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Garden Cinemas owner confirms theater is being sold

The Garden Cinemas at 17 Isaac St. in Norwalk, as seen through the stalled construction of Wall Street Place phase I. The theater was built in 1967, according to Norwalk land records.

Correction, 7:19 p.m.: Court resumes next week. Updated, 9:26 a.m.: Information added; 8:27 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Garden Cinemas is being sold, owner Richard Freedman confirmed Saturday to NancyOnNorwalk.

Attendance at the arthouse theater is half what it used to be, Freedman said, and the building is under contract to be sold to a developer.  Stamford-based JHM Group, owned by John McClutchy, has the theater under contract and is also expected to take over construction of the adjacent stalled redevelopment project known to many as “POKO.”

Freedman blamed the theater’s demise on a lack of parking since 2015, when POKO — officially known as Wall Street Place — began construction atop what was the Isaac Street municipal lot, across the street from the theater.  He said Saturday that he assumes JHM will demolish the theater.  

“The cinema is being sold regardless.  Attendance has plummeted since we lost our parking in 2015 when POKO started construction, and the parking isn’t coming back,” he wrote. ‘Right after the redevelopment plan came out in the mid-2000’s, my father and I met with Mayor Knopp.  We told him the loss of the Isaac St. lot would destroy the cinema.  He was dismissive.”

Knopp declined to comment.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan first disclosed in August that JHM was looking to buy the Garden Cinemas to provide parking for POKO phase I, a mixed-use development planned more than a decade ago to include retail on its first floor and a 20 percent affordable housing component in its 101 apartments.

The Zoning Commission in 2016 allowed POKO Partners to move some of the development’s required parking onto an adjacent parcel owned by the company. Since Milligan now owns that lot, JHM must make up the required parking spaces elsewhere.

NancyOnNorwalk spoke to several Garden Cinemas patrons who said that despite POKO they have never had a problem finding a space in the cinema’s private lot, which contains at least 55 spaces, according to a Google satellite image.

“There’s parking because attendance is so low,” Freedman wrote. “If it were better, parking would be short.  Worse, for what he paid, (Milligan) must develop the Leonard St. lot, leaving only the parking on site.  The current situation is bad, the long-term prognosis is hopeless.”

There’s also parking available for a fee at 23 Isaac St., the lot owned by Milligan.

The contract doesn’t specify a closing date for the theater, Freedman said.

Freedman acknowledged in a subsequent email that streaming services such as Netflix and the improved quality of inexpensive televisions are also a factor, and have “caused a decline in movie-going and will continue to do so.”

Freedman also owned and operated the arthouse State Cinema in Stamford.  In June he announced that theater would close after Labor Day.

“It has always been difficult for small cinemas to compete against multiplexes, and the larger trend of falling attendance has affected the State sharply,” Freedman is quoted in the Stamford Advocate as saying.

Movie attendance was reported at a 25-year low in 2017, but rebounded 5.5 percent in 2018, Variety reports.

 

 

 

Officials: Wall-West plan approval unrelated to Cinema’s demise

Prior to approving the Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan at a meeting last week, Council members said that they’d received many emails telling them to vote against it to save Garden Cinemas. Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) said the emails reflected “misinformation.”  The Wall Street-West Avenue plan governs how redevelopment may proceed in the area.

Milligan and activist Donna Smirniotopoulos provided NoN with emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request which were received by Council members prior to voting on the Wall-West plan.  The Council received eight emails from people who urged a vote against demolishing the Cinemas. Four emails were from people who mentioned the plan and also decried the expected demolition of the Cinemas, and 16 were from citizens who showed an obvious knowledge of the plan.

The plan does not mention the Cinemas, other than identifying them in a map as “vacant.”

“I understand the passion people have but they should be very aware of what is in the plan and what is being voted on, it has nothing to do with the Garden Cinema,” Colin Hosten (D-At Large) said during the meeting.

NancyOnNorwalk asked Milligan to explain the connection between the Neighborhood Plan and the expected demolition of the Cinema. He replied:

“There is not feasible way to fit the requisite parking to make POKO Phase I whole without removing Garden Cinema.

 “Passing this new Redevelopment Plan is the gateway {drug} to tearing down the Garden Cinema.

 “See if the mayor, Tim Sheehan, The council or John McClutchy will swear on a bible or create legislation that would prevent it!

 “They could have very easily added an amendment to the Agency Plan that under no circumstances would tearing down the Garden Cinema become part of the POKO project.”

 

“I’m not sure what Mr. Milligan means by ‘gateway drug,’” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) wrote Monday. “The Wall Street-West Avenue Neighborhood Plan, which is a replacement of previous plans and has been in the works since early 2017, makes no reference to the Cinema.  As for Mr. Milligan’s suggested amendment, I’ll simply note that as the owner of adjacent properties Mr. Milligan would be the most obvious beneficiary of such an amendment.”

City officials have blamed Milligan for the need to create more parking, alleging that it was his purchase of parcels from POKO’s original developer that created the shortage.

The City and its Redevelopment Agency sued Milligan, seeking to undo his purchase of the Isaac Street lot and other properties slated to be used by POKO for the stalled redevelopment project.  Last week in court, Milligan argued that the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the properties is invalid because the 2004 Wall Street Plan has expired.  The LDA is a tri-party agreement governing how the properties would be developed.

Attorney Joseph Williams, representing the Redevelopment Agency, said the plan hasn’t expired and that the LDA is not dependent upon having an active plan. Judge Charles Lee is expected to rule on this next week.

Approvals for POKO Phase I hinge partially on the LDA. “One way or another, the project is going forward. That’s nothing that questions the viability of it,” Williams said in court on March 4.

NancyOnNorwalk contacted the eight people who had emailed the Council and asked what led them to believe that a vote for the Neighborhood Plan was a vote to demolish the Cinema.

Two said they had read NancyOnNorwalk’s story quoting Milligan as linking the issues, one said he got it from a post on Facebook from former Council member Steve Serasis, “who seems to feel eminent domain may be invoked to demolish the … theater.”

Milligan has accused Kydes of threatening people to keep them from attending the Council meeting, calling it “thug politics.”

“The council received several solicited emails from residents who believed that the Wall Street/ West Avenue plan vote included closing the theater,” Kydes wrote Sunday. “I responded to a couple of the more emotional emails to clarify that wasn’t the case. It’s unfortunate that we have a small group of self-proclaimed leaders of the community who spread misinformation for their own gain. If you believe a developer who doesn’t live in Norwalk cares more about our downtown area then the council, it may be time to re-evaluate.”

51 comments

Lisa Brinton March 20, 2019 at 6:25 am

Am I the only one growing tired of politicians talking about how much they ‘love’ or ‘care’ about Norwalk, when they are complicit in condoning the tearing down of city icons like the Garden Cinema because of city mismanagement with previously ‘preferred’ developers? Do folks forget Poko was preferred until they went belly up? This is the latest public example of insider baseball and disingenuous comments from common council members (thankfully on tape) about the status of the Garden Cinema last week. Property tax credits courtesy of the ordinance committee for the Innovation District will likely mean our tax dollars help pay for all of this to happen. This is our municipal government. Thanks John Kydes and Eloise Melendez.

Lisa March 20, 2019 at 7:17 am

How could any small business in Norwalk believe this city is going to support their business? Time after time politicians show up for the grand opening photo opp and then wine and dine with the residential developer that will eventually put them out of business. Is this the city you want to live in? Why do voters continue to support the politicians bringing Norwalk in this direction? Is your life in Norwalk better than it was 10 years ago?

Paul Silva March 20, 2019 at 7:25 am

The writing was on the wall last summer when Richard Freedman said he was closing the State Cinema in Stamford because of poor attendance. Or are we blaming POKO for that too? The fact is art house theaters are not competing well with Netflix and luxury cinemas that offer reclining seats and full drink and food menus. The petition to “save Garden Cinemas from eminent domain” was a blatant ploy to stir up opposition to the Wall Street plan. Frankly, I’m tired of people who say they care about Norwalk yet so easily and quickly spread misinformation and use scare tactics to further their own political or business interests.

Bobby Lamb March 20, 2019 at 7:52 am

Let me see if I have this straight – a business owner is struggling to make ends meet after decades of providing a beloved service to the community. He is facing competition from streaming services and fancier larger theaters. He wants to sell his property and get his money out. Under a Lisa administration she would try to proclude him from selling it to a willing buyer?? Talk about eminent domain – she would be effectively taking his property with no compensation by shooting down his ability to sell it. Why? To drive up the value of Jason’s property as the only place for parking? She and Jason are complaining about nothing happening with POKO while at the same time doing everything they can to stop anything from happening unless it enriches one person – Jason. Talk about thug politics.

Lisa March 20, 2019 at 8:43 am

Did anyone read the owners comments? The cinemas business declined after parking was eliminated to support the Tyvek development. I guess most people are ok with the status quo of the “lifetime Norwalker” card carrying club. If Innovation is apartments, malls, drug stores and banks then I guess we’re all set.

Mike Mushak March 20, 2019 at 8:49 am

Let me get this straight. The cinema parking lot is never full, but some of the usual suspects are saying it’s the lack of parking that killed the business. But then the reality is revealed: “no, it’s actually Netflix that killed it, same thing that killed the owner’s other theater in Stamford that he closed down last year.”

Reminds me of when GE moved to Boston. Some including the reactionary CT GOP made a big deal about it, blaming taxes and Malloy. Turns out the truth was quite different as GE finally admitted, as they had a plan for years to move out of that 70’s era suburban “morgue” as the millennial employees called it, to the vibrant walkable city of Boston where lots of talent is readily available.

Turns out GE’s move had absolutely nothing to do with taxes or Malloy, the same way the Garden Cinema is failing for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Mayor Rilling or the Wall/West Plan.

But that doesn’t stop the propaganda-monger Lisa Brinton and her cronies from trying to blame Mayor Rilling and the Wall/West Plan for the cinema’s failure. Sheesh, next thing you know these folks will be blaming the mayor for climate change and the Mideast peace crisis!

Oh, wait, hold on. Norwalk just approved the Wall/West Plan to help restore the kind of vibrant walkable urban scene this area once had decades ago, and that everyone who thinks clearly realizes by now is exactly what startups and new businesses and folks young and old are looking for when choosing a place to live and work.

And here we have Lisa Brinton and her cronies praying it all fails, for petty political advantage and dare I suggest greed which of course everyone following this saga can see by now.

Let’s be honest here. Lisa Brinton’s position on this subject is not leadership, but just plain old-fashioned reactionary and petty politics. For crying out loud, her opposition to absolutely everything is like a bad soap opera in reruns. No one wants to watch it anymore!

Let’s get POKO finished, and let’s get Wall Street and West Ave transformed into the kind of vibrant and diverse urban community that will draw investment, new businesses and jobs, and new residents of all ages and incomes.

Bobby Lamb March 20, 2019 at 8:56 am

Lisa – I did read his comments. I’ve also gone to the theater regularly – the lot attached is basically empty all the time. It has noting to do with POKO. Is POKO responsible for the Stamford theater closing too?

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 9:21 am

As a broker I approached Richard Freedman about a month ago with an offer to buy the Garden Cinema property. This buyer that I represented was willing to preserve the theater, and donate it to a not for profit enterprise to run as a theater, and this buyer would also develop additional building & structured parking around the theater.

When I brought this buyer to Richard that is when I realized that McClutchy still has the property under contract. McClutchy needs to rip down the theater for parking for the Tyvek Temple. McClutchy needs tax payer money to fix POKO!

The McClutchy deal was discussed at length in executive session of the Redevelopment Agency meeting the other night.

The people lying and misleading the public are the leadership.

The Garden Cinema is worth saving. If anything deserved tax incentives or breaks it is the cinema. NOT POKO! NOT more apartments!

The cinema has been ignored and all of the public parking was removed for years. Surely there are macro forces that don’t help small artistic theaters but the lack of support from our leadership and our city is the nail in the coffin.

Richard Freedman has every right to close or sell the theater. He owes Norwalk nothing.

Norwalk leaders should not create the plan, create the tax incentives and create the backroom deal that ensures the demise of the theater.

Instead, Norwalk should create the conditions that would allow the preservation of the Garden Cinema!! There are people wiling to fight to preserve it and there are organizations willing to run it.

Let’s have an open and honest conversation about it.

There are lots of ways to solve POKO including ripping down parts or all of it. Gobbling up the Garden Cinema is not the answer. Why is McClutchy who doesn’t own POKO, and who has never done a single thing for Norwalk allowed to have secret meetings for over 2 years with all of our leaders?

Shine some light on those meetings. Share with the people the potential plans. Give them a voice.

Rilling, Kydes, Sheehan, & McClutchy equals a bad deal for Norwalk and Wall St! They will definitely remove Garden Cinema if the people do not continue to speak up. POKO almost definitely will be given more taxpayer money. The public parking lot that was given to POKO will likely not be recovered.

There is one person running for mayor that is willing to give Garden Cinema a chance of survival. Who is willing to explore all potential solutions for POKO. (Lisa Brinton)

The other is piling POKO dirt over the over the Garden Cinema body while it is still alive and breathing. He has also signed a non-disclosure agreement with McClutchy & Citibank. (Harry Rilling)

46 people emailed the council begging them not to pass the Wall/West plan. As Nancy reveals they reached out from a variety of people and for wide ranging reasons. 60 people showed up to RDA public meeting about the Wall/West plan. 15 people spoke. All spoke against the plan.

This leadership ignores the people!

It is time for new leaders!!

Michael McGuire March 20, 2019 at 10:25 am

As I’ve stated many times in the past 5 years, our process is broken. Going through this last round with the City I realize what is missing is robust public debate. There is a great saying – Robust Public Debate creates/results in Robust Public Policy.

Robust debate is missing from the process and has been for decades.

Sure we are given 3 minutes to speak at the meetings. But to do a deep dive on these complex matters takes way more than 3 minutes. The public is denied this and curtailed to three minutes, sometimes longer if the Chair is being “benevolent”.

Regarding POKO – there are many ways to handle this on-going problem. Behind closed doors and without the input of the public is not high on the list.

Working with Jason and utilizing the existing parking lots in a modified plan, again with transparency, would be one logical and possible solution and high on the list.

I think the most of us, and the City in particular have misinterpreting the situation, and have been for a longtime. It’s not the City vs. us. We are all on the same team – the City, you, me, Jason, RDA, everyone.

Our common goal is the revitalization of the Wall Street area and POKO is one of the main components. But to insist that this by done via RDA’s sole input when so many other viable options are out there puts our team (as in all of us) in a bad position. Don’t get me wrong, RDA has strengths and weaknesses just like I do.

None of us, acting as the sole arbiter of what happens here, are likely to have a good result. But all of us, working together would have a high probability of making something great.

Time for some debate?

Julie Corbett March 20, 2019 at 10:52 am

While the area is a mess, I never had a problem finding parking when I went to the theater a few times in the last couple of years. I was surprised and scrambled a bit to have the cash on hand for tickets and concession, and the overall condition of the theater didn’t make me want to come back immediately. Though, I did appreciate the access to atypical non-box office films.

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 10:52 am

Mike,

You are spot on and it is what makes the Wall Street Neighborhood Association so refreshing and exciting to be involved with.

WSNA brings together people with very different backgrounds and opinions to discuss and work on common goals. We are able to set aside our differences and personality conflicts because it is what is best for the area.

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 10:56 am

Julie and others.

The Theater is cool and unique. It is an icon for the neighborhood.

It also has struggled for years. For it to survive and thrive it needs more than one thing.

It likely needs public support both verbal and financial. It needs a new operator that has excitement and optimism, not a worn down operator.

The theater needs new life.

Can it survive and thive? Absolutely!

But the first step is the support of the community and the leadership. We have the community support…

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 10:58 am

btw, wtihout the City backroom support of McClutchy he will not buy Garden Cinema and he will not rip it down.

So the key to saving the theater is loudly telling the leadership of Norwalk to stop actively supporting the demise of Garden Cinema.

Let McClutchy move on once he loses the public handouts. Citibank can figure out how to dispose of the hulking mass of Tyvek. Sell it at auction and let the new owner figure it out.

Sid Welker March 20, 2019 at 11:06 am

Lets get down to the brass taxes. This developer was left with no choice but the purchase Garden Cinemas(at a very fair number)solely due to the fact that Mr. Milligan purchased the phase 2 of Poko. Lets not kid ourselves here and spin the facts. Garden Cinemas would still be around if Mr. Milligan hadn’t back doored the City(legally or not)and purchased this land from under their noses. Now you see Jason running around town slamming the City gathering steam from NON supporters or anyone else who will listen. Facts are facts people. The developer wouldn’t have needed to purchase Garden Cinema if Milligan didn’t purchase phase 2 of Poko. Without phase 2, Poko cant be completed due to not having ample parking. Now if you want to do some research you can look back a couple of months back when I commented that I thought that Milligans plan was to hold phase 2 as ransom and sell it back to the city for a profit. Well the city and the developer didn’t want to play that game with a loud mouth,self destructing own worst enemy so they went a different route.Big developers wont play with people who have saran wrap for skin as they can see right through you. Any sane minded smart person can see that the rise and fall of Garden Cinemas solely falls on the actions of Jason Milligan.

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 11:23 am

McClutchy does not own POKO.

He has a choice to walk away. He has not invested one red cent into Wall st.

We all have lots of choices. Please don’t try to create a false choice based upon your warped view of the situation. Granted your warped view is based upon public information. There is a lot of secretive information that is being withheld from the public.

Paul Lanning March 20, 2019 at 12:10 pm

No one who supported the redevelopment plan has identified any tangible benefit that taxpayers would get in return for subsidizing apartment construction,

The Mayor and Council members occupy their positions by default.A mere 20% of Norwalk’s electorate voted in the last Mayoral election! I doubt that even half of those voters even know that the Council has just ratified a plan calling for taxpayer-subsidized apartment construction.

Claire Schoen March 20, 2019 at 12:15 pm

If there is an investor out there who is willing to run the Garden Cinema as a non-profit, I’d bet there are many Norwalkers (and deep pockets in surrounding towns) who would support this effort. Does it have to be where the current Garden Cinema is? No. Heck, put it in the new mall.
If this person/entity is sincere, time to step forward and get some groundswell to build what could be an even stronger draw for our fair city.
Personally, I can’t keep up with this story between all the name-calling and varying perspectives on who owns what.
But I’d gladly help rebuild an independent film center in Norwalk ala Jacob Burns.

Bob Welsh March 20, 2019 at 12:27 pm

@Claire

If Garden Cinemas does cease operations, perhaps indies could be shown at Wall Street Theater when it isn’t being used for other events.

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Sid,

You are dead wrong! Your fake name and your fake party affiliation are the saran wrap.

McClutchy doesn’t own anything in Norwalk. He uses other peoples money, Taxpayer money to fund his projects.

He had an opportunity to match my offer to buy all 5 of the properties I bought. He DID NOT step up!

That is very telling. At that point he did not have all of the public money and back room support lined up.

Around that time it became public that McClutchy was demanding $2 million of city cash and he was trying to completely abandon all of the city parking that the POKO phase 1 owes.

I sent every single email that I ever exchanged with John McClutchy and Citibank to Nancy on Norwalk months ago.

John McClutchy threatened to sue her if she published them.

Nancy is involved in other litigation over documents she published.

To date she has not published the McClutchy emails. I wish she would.

The emails would reveal what a pretender JHM is.

They offered to collude with me prior to my purchase to get me the properties on Wall St if I would let them get the 2 on Isaac st.

Sid-You don’t know what you are talking about and clearly you do not want to learn the truth.

Isabelle Hargrove March 20, 2019 at 12:52 pm

It surely must not be easy to run a small indy theater profitably. But let’s be honest, Norwalk for the last 5 years has done everything possible to destroy this business. Success! One less pesky small business who got in the way of another fortress… Is this really the town we want?

Saddened March 20, 2019 at 2:06 pm

I am heartbroken to hear of this charming theatre closing. It was a Norwalk gem, playing interesting, substantive movies that didn’t end up in the big, commercial theaters. This is one of the unique offerings in Norwalk. Surrounding towns are building unique spaces or making great community improvements, and we are filling our spaces with….more condos and a mall. Sad, infuriating, pitiful.

Paul Cantor March 20, 2019 at 2:43 pm

We lost the Sono Cinema and Barnes and Nobles and now we are losing the Garden Cinema. In their place we are getting the Sono Collection and POKO. That is progress?

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 3:21 pm

If everyone is all of a sudden arguing for pure capitalism for the area then I could probably support that. It is ironic and disingenuous but I would win in pure capitalism. I have the capital!

The reality is CT, and Norwalk are not arguing for pure capitalism.

The government is heavily involved and subsidizes so many things.

The real question up for debate is which deserves government protection and subsidy…

POKO?

or

Garden Cinema?

I would argue to let the cruel survival of the fittest mentality of Capitalism to devour POKO and let the market forces decide how to solve it.

Then Norwalk should find a way to support the Garden Cinema. The Cinema provides culture and history and nostalgia worth preserving.

The city and their recent converts to Capitalism are arguing for the destruction of a neighborhood icon, and they are apparently willing to subsidize and speed along that destruction.

It is Really bizarre.

Mike Mushak closet Capitalist…

Paul March 20, 2019 at 3:54 pm

Why hasn’t the city disclose and promote their plan to revitalize the Wall Street area?
It is common sense that a municipality would aggressively promote their revitalization plan to it’s citizens. The city’s actions are suspicious.

Lisa Brinton March 20, 2019 at 4:05 pm

@ Mike M. My cronies? and praying it fails (lol) You crack me up. At last week’s CC meeting, you and the council acted like this (latest) Redevelopment Plan was coming in to save the day.

Redevelopment created this mess and wasted our money due to poor oversight. While this financially unfeasible nightmare (according to everybody I speak with) was conceived several mayoral administrations ago, this mayor had a chance to kill it in 2014, but the photo ops had already been taken. Politically biased cronyism being what it is – let disaster happen.

Now, the mayor would rather blow $1M in lawsuits against Milligan (ironically on a Redevelopment Plan that had expired) and tear down the Garden Cinema than work with him. I’m tired of paying for City Hall’s personal vendettas. How much taxpayer money has been spent by the City trying to cover up their POKO mistakes? Perhaps I should ask.

Michael McGuire March 20, 2019 at 5:16 pm

@ Mike Mushake

Read the article – a big part of the decision to leave is the POKO project across the street. I wonder what you would say if they built that across from your place of business.

Like Garden Cinema, my revenues are off by 20% since 2016, even while the overall market is up. That is a fact which I’ve shown the mayor and all the members of the CC. I’m in the same position as Garden Cinema – directly across the street from POKO. This proposed revitalizing savior is killing us off. Who’s next, Pontos, Café Aroma, Audiotronics, maybe Factor Underground?

It really makes me mad when you, a City Commissioner on the Planning agency of all things, dismisses us like small school children who don’t know better. It’s insulting and unbecoming of the public position you hold.

There are many other options available – why are none being explored?

Mike Mushak March 20, 2019 at 5:28 pm

@Lisa Brinton, at this point everyone in the city wants to finish POKO, except you and your cronies. You would want nothing more than to see the attempts to fix this project fail so you have something to run your campaign on, since everything else you have tried has failed. Grand list has grown, taxes are stable, city management is improving. Oops.

It wasn’t the mayor’s fault the developer passed away and his company went bankrupt. Or do you wan to blame Harry for that too?

Its clear by now to everyone who has a brain what the obstacles are to progress on Wall Street. Its Lisa Brinton and her cronies.

Lisa Brinton March 20, 2019 at 6:27 pm

@ Mike M – I agree with you. We all want to see POKO fixed. You are clearly passionate about P&Z, so why as a Planning Commissioner have you allowed the autonomous Redevelopment Agency to run rough shot on this? They have been operating in the Wall Street Area for 14 years!! Where was their risk assessment, where was their project management, where was their vetting of the company POKO? Ken Olson’s death was sad, but should have had no effect on a healthy, well-found development company with systems and solid financing in place. Many people smarter than me in the area of commercial real estate have indicated there are many other options. Why is NOBODY at City Hall exploring them? Why isn’t City Hall listening to the businesses being seriously impacted on Wall Street? Why aren’t you listening to the people? Why are you Mike, as a Planning Commissioner not demanding that other options be explored before we tear down the historic cinema?

Ken March 20, 2019 at 7:18 pm

Lisa
Please that cinema is far from historic. It’s an eyesore from the 70s. Also Lisa why so negative about everything? That’s not the way to get elected.

Jason Milligan March 20, 2019 at 8:03 pm

Obstacles to progress according to Mushak; Lisa and her cronies.

That is hilarious.

Blame Lisa…

It’s not the 1955 Floods fault, or the great recession?

No blame for any leadership decisions??

Piberman March 20, 2019 at 9:20 pm

Puzzling why Norwalk seems to have an endless series of problems in the modest developments that take place in our shabby Downtown. Other cities don’t seem to have such common difficulties. Would more competent City Hall staff help ? Recognized professionals ?

What Say You M. Mushak? March 20, 2019 at 9:27 pm

Have to agree with Mr. McGuire.

You consistently insult many of the residents of Norwalk who have different perspectives or opinions than yours.

Personally, I get tired of your diatribes and suspect many others do as well. Just stick with the sunrise photos.

Mike Mushak March 20, 2019 at 9:37 pm

I agree with Ken above. That cinema has some good memories for many including me (most recently, saw “The Favourite” there with friends, highly recommended!), but the theater always seems too cold, too hot, too loud, or not loud enough. The sound and picture quality are great if it was 1982.

Nostalgia is a noble sentiment, but does Art with a capital A have to be this painful? I’m not finished.

The stairs and hallways are narrow and the upstairs theaters are not ADA accessible. The men’s room is so tiny that it makes an airplane bathroom seem spacious, and the urinals are so close together that good aim is essential for survival, and not welcoming to anyone with a waist size larger than 33, which I was once. I swear I got sick once when someone sneezed in that chamber of horrors.

Not to beat a dead horse, or a dead theater as it were, but the poorly aimed stadium floodlights on the building blind drivers on Commerce Street just as they approach a railroad crossing, and light up the apartment building next door like an interrogation is about to start.. Most of the window shades have been pulled down on that side of the building for years. Not a good neighbor!

All that said, the popcorn was always good, and I applaud the owner for keeping it open all these years despite the declining crowds. Yes we could use an “art” cinema in town and I will miss this one for sure, but from what I can tell the building would need a multi-million dollar renovation to bring it up to modern standards. Without a deep-pocketed investor to pay for it, is it any wonder the owner wants to sell?

Paul Lanning March 20, 2019 at 10:14 pm

Mike Mushak—your assertion regarding Grand List growth is premature. I’d be happy to see you proven correct, but you of course know that many disgruntled homeowners and corporation lawyers will be appealing their assessments before the final tally comes down.

Bob Welsh March 20, 2019 at 11:56 pm

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Thank you for reading and commenting.

Sid Welker March 21, 2019 at 12:23 am

Thank you for the clarification Bob. Seriously thank you. BUT with the line “The comments policy forbids character assassination by innuendo” almost half of what Jason Milligan says falls into that category so who will be policing that? Comments from above like and I quote “without the City backroom support of McClutchy he will not buy Garden Cinema and he will not rip it down” (hearsay) and “McClutchy doesn’t own anything in Norwalk. He uses other peoples money, Taxpayer money to fund his projects” (not true, I’m sure he’s not a millionaire from taxpayers alone) and “John McClutchy threatened to sue her if she published them” (bob you could confirm this right?). My point is you toe a fine line with these comment room policies and who you choose to enforce them on and who you don’t. Have a good night.

RayJ March 21, 2019 at 7:54 am

If the cinema has empty spaces, it’s because no one wants to go through a war torn one way with one way out going who knows where. I’ll wager 50% of attendees came from Westport, Wilton and new Canaan. Looks like they voted with their feet. The audience for Garden Cinema fare came for the art house movies, the kind you don’t get at bow tie. We can live without first class airline seats if you give us movies for real people, the kind with plot, characters and dialog. Anyone torpedoing the cinema has no heart in Norwalk.

Pros & Cons March 21, 2019 at 8:07 am

Sounds like the days of current indie cinema are numbered in spite of efforts to program some terrific shorts to sold out crowds. Psst…there is or recently was a Westport non-profit movie org but they probably aren’t interested in crossing the border.

Al Bore March 21, 2019 at 9:09 am

Norwalk makes it in the top 15!! Norwalk is the most stressed city in Connecticut, according to a survey. The new survey from Zippia claims Norwalk is the 12th most stressed city in the country due to density, commute times, unemployment, and home prices. What a shame what we have become.

Ken March 21, 2019 at 9:49 am

Al Bore
In case you miss my comment in another thread. Will you please provide a link to that survey.. The site you state seems to be a job search engine.

Bob Welsh March 21, 2019 at 10:15 am

Sid,

You’re welcome.

All of our most prolific commenters have had comments deleted. On other threads we have deleted explicit accusations of illegal acts and corruption. (Anyone with evidence of same may email it to [email protected].) There is universal agreement among everyone who has ever run afoul of the policy that it’s unjust, because what “others” say is far worse.

Your view of “character assassination” may be broader than the one applied here. “Has anyone heard if it’s true that John Smith stopped stealing from his employer?” would be an example of character assassination. You might be right that a tighter standard is needed.

Unfortunately the volume of comments makes fact checking them impossible. Regarding a threatened lawsuit by McClutchy, I don’t remember it that way.

If the comment policy is too restrictive, it inhibits discourse. If it’s too loose, we get a food fight.

In December we tightened the standard with this post:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/12/time-for-an-exorcism/

Since then, the discourse has improved. There is still room for improvement. In my opinion the commenters who are the most persuasive, and who add the most to the conversation, are those who hew closely to the facts, talk policy rather than people, are open to changing their minds, and see the goodness of people with whom they may disagree. If we knew of a way to translate that into a policy that was clear to all and easy to enforce, we would. It’s hard to legislate civility. We’ll do our best and we ask all commenters to do the same. Later this month the Board is having a retreat and this will be a discussion item.

Suggested changes may be sent to [email protected] – please do not post them here as we are off-topic.

Thanks Sid and all the best.

EnoPride March 21, 2019 at 11:48 am

It is a shame that Garden Cinemas has suffered this fate. Understandable that Indy movie houses are struggling to survive due to the likes of mainstream multiplexes and Netflix, etc., but for some council members to excuse POKO I from Garden Cinemas’ issues as if one has nothing to do with the other to push through their political agenda is disingenuous. POKO I obviously put the final nail in the coffin of Garden Cinemas.

On the coverage of the Wall Street/West Ave. Redevelopment Plan and the fate of Garden Cinemas on News 12, council member Mr. Hosten says to the reporter that declaring blight on certain buildings in the area (Garden Cinemas in the coverage being declared as one of the blighted buildings… Garden Cinemas is not blighted!) is necessary to secure Norwalk the funding to give the area a boost. Wow. Are all those listed buildings really, truly blighted in a manner which is holding back the area and would require funding? No. The area is revitalizing organically despite a handful of deteriorated, not blighted, buildings. The only building doing the serious collateral damage of hurting great businesses and holding back economic commerce in the area is POKO I.

There is another form of funding which is being secured to so called help resuscitate the area which Mr. Hosten fails to highlight to the News 12 Reporter – the controversial funding via taxpayers’ money which he just voted to give away in droves to developers at the suggestion of RDA’s Mr. Sheehan. Remember, Mr. Hosten was the council member who asked Tim Sheehan in one of the meetings if there was DATA collected by RDA over time to support if incentivizing big developers yields profit long term and to support Sheehan’s belief that developers needed to be incentivized with our taxpayer money to resuscitate an area which is already organically resuscitating. Mr. Sheehan of course comes up with goose eggs. He never provides hard data and amazingly, Mr. Hosten doesn’t hold Mr. Sheehan accountable for that data he asked for after all.

Unbelievably, the majority of council members blindly vote away our taxpayer money on incentivizing big developers for this plan without a feasibility report or data to base their votes on! The blind leading the blind? Why such frivolous throwing around of our taxpayer money? Michael McGuire is correct in stating that the process is broken. My feeling is that this broken process is allowing large amounts of taxpayer money to slip through the cracks unaccounted for, as Mr. Sheehan does not collect adequate data tracking the taxpayer money allocated and the Common Council does not seem to require such data to make a more informed decision on how to less arbitrarily spend stakeholders’ money. I am getting tired of not knowing where so much of our taxpayer money is going with this City Hall. I hope for more financially responsible and accountable leadership, hopefully with RDA as we know it abolished to put a halt to frivolous overdevelopment and to reclaim some taxpayer money back, in Norwalk’s future.

In a Wall Street/West Ave. Redevelopment meeting, Mr. Kydes declares that the area is in need of revitalization for decades now and this plan is addressing that as if he just now landed from another planet and realized this. The truth he is not revealing to the media in his declaration is that the area has been neglected and not highly prioritized by City Hall and RDA for longer than is deemed acceptable by stakeholders and struggling business owners (Garden Cinemas reaching out concerned all those years ago… case in point) who have been vocalizing their frustrations to City Hall forever. The other truth Mr. Kydes is not revealing to the media is that the City Hall inflicted POKO I debacle has been allowed to fester for longer than is deemed acceptable by any well oiled administration, leaving ALL businesses struggling and suffering financial loss in some form or another in its wake.

The optics are that Mr. Kydes is deflecting from the POKO I blunder and is not holding RDA or City Hall accountable for it, where most stakeholders I speak to feel they should absolutely be held accountable. POKO I has been an expensive mistake which has had a negative ripple effect that this administration does not want to take the hit for. It is as if POKO I has an invisible force field surrounding it, exempting City Hall from suffering the consequences of their poorly managed actions.

Scott March 21, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Government transparency seems to be a central theme to many of comments on these threads.

The city of St Petersburg, FL uses a tool that permits citizens to view and drill down into various components of the local government, e.g projects, permits, construction and coming soon…a Dollar Stat dashboard for Stewardship and Fiscal Responsibility.

https://stat.stpete.org/

Wouldn’t it be great if we had something similar for Norwalk so we wouldn’t have to rely on a he said she said situation and had access to the actual data, permits, reports, etc.?!

Michael McGuire March 21, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Here are some interesting questions based on what just happened.

1. If the Wall/West Plan is not tied to this development why did all of this all of the sudden just happen – odd coincidence? Or did RDA need the authority derived from the Plan to funnel State and Federal dollars to POKO?

2. Assuming the sale of the Garden Cinema for a parking lot solves the POKO parking issue, will the costly lawsuit against Milligan be resolved/stopped/retracted?

3. If the answer to #2 is No, than what is the City’s end game, or desired outcome? What is the plan for the Milligan properties if the City prevails?

4. Will the McClutchy plan require a change in the percentage of affordable housing from the current level of 40%? Will the allocation among the various affordable levels (40/60/80 of AMI “Area Median Income”) change?

5. If RDA has had control of this area since 2004 – why have they never undertaken a Wall Street Train Station study?

I trust that #5 will see the Mayor creating a task force to get this idea moving and that WSNA will be well represented on said TF.

This is going to be a very exciting spring!

EnoPride March 21, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Yes, @Michael McGuire…Your point #1 is curious indeed. I feel that the timing and connection of some of these recent developments and announcements is carefully orchestrated in closed session and is coincidentally advantageous to RDA/City Hall getting off the hook for the POKO I botch. Unfortunately, RDA/City Hall is getting off the hook at the expense of stakeholders. All of the pieces are coincidentally falling into place just in time for an upcoming election. I find it odd and uncharacteristic timing too that Mayor Rilling told you outside of City Hall after a recent meeting that he has always been onboard about a Wall Street train station and wants your input, as was reported here on NoN. Huh? If he has been onboard all along, then why has he only now all of a sudden voiced this, and why was a train station study not done a while ago, to your point? News to all of us! What is going on? Methinks Mayor Rilling is campaigning, and he wants WSNA’s votes, @Michael McGuire! Methinks the mayor is possibly trying to steal some thunder from Ms. Brinton in the process, too.

Like commenter Scott mentioned, government transparency seems to be the common theme in so many threads and is obviously the issue here in Norwalk. Lack of transparency has allowed this City Hall the wiggle room to at times arbitrarily allocate taxpayer money, to backpedal and hit reset whenever they need to to get out of a jam, and to make up the rules as they go along when they need to.

cc-rider March 21, 2019 at 8:56 pm

No one has said anything about Duleep’s bombed out building right around the corner. Combined with the tyvek temple, you do not set up an environment for any business to prosper which M McGuire has alluded to.

Colin Hosten March 25, 2019 at 11:41 pm

Hello EnoPride,

For what it’s worth, I’d asked Mr. Sheehan for data from the Enterprise District at an Ordinance Committee hearing on a proposed municipal tax incentive for the Wall Street / West Ave. area, which was then tabled at our most recent Ordinance meeting, in part to offer more time for study and consideration (including following up with Mr. Sheehan on the requested data). For what it’s worth, the redevelopment plan approved by the Council does not include any municipal tax incentives. That proposal is still in Committee discussion, where it has been tabled for now.

EnoPride March 26, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Thank you for your response, Mr. Hosten. I did read in The Hour that the proposal is tabled and still in discussion, as the public pointed out to you all that incentivizing small business does not have any prominent presence in the proposal, which made zero sense for the amount of time and deliberation put into this plan, considering that in many residents’ opinions, incentivizing small businesses should have been the star driver of the plan all along.

While you say the approved plan does not include any municipal tax incentives for developers, who do you think foots the bill in maintaining the collective massive fortresses that you all vote in once the non municipal funding goes away? Answer: The taxpayers!!! We are already seeing how maintaining infrastructure on these current mammoth fortresses already in place is costing taxpayers in Norwalk. And CT is in the midst of a budgetary crisis to boot! There was an article in The Hour recently written about the subject. How much is it costing us? Ask Mr. Sheehan. He should have acquired data readily available at his fingertips for such expensive subject matter at every meeting. That’s his job! That you have to table to wait for Mr. Sheehan to go on a goose egg hunt to concoct data is highly suspect. So yes, you are, in fact, indirectly signing off taxpayer money, and lots of it, in the big picture in order to sustain this multitude of buildings, which quite frankly, there are enough of in that area to encourage foot traffic. What is missing in the area to revitalize further are more small businesses!

Mr. Hosten, for what it’s worth, please read Mr. Neaderland’s fantastic, all encompassing opinion piece. In particular, please take in and take to heart Mr. Neaderland’s comments which I have included below:

“Plan opponents also noted the absence of a Return on Investment (ROI) to economically justify a major development’s positive impact on our Grand List. Very important since all of Redevelopment’s construction contribution since 2013 has been offset by increased city expenses, resulting in Grand List stagnation, a minimal gain of three percent per year from 2013-2017, with unintended consequences, and increased taxes. This required the Mayor to tap the Rainy Day Fund to avoid a taxpayer revolt!”

The data you asked Mr. Sheehan to provide should have been provided without you having to call him on it. If he comes to the table without it, we have goose eggs. Dangerous way to make decisions with so much taxpayer money at stake… For what it’s worth!

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