Michael DiScala, President and Chief Executive Officer of Norwalk developer M.F. DiScala & Company, submitted the below text to NancyOnNorwalk and described it as “our company’s vision” regarding the past, present, and future of Wall Street development. “Unfortunately we were not allowed to speak at the recent Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) meeting on September 24, 2018,” DiScala wrote. A CNNA Executive Board member speaking not for attribution on Friday afternoon said the request to speak was made “minutes before the event began,” and a DiScala representative would have been welcomed on the panel with more advance notice.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Hello, my name is Alan Webber, Chief Financial Officer of M.F. DiScala & Company. I’m here tonight on behalf of our company, as well as our development partners EDG Properties, to voice our position regarding the current and future development of the Wall Street area.
First, let me provide a brief history of our company as it pertains to the Wall Street area. M.F. DiScala & Company has always been committed to the growth and redevelopment of the Wall Street area, starting back in 1963 when we first purchased the Trolley Barn and continuing through 1986 when we were asked by the Redevelopment Agency to renovate the Trolley Barn as the anchor of redevelopment for the Wall Street area. We were pleased that the redevelopment of the Trolley Barn preserved the integrity and historic nature of the property while resulting in a first class building containing offices (which we occupied up until earlier this year when we moved into Head of the Harbor South), apartments, and a restaurant.
The building has been a success since the day we redeveloped it and provided an impetus and hope for Wall Street to follow. Unfortunately the City of Norwalk did not follow through with the redevelopment of the Wall Street area, but instead focused all of their resources and finances to revitalize South Norwalk. For two decades Wall Street essentially sat idle, further deteriorated and became the least desirable census tract in Norwalk. More and more stores became vacant and blight became rampant. But the Trolley Barn, along with a few other properties, were able to thrive because of dedicated owners that believed in the area.
The City of Norwalk, through the offices of Mayor Alex Knopp and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, finally introduced a new focus and designated several redevelopment zones. These zones were within the West Avenue/Wall Street area and the Reed-Putnam area. Although it has taken much energy and fortitude, the zones have resulted in several distinct redevelopment projects; the Waypointe project on West Avenue, the SoNo Collection at Reed-Putnam, Wall Street Place on Wall Street and Head of the Harbor North and South also at Wall Street.
After a thorough and expensive process, M.F. DiScala was fortunate to be chosen as the designated developer for Head of the Harbor North and South. We looked forward to real energy, collaboration and change for the Wall Street area.
Unfortunately, it took 12 pain-staking years to finally obtain permits and build the recently completed Head of the Harbor South project. The project, though, has been a great success from a redevelopment point of view and we hope you all have come down and enjoyed the public access to the new piazza, waterfront and amenities. It is a beautiful building and has helped immensely to revitalize the east end of Wall Street. As an example, the LeDuc building on the corner of Smith Street and Wall Street was vacant for many, many years with little prospect of attracting tenants. It is now leased to some excellent tenants – Troupe 429, Yoga203, and Soto Art Gallery. Along with Peaches and Fat Cat, this has brightened a once essentially vacant intersection. We believe that Head Of The Harbor South has significantly contributed to the reactivation of life at that end of Wall Street. The few existing businesses, all previously essentially operating as destination businesses, have also benefited from having new residents able to walk in and frequent their businesses. This is what redevelopment is all about. Bringing people back to the City at no cost to the citizens.
There has been discussion and debate in the local media about real estate tax incentives being used to incentivize developers and that this negatively impacts the residents of Norwalk. Every redevelopment or new development project in Norwalk has a financial benefit to the City, whether it be immediate or over time. For example, the City has significantly benefited from the development of the Head of the Harbor South project we recently completed. The real estate taxes that we paid prior to the development of the project were $16,000 per year. Our new real estate taxes are currently $305,000 per year. The City is on the receiving end of an additional $289,000 per year. The next question commonly thrown out there is, what does a project like this cost the City in terms of additional services it may need to provide? The answer to that question is, next to nothing.
- Trash is private and paid for by the developer.
- Snow plowing and maintenance of Smith Street is private and paid for by the developer. This includes cleaning, sweeping, striping and all upkeep.
- Lighting of Smith Street and all repair and replacement provided by the developer.
- In support of Historical Mill Hill, Head of the Harbor South built the stairway connecting the site to the new public spaces and amenities Head of the Harbor constructed on our property.
- Additional parking for Mill Hill was provided on our land and Head of the Harbor paid to construct and keep available 15 parking spaces for the use of Mill Hill.
- There are many that claim new multifamily construction burdens the schools and this is patently false. The overwhelming majority of the rental demographic of these projects are people without children. At Head of the Harbor South we have two school-aged children out of 60 apartments and one of those children was already enrolled in the Norwalk school system prior to relocating to Head of the Harbor.
Consequently, we have provided almost 100% of our $289,000 tax increase as a net positive to the City. This net increase helps reduce the tax burden on residential homes and the residents of Norwalk. Furthermore, we have provided public amenities such as a 400-foot landscaped park-like boardwalk along the riverfront, a large piazza connecting to the waterfront, benches, a large gazebo and reflective spaces–and all are deeded public open access spaces for all residents of Norwalk to enjoy.
We are committed to the continued growth of the Wall Street area through smart development that will ensure that a lively and walkable urban area will result. To make that happen, you need people living in the area and supporting a healthy business community. We support the railroad station, but recognize the need for more density to make that a successful endeavor.
We support the successful completion of Wall Street Place and support all projects that create more people sensibly living in the Wall Street area. This will lead to all of the empty storefronts being occupied by businesses that can thrive. This will lead to revitalization of the Wall Street urban core. The past has proven over and over again that in order for Wall Street to become the vibrant place we all want it to be, people are required.
It has been stated by stakeholders, the media and some concerned residents of Norwalk that there is a perception of inadequate parking in the Wall Street area. As longtime occupants of office space on Wall Street, we have observed firsthand the under-utilization of the existing lots and garages in the Wall Street area and encourage a more robust dialogue regarding the needs, present and future, of parking in the area. We believe the actual versus potential utilization of the assets in place are largely misconceived.
We are not in favor of politicizing anyone’s efforts to help the Wall Street area or advancing anyone’s personal agenda. We believe in frankly dealing with only the facts of the past and current situation of the Wall Street area to create a vibrant area for everyone.
We are committed to cleaning up of the head of Norwalk River in conjunction with the Norwalk Boat Club. We will soon be detailing our thoughts on how that can be achieved and would appreciate the support of the CNNA.
Lastly, we are a proud contributing stakeholder, neighbor and business resident of the Wall Street area and the City of Norwalk. We plan to continue that support for years to come through our investment in the community, businesses and people of Norwalk. If you have any questions about our intentions or our plans, please feel free to reach out to us. You can contact Michael DiScala at 203-854-5046, [email protected] or through our webpage at www.discala.com. Thank you.