Michael McGuire, a Wall Street property owner, has more than 35 years experience in commercial real estate. This is an open letter he sent to the Norwalk Common Council.
I am strongly against the Innovation District plan as put forward by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (“RDA”) for the following reasons:
- The area is not blighted expect by the actions, or inactions, of city government (i.e. POKO and Duleep). Much of the older housing stock has been removed to create Waypointe. Many of the smaller area buildings have been purchased and improved over the past two decades. And the interest in investing here is only growing. Utilizing old census data to support the blighted/low income contention is A) not fair and B) not accurate.
- If a company comes here and requires investment by the taxpayers to subsidize their business they probably should not be relied upon as a viable investment for the Norwalk taxpayer.
- The Federal Government has a better plan of action in its “Opportunity Fund.” Gov. Malloy has put forward the census tracks generally covering the Innovation District as prime candidates for the Opportunity Fund. This lets the private sector take the bulk of the risk.
- The $5.0 million threshold suggests that any incentives to be allocated by RDA in this area would, by the sheer size of the investment, require the demolition and or wholesale re-positioning of buildings. Sadly, in all but a few cases that will drive out existing business and residents in favor of “picked” winners. Consider that there are few suitable for this type of development outside of Riverview Plaza. Renovation, re-positioning and re-development of all properties happens at some point in time. I don’t believe that RDA needs to be involved jurisdictionally, or otherwise. They will only hamper investment in this area by imposing yet another layer of bureaucracy that needs to be navigated.
- Based on 4 above, the Southwestern Fairfield County market (outside of Bridgeport) is strong enough to support development without the need to incentivize developers. To suggest that the Wall/Main/West area requires such incentives is to fundamentally not understand this area and its potential.
- There is a belief that the Common Council will have ultimate voting prerogative over this program and who is picked, etc. However, since RDA is the adviser to the Common Council, and the CC is devoid of commercial land use expertise (which has historically been the case), who is really making the calls?
- The biggest impact to the revitalization of this area is a train station at Wall Street. Wall/Main is already the “heart and soul” of small business in Southwestern Fairfield County. It is the third-largest concentration of central business district office space, only surpassed by Stamford and Bridgeport. To capitalize on this excellent existing resource and capture the burgeoning small business tech sector companies, Wall Street needs a train station to meet the needs of the millennial workforce.
- A train station can be put into this area for literally no cost to the Norwalk or Connecticut taxpayer (I’m willing to discuss this with any CC member at a later date).
- Why isn’t RDA pursuing a train station here? If RDA tells you a circulator bus is more viable ask them to show you the study that supports that claim.
- Based on the current conditions in the Wall/Main area, the marketplace will invest around a train station, not a bus stop, or series of bus stops.
- The concept of the Innovation District sounds good and noble. But the document has no measureable results. Without a strong performance metric to measure against, this is just another well-meaning but ill-conceived program, so bound up in vagueness as to be an invitation to abuse and/or lawsuits. Hardly what the Norwalk taxpayer needs.
- A review of the Innovation District’s Objectives (99-2) is a clear demonstration of the lack of measurable results. To wit:
- How many more tech companies will be attracted/retained (how many are here now)? Who will do the “attracting”?
- Using what resources? And in what time frame?
- What area advantages will be levered and by who? And for who?
- How do they (RDA) propose to “secure a sufficient workforce”?
I believe point 12 best characterizes the issue. If RDA cannot clearly articulate what the objective is — how will they ever be held accountable?
For all the above reasons I urge the Common Council members to vote NO on the Innovation District.