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Simms slams Rilling over SoNoCC proposal; Morris alleges lack of transparency

The South Norwalk Community Center, at 98 South Main St.

Updated, 11:44 a.m.: Comments from Laoise King, headline adjusted.

NORWALK, Conn. – Some object to Norwalk’s plan to purchase the South Norwalk Community Center’s half of 98 South Main St.

Common Council member Travis Simms (D-District B) on Monday said members of the community did not have a voice, and on Tuesday, State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said there had been no transparency regarding the developing deal.

The Common Council is considering a proposal to pay $300,000 for SoNoCC’s half of 98 South Main, formerly a city-owned building, and budget $200,000 for repairs on the property. These funds would come out of the $3.5 million paid by GGP to the city in return for not building a hotel as part of The SoNo Collection, the mall under construction on West Avenue.

Ownership of 98 South Main was deeded over to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and SoNoCC in 1987. NEON went bankrupt and the city gained ownership of NEON’s half of the building a year ago; SoNoCC has struggled to pay its bills and maintain the building.

The proposed purchase was on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting but was tabled to July 10. Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said it had been on the agenda by mistake. The Council Finance Committee is expected to discuss the matter Thursday.

Morris in November said that Mount Zion Baptist Church, the 95-year-old African American church at 96 South Main, was interested in paying for half of the former NEON building and become a partner to the city. This would involve the YMCA, he said.

On Tuesday, Morris said Mount Zion members knew nothing about the deal worked out in February with SoNoCC Board members. There are other ways to buy the building, he said.

Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King on Wednesday wrote in an email:

“The Mayor has met with Mt. Zion on multiple occasions and has told them the City was in the process of obtaining ownership of the entire building. This has also been a matter of public knowledge. There should be no surprises here.  I believe this was discussed in the debates and has been the subject of multiple news stories. The only ‘deal’ or new piece of information is related to what a fair purchase price of the remaining portion of the building would be.

“The Mayor told Mt. Zion that once the City has control of the property, a decision can be made about how the building can best serve the community. He shared with Mt. Zion that the City is likely to issue an RFQ for nonprofits to respond to where they can propose how they would run programming at the building and that the City will include members of the community in reviewing the responses and working with any responding nonprofit to help identify types of programming the community needs.
“The Mayor hopes that Mt. Zion will a) participate in the selection process of the nonprofit chosen to run the building and b) that they will work with any new entity to design and provide programming together.”

Simms on Monday issued a blistering email on the topic.

“No surprises here,” Simms wrote. “{Former Common Council member Faye Bowman) and I have raised the necessary concerns.  Often politics comes down to subsidies going to those who provide the most campaign support. Perhaps it’s not the case here, but it unfortunate that people who can’t afford to donate in large sums are sidelined as much as those of us who speak up for the rights of those in low-income neighborhoods. We are often considered a nuisance and have little influence without a lot of research and a lot of battles. It would be similar to the past when some Norwalkers felt the need to fight to have a Human Relations Officer in the Norwalk Public School system and when the same demographic fought for a Fair Housing Officer.”

Simms’ email was in response to a Sunday inquiry from NancyOnNorwalk, explaining that the proposal was detailed in the agenda for Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting. The issue had been discussed by the Council in an executive session, Council members said at last week’s Land Use and Building Management Committee meeting.

Simms’ email continued (paragraph breaks added by NancyOnNorwalk):

“In this instance I would need to know what the plans are for that building before I can weigh in one way or another.  It would be nice to have a NEON back so that there is one place for Norwalk residents to get their wraparound services instead of having residents go here and there for them.  NEON was good for Norwalk and an excellent model for the the {sic} county and state. It proved Norwalk respected and cared about its low-income residents enough to provide a hand up (not a hand out). I grew up in Roodner Court housing project with many races of people who needed help and we shared this are pretty peaceably.  Things have changed over the past six years or so and I believe some of it has to do with leadership.

“NEON helped all the races and cultures of people in Norwalk that needed help.  It did not just help one race of people and marginalize others.  So I eagerly await the plans for the building.  You don’t fix up a building with no plans for its usage and if you are community minded you respect those in the neighborhood enough to understand the needs.

“When I attended the Walk Bridge meeting last week at City Hall, I heard many East Norwalk residents express that they would like to be considered and consulted before plans are made and implemented.  Faye and I and so many others have been saying the same thing in South Norwalk for years. We speak for many of the residents without a voice.  We’ll see if anyone cared to listen.”

 

Mayor Harry Rilling in an email responded to Simm’s comments:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  This building is to be used ONLY to provide social services to all our residents in need.  I cannot be any clearer than that.  In fact, I stated in a meeting with stakeholders, I would insist on a deed restriction that would prevent that building from being used for commercial or any other purpose in perpetuity.”

6 comments

Mitch Adis June 13, 2018 at 9:05 am

NEON helped themselves to the pile of taxpayers money that was for those in need. Let’s not forget that. Remember the free apartment for a board members family member. How about the severance package for a corrupt leader after they were caugh red handed. The list goes on and on.

Services have stopped long ago. So, why does the City have to pay a dime for what should have reverted back to taxpayers. The last deed spelled out the terms which if followed would give the city back its property.

Rick June 13, 2018 at 5:08 pm

We all see Bob Duff got $100,000 to clean up an island for the folks in South Norwalk it will now be safe for the snakes ticks and deer its actually a great thing the Norwalk land trust has done. But they still have the problems on Meadow st and Wilson that are not going away including the creek itself.

yesterday men hired by the Ct DOT under air packs entered the storm drain on Wilson and MLK checking to see where a chemical remediation project sits that has been ongoing for years. that out fall is close to the island.

While cleaning the obvious up why are we not aggressive on cleaning up the hidden dangers where people are allowed near ?

How does both the story and the Village creek details connect?

There was a comment by the engineers working on Ryan Park, that contamination was coming from the old NEON building direction. Yet I saw nowhere the old NEON building needs testing before the city buys it.

Now that Bob Duff got money for pcb’s on an 3 acre island off of village creek there must be enough in case Norwalk needs it for the old NEON building or other brownfield lots forgotten about all over the city’

Rick June 13, 2018 at 5:28 pm

The Mayor has met with Mt. Zion on multiple occasions

makes sense at the same meeting where it was said pollution may be coming from NEON and the church the church rep sat there and had no questions about the source of contamination or anything else as the facts unfolded from an engineer the RDA hired.

We were also told no water table to contend with, now that the project has started the water table has been their enemy on cleanup.

A lot of contamination has left the site via the old neon driveway hope they wash the building and sweep the driveway off before the city buys it all they are cleaning up pcb’s . Good thing nothing happens at 98 south main st. that brought kids to the building during the cleanup.

Ms. Mawd June 13, 2018 at 6:25 pm

of course it did, they were still renting the multi-purpose room for birthday parties etc and used the back entrance. But someone explain how does this entitle downstairs which was consider SoNCC to this money, that should be used for more than to buy out the building and then allow a tenant to still have footage. This should come back to the community before anything is sign!!!!!!

Nancy Chapman June 14, 2018 at 12:50 pm

NON reported that there was a two-bedroom apartment rented to the former CEO’s ex-wife for $600 per month including utilities, which was below market rate. Our coverage also included allegations in a draft auditor’s report of inappropriate raises and staff additions, but we are not aware of any severance package.
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/06/new-report-details-where-the-money-went-at-neon/
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/10/ex-neon-board-member-stephenson-got-103-percent-raise-last-year/

Debora Goldstein June 14, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Just because it is public, doesn’t mean it’s true. The last public word on this subject was at the debate last year, in which the Mayor talked about Redevelopment taking over the building. Note what he said about Mt Zion and the YMCA last year:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2017/10/norwalk-mayoral-candidates-spar-over-development-sonocc-range-of-issues/
==============================================

The city is seeking full ownership and is in discussions with Mount Zion Church, the YMCA, and the Center, Rilling said.

“We are looking now perhaps for the Redevelopment Agency to take over. This building needs a lot of work,” Rilling said, describing $500,000 of work to “make it safe,” including a new elevator, new roof and a security system.

At that point, Dumas called, “It’s a sellout!”

“We are trying to bring in people who know case management, we’ll have the YMCA partnering with Mount Zion and partnering with the South Norwalk Community Center so this could be a full-service building for everybody in the South Norwalk area,” Rilling continued. “We are very confident that we are going to put together a model that will bring this building back to full potential and service the needs of the community.”

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