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Norwalk emails tell hidden tale of ‘POKO’ restart efforts

A 2015 rendering of the planned Wall Street Place.

Updated, 6:33 a.m.: Copy edit

NORWALK, Conn. – E-mails between Norwalk officials, developers, and a developer’s lawyer reveal tensions around the long-stalled Wall Street Place Phase I project, from a “serious issue” stymying Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan in 2016 to his recent anger regarding a non-disclosure agreement.

Most of the emails in the two- to three-inch stack of papers obtained by NancyOnNorwalk through a Freedom of Information Act request were terse communications about setting up meetings in Mayor Harry Rilling’s office. A few were more revealing, illuminating the struggle to convert what many call the “Tyvek building” into the living, breathing life of Wall Street envisioned by City planners back in 2007.

Here’s a summary of emails, with bolding added by NancyOnNorwalk for emphasis:

 

June 10, 2016, Sheehan to Rich and Ken Olson of POKO Partners, the original builder of Wall Street Place:

“Why can’t Core Builders provide the required bond for the Encroachment Permit on behalf of POKO and assign the related costs to the project? To clarify what your team presented on Wednesday regarding the bond situation, the demolition bond has not expired, that bond will be credited against the bond requirement for the now significantly expanded encroachment area. Please provide a response today. This is a serious and pressing issue for the City which must be resolved next week if project construction is to continue uninterrupted.”

 

Rich Olson’s reply:

“Tim we have 2 applications for bonds out for quote”

Sheehan to Rich Olson: “Will one of those be processed by next week? If not you need to move to an alternative plan immediately.”

Rich Olson to Sheehan: “I cant be sure – if the alternative plan is to move the barriers on east Isaac we will do that”

Sheehan to Olson: “No your alternative plan needs to allow the City to issue a permit for the entire encroachment area by early next week so that construction can continue. I understand POKO’s limitation s as to the bond, I offered an alternative today that was not responded to. What you provided back is what you have been telling DPW for weeks. Be clear that will not fly next week. Your team needs to understand that between the project gap, the encroachment permit and the zoning issue the City is furious. POKO needs to solve this permit issue early next week in what ever way you have to do it . The City will not accept this situ at ion or wait further for its resolution.”

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Construction on Wall Street Place stopped in August, 2016. On Oct. 3, 2016, Sheehan wrote to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, Assistant Corporation Counsel Diane Beltz-Jacobson and Rilling:

“Steve Olrick from Citi Bank was on the POKO site today. He is engaging Core Builders to complete the work to secure the existing asset. It is anticipated that that work will begin early next week if not sooner. POKO is stepping out of the project. Citi is stepping into the developer role for now. Once the bank legally controls the project they will engage in a wider conversation with the City. Ms. Millhouse asked that the communication of POKO’s status remain confidential until the bank informs the City that it has been finalized. As of today Citi intends to stay in the project through the asset protection process as it would be too time consuming to bring in another developer so close to winter. Citi may stay in as the developer through full construction unless one of the developers they have considered can bring added value and schedule advantages to the project. A determination on this will be made over the next month or so. Any change in the developer status will be in consultation with the parties to the LDA {Land Disposition Agreement}.”

 

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In 2017, Citibank, after foreclosing on POKO, chose John and Todd McClutchy of JHM Group as its developer in the effort to restart Wall Street Place.  On Sept. 27, Attorney William Hennessey wrote to Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King, Coppola, Sheehan, Attorney Deborah Brancato and the McClutchys:

 

“Further to our last conversation, by the end of today Deborah will be sending a document comparing the current Phase I, Phase II, Phase Ill obligations with those proposed by our client. This should serve as a good tool to focus the conversation and make sure the parties are in agreement on the major changes proposed. Assuming we accomplish that, we would then move toward creating a redline of the proposed LDA outlining details of the proposed changes.

Deborah will also send a basic Non-disclosure Agreement, which will protect the confidentiality of these documents. According to my calendar we are scheduled to meet tomorrow (Thursday) at 2pm in the Mayor’s conference room.  I will be out of town a good portion of today, but Deborah will be around to communicate.”

 

On Sept. 28, Sheehan wrote to Coppola, copying King:

“Mario: I would like to reschedule the meeting scheduled for today for the following reasons:

 

  1. “What was submitted lacks the requested project plan and proforma.
  2. “City/ Redevelopment asked last week if Citibank {the property owner) had approved advancing the proposed project plan and proforma. There is no documentation or reference to such approval having been obtained. To distuss a project that Citibank is not on board with is a waste of our time.
  3. “City/ Redevelopment requested acknowledgement from Citibank {the property owner) to enter into project discussions or participate directly, there is no reference to Citibank’s acknowledgement of, or participation in the scheduled meeting.
  4. “The information provided (a laundry list of requested public party concessions) was technically received this morning and it is impossible to review and understand the concessions being sought  without all of the information requested last week being provided to us much less attempt to review their context in existing LOA contract by 2:00 PM today.

“Thanks, Tim”

 

On Sept. 29, Hennessy wrote to Sheehan, Coppola, Todd McClutchy and Brancato:

 

“Tim/Mario:

“I see that the Mayor’s office has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, October 4, 2017. Having this meeting is quite important as it will enable my clients to report back to Citibank that the meeting scheduled for yesterday, which was postponed, has been rescheduled so quickly. This will be meaningful to the bank.

“In response to Tim’s request, my client will prepare a very basic “Pro Forma” and also share some basic Building Plans and concepts for Phase II. We will also discuss plans for the Phase I building. By providing this information we are hopeful that you can evaluate the plan in terms of the proposed changes to the LDA which was previously sent to you.

“Since time is short, rather than debate and negotiate the NDA which was previously sent, my clients would be prepared to show the “Pro Forma” and the Building Plans, in the absence  of  an NDA, with the only proviso that we would bring the documents to the  meeting and take them at the end of  the meeting, leaving nothing behind.  This way we don’t have to come to final terms on the NDA by Wednesday.

“Lastly, we view this meeting as less a design meeting and more of a business meeting. Thus, the roster of attendees in our view should be limited to those individuals needed to evaluate the business aspects of the deal. Certainly the two of you, the Mayor, and Loaise are required. I am not sure who else beyond that. On our side, it will be Todd and John, me and perhaps Deb Brancato.”

 

Coppola wrote back to Hennessey, who represented GGP in its successful quest to build a mall on LDA-governed property in Norwalk:

“The meeting got inadvertently scheduled by the Mayor’s office because I didn’t get a chance to tell Sally to not schedule it after we spoke earlier today. The City and RDA is, and has been for many months, very eager to meet with you and your clients so I have no problem with us going forward with the meeting on Wednesday. However, we still need to receive the information that we requested at least a few days before the meeting so that we have an opportunity to meet internally before we meet with you and your clients. We need you to provide us with the ‘pro-forma’ and building plans by no later than Tuesday morning. Can you please let me know if you can get us those documents by that time or sooner?

“As we discussed today, neither the City nor the NRA ever executed an NDA in order to discuss a project like this one. As you know, we never signed an NDA with regard to the GGP project where the negotiations went on for many months, the stakes were higher and there were more people at the table. I hope that you could confirm for your clients that City and RDA leadership maintained those discussions, especially any sensitive issues, in strict confidence. I can confirm for you that the information provided to us will only be reviewed at this time by the following people: Mayor Rilling, Laoise King, Tim Sheehan and counsel for the City and RDA (which I assume will be limited at first to just Mark Grenier and I). We will all agree to keep the information/documentation disclosed in the strictest confidence. Furthermore, we will agree that we will maintain any documentation in a secme file and that we will object to any FOIA request for the documentation on the basis of the FOIA exemption for contract negotiations. Quite frankly, based on those representations I cannot see any reasonable concern about advance disclosure to this small group.”

Coppola also wrote:

“We have been able to resolve more complicated issues than this one in the past. Please feel free to give me a call first thing this morning; the earlier the better.”

Hennessey wrote:

Mario this is disappointing. In terms of rescuing this project, despite several meeting and seeming agreement on major points, and complete agreement on the urgent need to get full resolution, there is still much work left to do and little time to do it. We need to meet to confirm that we have basic agreement on broad terms that the mayor can endorse and ultimately submit to the CC and NRA. You have asked for more information and detail, which is reasonable, and we have asked that you provide assurance that whatever we provide will remain confidential unless or until we have agreement to move forward. You have said that the City won’t sign the proposed NDA. As you know, time is precious in this matter because much more of a delay will preclude use of the half built structure and as a result in the problem which the City of Norwalk, the NRA, and the lenders now face with become more complicated and much more expensive to resolve. My suggestion (ie. we meet and we will bring information you requested and share it but not leave it behind) set forth a process where we could meet, share the information you requested and thus continue the important discussion without arguing about the NDA. It is not perfect for either side but it allows the matter to progress. I’ d ask that you reconsider; otherwise I believe this matter will need to be resolved in a completely different manner and by other parties. I look forward to hearing from you. Regards, Bill”

 

Coppola, on Oct. 2, replied:

 

“We are equally disappointed on our side that you cannot trust the City/RDA officials that were specially referenced in my last email from possessing a few documents less than 2 business days in advance of the meeting. What are your specific concerns about disclosing the documents?

“…maintain any documentation in a secure file and that we will object to any FOIA request for the documentation on the basis of the FOIA exemption for contract negotiations. Quite frankly, based on those representations I cannot see any reasonable concern about advance disclosure to this small group.”

 

 

Sheehan on Oct. 2 wrote to Coppola:

“FYI – No mention of them having authorization from Citibank to advance this discussion.”

 

Coppola replied to Sheehan: “I have repeatedly told Bill that he needs to email us a statement confirming that the developer has authorization from Citibank.”

 

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On Oct. 2, Sheehan wrote to Steven Hall of Citibank:

“Hi Steve – I hope you are well. I wanted to follow up with you with regards to Wall Street Place. JHM Financial is scheduled to meet again with the Agency and City this Wednesday. We had asked for the following to be submitted prior to the meeting 1. Conceptual Master Site Plan (CMSP), 2. Project Proforma, 3. Citibank’s approval as the property owner to advance discussions regarding this particular plan. I am assuming the bank has seen the proje,ct CMSP and proforma and is supportive of its advancement.

 

“Unfortunately, none of the requested information has been provided to the public parties. The City and Redevelopment Agency were asked to sign a Confidentiality Agreement before the information requested would be released. It has been explained to us that the confidentially issue is a bank concern. It is my understanding that because of our reluctance to sign such an agreement, that we will only get the information at the meeting and it will be returned  to them at the conclusion of the meeting. I am not sure that is the most efficient way to start a project discussion, but again I do not know the bank’s specific concerns in this regard. I would however like to get simple confirmation from the bank as the property owner, that you are okay with the public parties to the LDA independently meeting with the development team to discuss this plan. Can you or Maureen please provide this confirmation in a responding email?”

 

 

Hall on Oct. 3 replied:

“Hi Tim – John McClutchy reached out to me in an email last week to say that Norwalk wanted confirmation that JHM/Richman has Citibank’s approval as property owner to advance discussions with the City and Agency regarding their plan for moving forward on Wall Street Place. With this email I can confirm that Citi bank provides that approval. We have seen a draft ‘sales approach’ proforma that projects an outcome that would be acceptable to Citi – and we have determined that the team of JHM/Richman would be acceptable to Citi as replacement developers. We have successfully worked with both entities on similar and larger projects and we have full confidence in their ability to execute.

“We have not yet seen drawings to illustrate the concepts contained in the draft proforma- but we understand that preparation of such is underway and hopefully there will be some sort of visual aid presented at the meeting you reference.

“I’ll be back next week and will follow up with you on progress. We feel strongly that this is the right team for pulling the project back to get her and that time is of the essence for doing so.”

 

 

Sheehan wrote to Coppola (not Hall):

You did notice he made NO mention of the bank requiring a NDA! That requirement came out of Stamford. Obviously there has been a performa {sic} developed unlike what we told last week that one would have to be ‘pulled together’ . The only consistent line is that there is no CMSP yet. If true that is disappointing as they have been at this for six months and we they still do not have on paper the anticipated height, bulk and massing and site layout of the proposed project.”

 

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On Oct. 12, Sheehan wrote to Rilling, King, Coppola and Grenier an email with the subject line, “Cost of structured parking?”:

“In our meeting on Tuesday, JHM assigned a cost of $40,000 per structured parking space. If that number were credible the cost of the LDA public parking requirement would be $10M. Please note below the statement from Walker Parking Consultants. Additionally, Waypointe’s parking garages have come in on average around $20,000 per space.  The cost of the LDA public parking requirement is accurately stated at approximately $6M.

“Parking garages are often budgeted on a cost per space. In most cases that cost averages $15-20,000 per parking spot. More efficient layouts with more parking per square foot are more affordable and smaller, taller or complex layouts tend to be more expensive. If you take the entire range from easiest to most complex it is $10-25,000 per space.”

 

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On Oct. 23, Sheehan wrote to Hall:

“Steve – Has the bank had an opportunity yet to discuss the City’s concerns regarding the proposal that JHM put forward for our consideration? Not surprisingly the City has significant concerns regarding the full elimination of all the public parking currently recognized in the LDA and the value of the City subsidy alone being conservatively $16 M. Finally, the public parties remain uncomfortable in having project conversations without the bank (property owner) being present. JHM has provided its aggressive assessment of the bank’s position.  Without the bank being present however there is no understanding of its position, that weakens the value of these discussions. Tomorrow it will be two weeks since the City met with JHM. To my knowledge no additional meetings have been scheduled. The lack of scheduled meetings and long periods of silence between such meetings does not convey the sense of urgency that this problem should be getting from the parties to the LDA.”

 

 

Hall replied:

“Tim – I understand your frustration, this process has not moved at the pace we feel is necessary either. As to your question on whether the bank has had the opportunity to discuss the City’s concerns – I have to say that I don’t recall anyone communicating those concerns, at least not before now. I have heard from the JHM team that the matter of public parking has been raised in meetings, more in the context of looking for an acceptable solution.

“I think you are right that going forward the bank should be involved in conversations related to the LDA. I had hoped that the developers and the City together might come to an agreement for finishing this difficult project in a way that is feasible – both in terms of land use and economics. I’ m not sure what you mean by the aggressive assessment of the bank’s position – but it is a fact that the bank can’t consider making additional investments in the site that are not economically viable. It is still our hope that a viable project will come from these talks that will be acceptable to the bank’s internal risk group – and in a work out as difficult as this one, that isn’t always the easiest hurdle to overcome.

 

“I will talk to JHM / Richman today to get to the bottom of why meetings and communications aren’t going along at a better pace. If we don’t get a good answer to that-we may be looking at other options.”

 

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On Oct. 27, Sheehan wrote to Coppola, Grenier and Attorney David Stergas:

 

“Next Tuesday it will be three weeks since we met with JHM and their legal team regarding their plans for advancing the Wall Street Place project . Other than generalized emails with Citibank which I have forward to you, the Redevelopment Agency has had no direct responsive communications with either Citibank or JHM. At our internal meeting on September 14th both the Redevelopment Agency and the City agreed that during these discussions we should simultaneously be preparing the requisite documents recognizing that the Mortgagee has in fact acquired the property and outline the provisions of the existing LDA as it relates to the rights and duties of the mortgagee upon acquisition of the property and further prepare notice to the bank of the of the numerous defaults under the agreement.  Such notice by my read of the LDA starts a timeline by which the bank becomes obligated to take certain actions.

 

“I am unaware of the current status of these documents among the respective counsels, but I fear we are not collectively prioritizing this work appropriately. The public parties are obligated to keep Citibank engaged in making timely decisions that will move this project back into construction. To date the public parties have applied virtually no pressure in this regard. Our accommodation is now being confused with a willingness to concede massive public concessions rather than enforce compliance of the existing LDA terms. I think it is time that the public parties provide collective written notice to Citibank that we are not and advise them of their duties and rights under the existing contract.  Please let me  know if there is anything that you require from me to advance this work product.”

 

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On Nov. 22, Sheehan wrote to King and Rilling:

“Laoise – It would be helpful to set up a meeting with the City (Mayor, you, Mario, Bill Ireland) and Redevelopment (Felix, me, Marc and David Stergas) to discuss how the public parties want to proceed with Citibank. It has been almost a month since my last communication with Steve Hall in which I complained about the pace of returning this project back into construction. At that time Steve indicated that the bank would become directly engaged with JHM and quickly determine if they would continue to advance with them or look for other options. Since October 24th silence. I think the public parties to the LDA need to be more assertive at this point. We have worked with the bank according to my records since August of 2016 and other than the bank taking title to the property and providing a temporary enclosure of the structure I have not seen substantive movement on their part to get this project under construction.

“Please let me know if you and the Mayor agree and if, so have Sally send me a few workable dates and I will coordinate with the respective parties.”

 

 

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On Jan. 8, Coppola wrote to King and Grenier, copying Sheehan and Rilling:

 

“Laoise,

“Mark and I just reviewed the changes together over the phone. Both of us feel that the prior draft with our modest (minimal required) revisions should be accepted. First, we think that the City and RDA cannot agree to a 120 period. Rather, we must insist on a period of no more than 90 days. Second, the developer/Citi Bank must fill in the blank to describe the requested ‘specific performance’. Otherwise, the requirement for specific performance of some unknown act must be deleted from the agreement.

 

“Tim,

“Mark wants to know if you can reach out to the Bank to determine what it is actually willing to accept? We want to know if the developer is accurately reflecting the bank’s position on the confidentiality agreement.”

 

King replied:

“Ok – I will hold off on responding until I hear from Tim on the Banks position.”

Sheehan replied to everyone:

“Marc/ Mario

“What is the legal issue with 120 days? Are you really saying that the City and the Redevelopment Agency will not advance discussions to reactivate construction on this site because we will not sign a NDA for 30 days more than what we proposed? That is not a defensible public position for either the Redevelopment Agency or the City to take in my opinion even if there are legal arguments to support it.

As to ‘specific performance’ why are the public parties not telling the private parties what we consider acceptable as specific performance? To that point why would specific performance not simply be allowing Citi to directly seek Common Council and Redevelopment Agency approval of the necessary changes to the LDA to accommodate the proposed development plan? Assuming negotiations under the NDA had advanced successfully that ultimately would have been where the project would stand.

 

“I have an email from Steve Hall that lays out the bank’s general support for the NDA which I will advance to all again. I do not think Steve Hall however is the person that will provide direct guidance on what the bank will accept regarding the NDA.

 

“Finally, as we all know JHM has very strong ties to the Malloy administration and time is ticking on that clock. While I may disagree with JHM on certain issues, his point that this project needs to be reactivated under this governor, I fully agree with. The NDA issue has already cost months in this regard, we need to get this thing finalized and move on.”

 

 

Coppola replied, copying everyone:

“During our previous discussions you had said that you thought it was important to have a reasonably short period of time for the developer to perform, and I of course agreed with that posit ion.  In order to avoid a negotiation of the term, we went ahead and proposed 90 days instead of starting with 60days. However, if everyone on the RDA and City side is comfortable with 120days then I have no problem with us accepting that revision and extending the period to 120 days.

“The inclusion of a requirement of ‘specific performance’ simply makes no sense. The developer and Citibank have still not articulated to us what action they would be requiring the signatories of the agreement to specifically per form. If they are unable to articulate what they are requiring by the “specific performance” then that requirement should be deleted. The City and RDA officials cannot sign an agreement that literally reads that there is a requirement for specific performance of _ _ _ _ _       and then allow the developer or Citibank to fill in the blank afterwards.”

 

 

Sheehan replied:

“… You are right I never wanted to sign a NDA. But I do not think that either the City or Redevelopment Agency can publicly defend not being at the table actively discussing reactivating construction on this project because of a thirty day term difference in a NDA. That simply will not sell in the court of public opinion.

 

“…I understand your point on specific performance. But sense they have left the door open why not provide them with what the public parties see as reasonable regarding specific performance? I am sure you and Marc can craft reasonable language that protects the public parties while taking seriously their concerns.”

 

 

John McClutchy wrote to King, et al:

“See below. The bank has been very clear with me that this is the minimum it is willing to accept. Also, Steve Hall has impressed upon me the need to continue to show progress as the bank is very concerned about leaving the building in its present condition for very much longer. Please have this executed and retumed so that we can begin the process of planning and executing next steps.”

 

 

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On Feb. 27, Sheehan wrote to King, copying Rilling, Grenier and Coppola, about an inspection of Wall Street Place:

 

“Laoise – We have approval for the inspection to occur. I think we should schedule the meeting. Each day we wait the timeline with this Governor and the required state financial commitments to make any project workable on this site is shrinking. We have to have those commitments in place by the end of August. Before we can even get to that level we need to get consensus around a project. If we want to reject JHM’s project and terms fine, but they need to know that ASAP in my opinion.”

 

In a second email, Sheehan wrote:

“Mayor/ Laoise – Do you want the meeting to include the three of us and the two of them (Todd & John) at this concept stage or do you want Mario, Marc and Bill to be involved? I vote for the three us until there is consensus that there is a supportable project concept on paper, but will defer if you think differently.”

 

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On March 6, Sheehan wrote to Rilling and King:

 

“Mayor/ Laoise;

“Thought it was important to review where we have been with this project and CitiBank thus far. That introduction has little to do with JHM Properties plan, but there remain some questions that require answers and some commitment s from the bank that were not realized. Further, there is additional project financial information that JHM has yet to provide . Based on what we have been given I think the discussion for Thursday should generally be focused on a revised parking plan and a restatement that NO public parking is NOT acceptable to the public parties. As to the public parking options, I am not sure if working with Walker violates the NDA if we are simply seeking to better understand costs.

“Walker did the Redevelopment Agency’s analysis of the proposed automated parking as part of the initial project due diligence. They already have the plans and specifications for the system.”

 

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On April 11, Sheehan wrote to Brancato and Todd McClutchy, copying Grenier, King and  Rilling, about the “weekly meeting:”

 

“Todd I Deborah- Please add these items to tomorrow’s meeting agenda.

 

  1. “While the City/ Redevelopment Agency contemplate how best to address the additional $2 Million public infrastructure request {the largest remaining unresolved term} we would like to understand at the very least the soft commitments from both the State and Citi Bank regarding their additional investment. JHM has previously provided a general order of magnitude of this additional investment which is appreciated, but the City/Redevelopment Agency want affirmation from the sources themselves. I have no problem with there being scheduled calls with DOH /CHFA and Citi to discuss the soft commitments should they not want to put anything in writing, but for us to seriously focus on the additional $2 Million request we need to have confidence regarding what the other parties are advancing.

 

  1. “Similarly we have asked on several occasions for a detailed project sources and uses budget and proforma for Phases I &II. The City/Redevelopment Agency need to independently understand the related project gap and what is driving it if we are being asked to participate in covering it . That information was to be made available to the City and Redevelopment Agency after we signed the NDA.

 

  1. The Redevelopment Agency seeks JHM’s participation in covering half the cost of the appraisal for the Dias property.

 

  1. “The City/ Redevelopment Agency would like to better understand the change in the proposed ownership structure of the project from a ‘partnership’ between Citi and JHM to the project now being advanced solely by JHM with Citi I presume remaining the lender and holder of the tax credits. That news unfortunately caught the public parties by surprise last week.

 

  1. “As the additional $2M in the revised DRAFT LDA is restricted to City infrastructure the City and Redevelopment Agency requests an infrastructure budget from Redniss & Mead so we can understand how the infrastructure costs are now being allocated and how the $2 Million request was arrived at.

 

  1. “As the LDA modifications come into clearer focus the City and Redevelopment Agency want to continue our discussion regarding the timeline for our release from the NDA.

 

“These points are for discussion tomorrow there is no expectation that you will have the requested information ready to provide, but we expect that the requests would be fulfilled in advance of our meeting on April 19th.”

 

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Negotiations have not resulted in a plan at this point. Rilling, in a Sunday email to NancyOnNorwalk, explained:

 

“Citibank, JHM, or any other owner of the project property proposing to change the terms of the LDA will have to go before the Council and RDA for approval. Both the City and RDA have been clear that the proposal for an additional $2 million in contributions from Norwalk and a decrease in parking are not acceptable and not something we could recommend at this time.

“The City has issued a default and we are awaiting a revised proposal.”

19 comments

Bill NIghtingale July 2, 2018 at 8:45 am

Great reporting by NON. Thank you for shining light on this.

The incompetence of The Redevelopment Agency displayed here is astonishing. But more astonishing is that no has been held accountable at the Redevelopment Agency or elsewhere in Norwalk government.

This state funded affordable housing project known as Poko will only flounder further until it is completely turned over to private development at a market clearing price.

Jlightfield July 2, 2018 at 8:48 am

What a mess.

1. The City /RDA was right in opposing the NDA. There is nothing special in this development deal that would require an NDA.

2. It appears JHM is banking on a bond out of DECD to finance something. That just inducates that they are undercapitalized and have limited access to OPM. Red Flag.

3. The City/ RDA is still trapped in the thinking that led them into this quagmire over public parking replacement and a recoupe of leveraged assets. Instead the City / RDA should secure any DECD investment for land acquisition to create replacement public parking on its own, and limit Citibank to its interest in Phase 1.

4. The City has proven it can’t handle complex development deals through this, 95/7 and the Walk Bridge/ Maritime lot and property. You can’t negotiate any deal from a position of hiding under your desk, and reacting to proposals. All of this could have been avoided if the City had invested in scoping out and providing conceptual master plans of its vision, and having developers bid on that. The one leverage point for the City has always been its skin in the game with land, and $.

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 2, 2018 at 9:33 am

A Keystone Cop(s) scenario with taxpayer money and assets to be sure. Jackie is absolutely right, the city can’t handle complex development deals, although – I would scratch the ‘complex’ and just say that city can’t handle land use deals. Period. It’s always homegrown politicians and part time city lawyers- never any professional commercial real estate people assisting these guys. Masters of their own universes, I guess.

This is just one example of why the grand list never grows: 1) Taxpayer money giveaways 2) Public parking giveaways, 3) lawsuits, 4) non-disclosure agreements and 5) campaign donations. It’s hard not to think nefarious thoughts of either gross incompetency or slap in the face cronyism. Probably a bit of both.

Michael McGuire July 2, 2018 at 10:42 am

The concerning part of all this is that those making decisions on behalf of the City are biased and have conflicts of interest. Consider that the project, as proposed, is unfeasible – if it was feasible it would be done by now. As such, are the City advisors asking the right questions?

Nowhere do we hear anything like:

• Is the project, as originally conceived, the best we can do for in Downtown Norwalk?

• Should we be looking at alternative methods of rectifying this project – such as removing the Low Income Housing Tax Credits?

• What would be the cost to Norwalk for pursuing these alternative paths?

• Are there other external issues we should be addressing to help rectify this situation? Such as a Train Station to make this unfeasible project more feasible?

• Is JHM the best group to be doing this? After all it does look a bit suspicious given their considerable political contributions.

Regarding the conflicts of interest consider the following:

• Tim Sheehan put this deal together and is responsible for its outcome, thus has a huge vested interest in seeing what was originally planned comes to fruition. Is he really the best person to be advising the City? Or are other interests clouding his judgement? What would be the impact to Tim if the deal needed to be substantially restructured? Does he lose his job?

• Do the Mayor and Ms. King have the background to understand a complex commercial property transaction of this nature? Where are the checks and balances for them to consider? Or is it only Tim advising on the “real estate” outcome?

• The legal advisors for the City and RDA are just that – legal advisors. I’m sure they are competent to advise on the legal issues. However, they don’t have the background on complex commercial property analysis to weigh the alternatives as to what’ s in the best interest for Norwalk.

As a stakeholder on Wall Street and Norwalk Tax payer I would really like to see some thoughtful consideration by experts on rehabilitating this project. Sadly, a lot of time has been lost and the market is changing. We’ve seen this on 95/7, are we going to see this on POKO now? Common Council Members – it’s up to you.

Ask Tim for his support on why this project, as proposed, reflects the best interests for Norwalk. Let’s have that debate.

Ernie DesRochers July 2, 2018 at 10:44 am

I understand the need for affordable housing in Norwalk but I question why elected officials would want to use one as the cornerstone of a major redevelopment area, especially given the cost. A review of the LDA indicates that the capital stack for this deal was $48 million or about $436,000 per unit inclusive of parking. With the exception of 597 Westport Avenue there has never been a rental property in Norwalk that sold for over $400,000 per unit. Given the cost and below market rentals it’s no wonder that this development needed massive taxpayer support.

This was an extremely bad idea to begin with and only continues to get worse. The concept for the development is dated and will ultimately do nothing that really improve the area. Jackie is correct when she says let Citybank finish Phase I and let’s move on. Besides they had an option to purchase the Phase II parcel and did not even though the had ample opportunity that due so. That is clear what Mr. Milligan’s purchase and sale agreement with Poko for that land..

One thing is for certaint, politicians (well meaning or not) and their legal counsels have no clue as to real estate development especially those as complicated as LIHTC housing deals. Experienced and well capitalized sponsorship is key. Based on everything that I have read there is plenty of blame to go around for the mess that has been created, I suspect that we will be looking at Tyvek for a very long time.

.

Bill NIghtingale July 2, 2018 at 12:29 pm

Poko and JHM are politically connected developers. It seems their business is largely about using political sway to get government grants and contracts. Neither would likely be used for a private development, but this is what we get when municipal government encroaches into the business of development.

cc-rider July 2, 2018 at 12:41 pm

After reading all this, it is pretty obvious why they would all be laying an egg over Milligan purchasing phase 2.

Kevin Kane July 2, 2018 at 1:51 pm

What another disaster. Unreal. Good job NON on the reporting.The comments, analysis and questions all raised by the people in the Comments section here leads me to believe we have more than enough knowledge and input among those commenting to have not only prevented this but assembled a group of people to distill the real issues and solutions.
I’d be curious to see someone whose W2 comes from Norwalk, including Mayor King, comment to defend their decisions, layout the action plans and corrections.
Until then, I’ll start work on flying the new flag of Norwalk at town hall – a piece of weathered faded Tyvek blowing in the wind.

Ron Morris July 2, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Mayor King
Assistant Mayor Rilling
and
the disaster Sheehan
should all do the right and honorable thing and resign.
In the private sector as in the real world they would have all been unemployed months if not years ago.

Patrick Cooper July 2, 2018 at 5:32 pm

I read the copy of this multiple times now – because as a “story” it’s kind of confusing. Essentially a partial re-print of emails, sequenced by date? Apparently – the upshot is in the trailing article – which makes appropriate hay with the “ascribing motives” section of the reader comment policy – that this is about a troubling Malloy tie-in to a favored (campaign cash) democratic party developer.

But what strikes me is this: 3 inches of paper, and not a single email initiated by Harry.

Now you can draw several conclusions – one might be that he’s simply lazy, unconnected, reactive, and allows his “team” to do the heavy lifting. Like Ms. King, Tim, and Mario. That is probably it. Maybe.

The other conclusion looks deeper. Harry is a cop, by nature. He has seen the devastating consequences of evidence: surveillance, fingerprints, DNA, and paper trails – IE: emails. A good way not to get caught – is not leave any evidence. Certainly, none FOI’able – and as Mario demonstrated – they act according to what that law allows, or doesn’t. Make’s sense – especially when the illumination of such activity and actions might bring embarrassment, or worse. Kind of explains our Mayors penchant for “executive sessions” – doesn’t it?

The bottom line – this is democratic party machinery, using taxpayer dollars to secure a lifetime of party loyalty by those “fortunate” to get access to $2,500 a month apartments for $700 in rent. Section 8 – and all that. Funded – so traditionally CT – by the unsuspecting taxpayers. It’s how a political party without a clue on how to govern stays in power: steal from one group to pay another. All for votes. It’s why Mr. Milligan is treated as such, because POKO is not really about smart development, about the Wall Street neighborhood, about the Norwalk tax payers or grand list. It’s about something else.

JLightfield July 2, 2018 at 7:03 pm

@patrickcooper, you paint such an interesting conspiracy theory, however, facts matter. This quagmire transcends governors and mayors. It’s been over 15 years of a series of bad decisions, only blindingly obvious to the present day analysis of what went wrong.

Patrick Cooper July 2, 2018 at 9:00 pm

@JLightfield – facts matter? Who’s facts?

Tell me this – what outgoing email in this article detailing FOI obtained correspondence was authored by our mayor, Harry Rilling? Your facts please.

Timeline granted – but tell me, why does our current 5 year mayor – with all the “facts that matter” available, still cling to the idea that Norwalk – which is above the state mandated threshold for affordable housing – needs that 2005 component of this POKO development for it to be acceptable to the city? To be relevant? To be a catalyst for Wall Street revival? Don’t cop out – buck stops at the top. Your facts please.

I’ll give you this – looking back is a recipe for disaster – so what was POKO confirmed in 2005 should be re-set 100% – in 2018. Oh, and given the desire to attract a desirable demographic – the city would be smart to seriously, professionally, comprehensively – plan ahead: design and construction related. But please, stop telling me the mayor gives a hoot about the city. Your facts, please.

BTW – it might help to market the City of Norwalk (with any brains) to the very firms where this demographic seeks to work, sorry for this BF. Imagine if our city was looking for tracts of land that would mirror “Tech Campuses” out West. What would 10,000 jobs paying between $50,000 – $1,000,000 plus look like in Norwalk? No – we give these irreplaceable tracks of hugely valuable land away to campaign contributing developers, who build shabby apartments that receive tax credits, and tax abatements – up until they are re-assessed for millions less.

Tell me about it Jackie?

Jlightfield July 3, 2018 at 8:11 am

@patrickcooper you’ve got to be kidding me —whose facts? You can rant all you want by attacking Rilling for inheriting a mess that he hasn’t solved according to your timeline or satisfaction, but this project transcends multi local administrations. Fact.

Rick July 3, 2018 at 8:51 am

If the grand list is so important why has the city now decided only a few things will work at manressa?

The city is in chaos and a handful of home owners have decided any development will only be for the least tax incentives the city will get.

As yo all watch the ball on this POKO crap your elite in Village creek has already decided what will work towards their propety value. Screw a park a place for all Norwalkers even beach just leys keep the least intrusive projects on the table.

Everyone in the city paid for the report , if Village creek wants this they pay for it and return the money back to the city.

Jason Milligan July 3, 2018 at 10:48 am

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
– Daniel J. Boorstin

Harry does not possess the knowledge to fix Poko!

5 years in he cannot blame others. He has been in charge long enough for 3 Poko’s to be solved.

There are countless ways to solve Poko that could happen quickly, and fairly easily if Harry and his cronies get the hell out of the way!

Sadly and somewhat predictably they have taken the absolute opposite approach. Attacking the outside, innovative person of action, and positioning for maximum involvement.

Rick July 3, 2018 at 11:46 am

Its ok Jason we know why Trump has no use for Canadian thinking , wait till mall- possible business and residential mix opens and then Norwalk will understand what Stantec and the mall owners have in common, both from Canada deciding what Norwalk will be.

Im surprised with all this talk on POKO Stantec doesn’t have an active role in Harry’s fight against you , its what they are doing for the RDA and city hall right now while taxpayers are funding it is not surprising.

No one has asked what Stantec is doing in all facets of city right now? Hard to trust anyone in the RDA or city hall after most of the city have been lied to on more than one issue in the past four years.

Bold face lies work on the taxpayers no reason to think now that’s going to change, the city is good at it.

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 3, 2018 at 12:44 pm

@ Jackie – The plug could have been pulled on this in 2014. Five years ago, this mayor campaigned on cleaning up land use following his stint, albeit brief on the Zoning Commission. lol. Let’s all be honest here, POKO was not a priority for him and neither was/is transparency, unless it includes photo ops and social events. This mayor abdicated leadership and financials to the Hartford Party Machine. He did it with the mall, the Walk Bridge and now, as these FOIA’d emails demonstrate, for POKO.

U.S. Blues July 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm

What timeline does Jackie think is acceptable for a project like this? 30 years? Harry, again, has screwed up.

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