Updated, 6:39 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. — The old Norwalk YMCA building would be knocked down and a “Center for Healthy Living” constructed in its place, under a plan presented by Western Connecticut Health Network to Common Council members Thursday.
The new building’s first floor would feature medical offices, and the upper three stories would consist of apartments for senior citizens, according to WCHN Vice President Morris Gross.
“We are so out of space, particularly the way the world is going in healthcare,” Gross said Thursday. Norwalk Hospital has 600 full time salaried doctors and very little outpatient space; he gets phone calls every day from medical practices begging for space to use, he added.
“I see more people visiting downtown, more money to be spent,” Gross said.
“We are very excited about it,” Norwalk Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss said to members of the Council Planning Committee. “It’s appropriate to what we are envisioning to the Wall Street Redevelopment Plan.”
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The 254,000-square foot mixed-use project includes 154,000 square feet of medical offices, 72,600 square feet of senior living, including assisted living and memory care, and a 17,000-square foot wellness center, along with shared parking and a lobby, according to a summary document.
“Norwalk Hospital will be the sole tenant for the medical office component of the project consisting of quality clinical space for multi-specialty practices and additional variety of medical services, including without limitation, radiology, pediatrics, pulmonary, obstetrics, cardiology and primary care,” the document states.
The project would include 1,090 parking spaces. Drivers who are traveling south on West Avenue would be able to turn into the facility, but those going north would not, with the major ingress and egress situated on Maple Street, Attorney Albert Vasco said.
WCHN is in the process of obtaining two pieces of property from the state and two from the city, at 340 and 350 West Ave., Vasco said. The property transfers would create a 2.92-acre site for development, according to a summary document which states that WCHN is looking to buy the land by Sept. 1. The envisioned purchases would be a fully taxable transaction, the document states.
Maplewood Healthcare would act as the project’s master developer. Maplewood Senior Living, which operates a facility on Strawberry Hill Avenue, would offer 72 senior apartments “and other complimentary senior living uses.”
Gregory Smith of Maplewood Senior Living said the new senior housing would create 80 jobs. His colleague Christopher Smith said the development’s medical practices and apartments would create an “intergenerational” environment in what “would be the flagship for the hospital… the cornerstone anchor for that area.”
Norwalk Hospital is a 125-year-old institution, and “this is for the hospital and for Western Connecticut, a transformation time for them,” Christopher Smith said. “It’s part of their re-branding their identity in who they are, what they want to deliver to the community. It’s an opportunity for them to not only do that for the patients and be pretty accessible medical services, it’s also an opportunity for them to put a stake in the ground and protect their turf.”
Some of the first floor space could potentially be leased to a “third party operator who understands health, not a straight fitness center or if it was it would be much higher end,” he said.
WCHN is not seeking tax incentives or breaks for the development, Gross told Minority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-District D).
Majority Leader John Igneri (D-District E) noted that there are many empty medical offices in Stamford. Gross insisted there’s demand in Norwalk.
“There’s not enough space to see the patients unless they see them in the middle of the night,” Gross said. “…We are sure. I am the one who gets the pressure, every day with the calls.”
It’s a good concept, Igneri said. “You obviously are going to need more space. So, we the city, Planning Committee and Redevelopment, should be looking at filling their need down the road.”
The Baby Boom generation is aging and services are needed, Gregory Smith said.
“If you look the demographics of seniors in Connecticut, specifically Western Connecticut, the population is growing almost at five times what the general population is growing at,” he said. “We have a migration of individuals that are millenials and some older adults that are leaving the state. But our seniors aren’t leaving the state and they will need more health care, and they will need access to it.”
Norwalk Hospital purchased the YMCA at 370 West Ave. in 2012; the late Frank Zullo in 2016 said the building was in disrepair and the YMCA could not maintain it. The Y’s resources dwindled as satellite YMCAs in surrounding communities became independent, he explained. The building was decayed, with “the small pool held up by 2x4s” in the basement, he added.