Updated, 3:45 p.m.: Comment from Tom Livingston.
NORWALK, Conn. – Efforts to save the Garden Cinemas are ongoing, with one protagonist expressing cautious optimism.
“Everyone’s talking, nobody has really got a plan,” Wall Street Theater developer Frank Farricker said last week. “But I will say honestly that everybody is talking constructively. They are really trying to save the theater. Which pleased me… I didn’t think going in that was going to be the case. There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to but there’s even been discussion of recreating it, maybe in the new building.”
When last we left this saga, the Common Council had tabled a vote on the plan presented by John and Todd McClutchy to restart construction on Wall Street Place, known to many simply as “POKO.” While the plan’s inclusion of 100% affordable housing has sparked controversy, it was the fate of the Cinemas that created the loudest outcry; the plan includes demolishing them to provide space for parking.
Farricker and Marc Alan of Factory Underground have formed the Norwalk Film Center, Inc. to create the non-profit community theater and film technology education center, they said. The goal is to raise $1.5 million and “take over the shell of the Garden Cinemas, or other comparably sized space, approximately 7500 square feet,” Alan wrote.
That was in July. Mayor Harry Rilling, in announcing that the vote was being tabled, promised the matter would resume in early September.
“We are still waiting for JHM and other stakeholders to present the results of their discussions on design and incorporation of cultural center in the project,” Rilling wrote Thursday to NancyOnNorwalk.
“To echo the Mayor’s comments, all of the parties are talking and looking for possible solutions to the issues raised. As these are continuing conversations, I can’t say at this point when it will come back to the Council,” Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) wrote in a Monday email. Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) did not respond to the inquiry.
“Really what’s going to happen with the cinema depends on whether they can find some alternate parking circumstances,” Farricker said. “I understand they’re talking to (real estate broker) Jason (Milligan). I think the McClutchys are honestly looking for alternate parking.”
The McClutchys did not reply to a Saturday email from NancyOnNorwalk.
Milligan reported recently that he has proposed a parking garage at 23 Isaac St., the former municipal lot directly adjacent to the partially constructed Wall Street Place. Talks are going “very slowly,” he said Friday.
Milligan is embroiled in several lawsuits with the City and the Redevelopment Agency; most notably, he’s the target of an action looking to overturn his purchase of the Isaac Street lot and other properties that were slated to be part of “POKO” phases II and III.
The battle “takes all my brain power” and “puts me in a bad mood,” and he would “love if the administration would say they want to work it out,” he said recently.
The theater company would “love” a parking garage in that spot, and it would open up other possibilities, Farricker said, asserting that the McClutchys could build another Wall Street Place phase without overburdening the neighborhood, with the aforementioned garage for parking.
“I think it would be a good urban planning if they could do it,” Farricker opined. “I know, it’s a lot of steps to get there.”
“There are a million possibilities,” Milligan said Saturday.
Farricker said he and Alan have met with City officials three times since the July Council meeting, and with the McClutchys twice, “just had a couple of sessions where we spit-balled ideas and stuff like that.” Alan did not respond to request for comment.
The McClutchys are playing things “very close to the vest” but appear to be dealing in good faith, according to Farricker.
“I don’t sense that we’re getting played or they’re just saying the right things so they’ll get approved. I think that they have internalize the idea that having a robust arts component around it is almost a good branding opportunity,” Farricker said.
So, he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
“Nobody has thrown down any red lines yet. Nobody has said you can’t do this or we’re not going to do that,” Farricker said. “… We’re still hopeful.”