Milligan seeks good will as he works with Norwalk in apology-driven talks re Garden Cinemas

Real estate broker Jason Milligan in May shows off a paint job being done to the former El Dorado Club at 20-26 Isaac St. Milligan said he paid $5,000 to paint the building, which he does not own, along with his adjacent property. The space at left is now home to Kong CrossFit, he said last week.

83 Main St. (Contributed)

Updated, 7 p.m.: Comment from Bill Ireland.

NORWALK, Conn. — Dust released in Norwalk Center during permit-less demolition of 31-39 Wall Street, property owned by real estate broker Jason Milligan, was within acceptable levels for lead, a state agency has determined. There was no asbestos.
Milligan has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, in the hope that his recent apology to City officials would result in a working relationship. Instead, he says, multiple court battles with the City and Redevelopment Agency have continued to generate legal fees. As a result, he is reaching out to NancyOnNorwalk, seeking a focus on his positive activities, such as the newly renovated state of 83 Main St. and “five big leases” for businesses in his properties. Meanwhile, three lawsuits percolate.
He’d still like to collaborate, he says. To that end, he’s suggesting that 23 Isaac St., the former municipal lot at the center of the major lawsuit against him, would be ideal for a 4- to 5-story parking garage. “The #1 short term goal is to find a way to Save the Garden Cinemas,” he wrote.
“We are in discussions. We all want the best possible outcomes for Wall St.,” Mayor Harry Rilling wrote in an email.
“I gave them some ideas, including providing the parking,” Milligan said. “It’s the end of summer, people are away, we’re trying to have some conversations. So far, been good. I hope there’s a way to put parking to the area, on the acre of parking lot right now.”



‘Unfortunate accident’
Demolition work on 31-39 Wall St. was halted on July 12 when a sprinkler pipe broke and flooded the first-floor stores below. Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland said he subsequently found cut electrical wires throughout the second floor, some of which were live, resulting in conditions that were unsafe for workers. A stop work order was issued and Milligan got bad publicity.

A photo taken July 12 at 31-39 Wall St. (Contributed)

“The broken sprinkler pipe was an unfortunate accident that was sensationalized by people with questionable motivation,” Milligan wrote Monday.
City officials declined to comment.
Milligan did not have a permit for the demolition.

In July, Milligan said, the broken pipe shouldn’t be conflated with the permit issue and “would have happened had my permit been issued.”

“Anything can happen when unpermitted work takes place. Without a permit, it is unclear who is doing the work, who is supervising the work, what training someone might have, and what damages may occur. When a permit is approved it is understood the work will be handled by professionals who are properly trained in their fields, with proper follow-up and inspections by city experts,” Ireland wrote Monday.

The incident was the third time Milligan had recently flouted building regulations, officials said at the time. The State Department of Public Health, the Department of Consumer Protection, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were all alerted due to possible lead paint dust and unlicensed workers. Ireland described it as the worst situation he’d seen, and expressed concern about the workers’ health.

A reent photo of the interior of 31-39 Wall St. (Contributed)

“The Norwalk Health Department was asked by the Chief Building Official to send samples to the state laboratory to determine whether lead was detected in the paint. Traces of lead were found, but they were below the toxic level of lead as defined by the Connecticut Department of Public Health,” Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan wrote Thursday. “As a reminder, contractors that conduct renovation, remodeling, or paint removal activities on residential houses, apartments, and child-occupied facilities built before 1978 are required by federal law to be certified with the EPA and to follow lead-safe work practices.”
There was no asbestos in the dust, Ireland said, providing the reports involved. Demolition permits have since been issued.

Lead paint 31-39 Wall St

The exterior of 31-39 Wall St. on Aug. 19. (Contributed)

“We seem to be on the same page of cooperation and he’s doing things right,” Ireland said. “…I hope all the projects with him go this way, from here on in.”
“The building is safe, secure and all necessary permits have now been issued to me to put back the commercial tenants, build apartments on the 2nd floor, install a new retail façade, and add a new dentist!!” Milligan wrote.
Milligan had hoped to rent space to the dentist nearly a year ago, but was told he’d need a zoning text amendment that would take months.
Georgey’s Barbershop is getting “nice new flooring,” new chairs and new stations, according to Milligan.
He declined to say whether the same crew is working on the building.

“On any given day, I have 20 people or more working on various jobs,” he wrote. “We hire independent contractors mostly. Some individual sole practitioners and some with large crews depending on the job. The individual that allegedly broke the pipe has not worked for me since.

Another demo that did not have a permit was at 83 Main St., Ireland said in July, explaining that he had cut Milligan slack but Milligan kept violating rules.

The 2,950 square foot building is now improved externally and should be ready for tenants by Nov. 1, Milligan said last week.


‘Promoting Norwalk’
Milligan told Common Council members in July that he owns 17 properties in the Wall Street area.

The former Treasure House at 5 Isaac St., in September.

He now owns more. He bought the former Treasure House at 5 Isaac St., directly adjacent to the Garden Cinemas, and plans to renovate it to include six apartments. He already has a demolition permit, he said.
“I’m promoting Norwalk. I brought five businesses, with signed leases on them in this great city of ours,” he said Friday. In addition to the dentist, Milligan said he has a publisher moving from Stamford to Norwalk, into office space at 37 North Ave. Milligan bought that 36,480 square foot building in 2015, under IJ Group LLC.
Who else has a lease?
“The most exciting one I can’t share yet. It’s pretty sweet, it’s so good for Norwalk,” he said.

A mural on the building next to 83 Main St.

He’s also paid for additional murals. The wreck of the Celtic, a tugboat that sank along with its barge in 1984 near Sheffield Island, is depicted behind and beside 83 Main St. The image includes a scrap of underwater Tyvek on the sea bottom.
“I want to have some historical context to Norwalk and have nice paintings,” Milligan said.

Kong Crossfit has moved into 51 Isaac St., the building for which Milligan was cited a Zoning violation shortly after buying it nearly a year ago. He says he’s enlivening the neighborhood with athletes running in intervals between weightlifting sets.

The former El Dorado Club, in May 2018 at top and in May 2019 at bottom.

He also said that in May, he paid to paint a building he doesn’t own, the old El Dorado Club at 20-26 Isaacs St., after obtaining permission from owner John Dias.
“That was my cashola, because I thought it would help the neighborhood,” Milligan said. “It’s probably going to get torn down at some point, but it just looked sketchy with that building. Everybody complained about it.”


A parking garage?
His self-proclaimed good deeds aside, Milligan remains embroiled in a major lawsuit brought by the city for his purchase of property that was supposed to provide parking for phase 1 of the stalled Wall Street Place. Milligan bought the former Leonard Street lot from the original developer, POKO Partners, after construction halted and funder Citibank took possession through a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. The result is that Milligan – and not Citibank – owns the property with the parking required for the project’s completion.

A Mott Avenue mural.

The plan to restart construction calls for tearing down the Garden Cinemas to make space for a parking garage. Milligan has in the past negotiated with Citibank’s preferred redeveloper, John and Tod McClutchy of JHM Group, offering to sell the lot at what he said was cost, but those negotiations failed.
Now, after having apologized in July for his behavior, Milligan is in “pretty preliminary” talks with City officials to provide parking for the area, independent of approval for the development, he said.
“Why don’t we just make it even more parking lot there and have parking for the area?” Milligan said. “We know we need parking; I think we should front-load it. Put the parking, then allow the other things to grow around it, with the parking there.”
Milligan has opposed Wall Street Place and said Friday that it’s “so complicated.”
If the City built “New Street” – a street going through where the Dias building is now, from the Wall Street Theater to Isaac Street, as described in the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for Wall Street Place – then drivers would travel that street to Leonard Street, where there would be a parking garage for 400-500 cars.
“Putting a street there would lead you straight to what I’m proposing to be a parking garage,” Milligan said.
The garage would be where it needs to be, next to the Cinemas and not out of the way as the Yankee Doodle Garage is, he said.
“We’re trying to find a mutually agreeable solution for everybody,” he said.


What of the lawsuits?
Milligan is involved in three lawsuits regarding the Wall Street area.
Judge Charles Lee has until early October to rule on Milligan’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency against him and Olson due to the “unauthorized” transfer of the former Leonard Street lot and other properties slated to become part of Wall Street Place phases II and III, Milligan said.

The mural painted on Belden Avenue at the home of Milligan Realty.

Milligan brought the two remaining lawsuits. One, against Citibank, charges Wall Street Place with violating an easement for the Fairfield County Bank buildings, which Milligan bought late last year. On July 25, Citibank filed a motion to strike parts of that complaint, claiming the easement had been abandoned by the bank when it removed the loading dock in 2008.
Milligan is also challenging the recently approved Wall Street-West Avenue Plan in court, accusing City and the Redevelopment Agency of fraud in the blight determination that give the plan its legal foundation. The City was removed from the case in June. A month later, the Redevelopment Agency filed a motion to dismiss the case against it, claiming that Milligan has no right to challenge the plan under the law, calling it a “glaring omission” that the City isn’t named as a defendant and alleging that Milligan hasn’t made a case.
“It’s the same playbook” in every case, Milligan said, characterizing the motion as a delaying tactic.
The reply filed on behalf of Milligan reasserts the accusation that the Redevelopment Agency “shopped” for a consultant that would provide the needed blight determination and conducted a “bait-and-switch” operation to deceive the public. It slams interim Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tami Strauss as “intentionally deceiving” Common Council members.
Milligan has said he’d appeal any approval to the plan to restart Wall Street Place.
On Friday, he said that the discussions regarding the parking don’t mean he won’t appeal, but, “It means that we’re all talking. And that makes it less likely there need to be a legal challenge…. So as long as everybody’s working together, we’re less likely to have any legal battles, and hopefully we can get rid of some of the ones we have got going.”

A mural on the building behind 83 Main St.


Sue Haynie August 26, 2019 at 8:45 am

The POKO parking lot should be sold back to the taxpayers of the City of Norwalk for $1.00, that’s what it was sold for (why is another story). The lack of parking is one of the stated reasons why POKO now has to have 100% affordable housing. Norwalk taxpayers are taking a beating from all concerned.

Mike McGuire August 26, 2019 at 11:49 am

Love him or hate him, Milligan is the single biggest positive driving force behind Wall Street revitalization. He has brought more tenants to this area in 2 weeks than RDA has in two decades. Any building he purchases is quickly renovated and re-tenanted.

What a contrast to RDA who took over all the buildings in POKO phase 1,2 and 3. Then left those same buildings in deplorable condition and did nothing to secure them, or clean up the exteriors, or re-tenant them for the interim. And they did this to Wall Street for well over a decade!!

Thank God for a host of citizens that saw the potential in this area and began to invest. In general, areas do not improve much without the significant turnover (sale) of properties. The Wall/ Main area was, and is experiencing that turnover which began 8-10 years ago. Virtually every commercial building down here, save for a few standouts, has been revitalized in the last decade

Ironically, the people that see the most potential here are not “lifelong Norwalkers” which seems to be the litmus test for all things Norwalk these days. But outsiders that see the great potential this area has. These outside folks don’t carry decades of baggage with them.

Wall/Main is already on the road to revitalization. I would encourage the City to invest in that process via four simple actions

1. Fight for, not just give lip service too, a train station at Wall Street – there is no more potent revitalization tool for a downtown area blessed with a commuter rail line running through it. Fun fact- the Wall/Main area is the third largest CBD in Fairfield County – bested only by Stamford and Bridgeport.

2 tear up the LDA and let the private sector clean up this POKO mess. RDA and builders like McClutchy have their place in working with ares that are truly blighted. Wall/Main is not one of those. The sooner CC members realize this and pull the plug the better off we will all be.

3. Focus no good governance – admit mistakes like POKO and work toward cleaning them up. Fix the roads and sidewalks, address the illegal apartment issues, streamline government services to be inviting for business. Remove the senseless incentives which skew the market and give Norwalk a bad reputation as a good place to do business. Use Danbury as a benchmark – they run their City with a budget 2/3 the Size of Norwalk. That’s roughly $100 million less and they are similar in size to Norwalk with a very good business reputation.

4 listen to your taxpayers – residents and businesses both. They are collectively a lot smarter than City staff and City advisors. Why? Because they live here and are invested here unlike the City Advisors.

Focus on these four issues and Let the private sector do the rest, please excuse any typos- I’m doing this on a small tablet.

Milly August 27, 2019 at 6:10 am

Developers are running Norwalk. Yesterday there were 7 cars parked on Mill Hill – Head of the Harbors personal parking lot tat the city is allowing after receiving numerous complaints about the dangerous situation this is causing. So keep building more apartments with not enough parking – overpopulation, more waste, more traffic, but banning styrofoam is the town’s priority.

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