later. They were forced to sell their company to a shirt manufacturer named Oliver Winchester, and in 1866, using the original lever-action design created by Smith & Wesson, Winchester rifles were born. "Smith & Wesson is the kind of company we’d love to have," DeStefano said. "So we’ll meet them and then we’ll take it to the next step."