Correction, 2:20 p.m.: City appraisal is $1.9 million; update, comments from Jason Milligan added.
NORWALK, Conn. – Real estate broker Jason Milligan, often a newsmaker, managed to make part of Tuesday evening’s hot button Common Council meeting about him.
First, Milligan apologized to Mayor Harry Rilling and others for his behavior and offered to provide parking for the “POKO” development, for a “reasonable” fee, if that’s what the community wants. Then, as Milligan sat in the audience, John McClutchy told the public that Milligan had tried to get $10 million for the at-issue Leonard Street parking lot, which is Milligan assigned a $3.2 million value to, and was formerly owned by the City.
Restarting construction on “POKO,” or Wall Street Place, has hinged partially on that lot, with the expected loss of the Garden Cinemas blamed on the lot’s unavailability due to Milligan having bought it unexpectedly, in what City officials call an “illegal” purchase.
Milligan provided emails Wednesday to show that McClutchy had been negotiating for both 21 and 23 Isaac St., the lot and a neighboring property. The combined City appraisals for the properties is $1,874,390. Milligan’s assigned value, when he bought them as part of a five property purchase, was about $3.7 million. This was done by calculating their square footage and using the total as a percentage of the overall purchase, the value being the results percentage of the total purchase price, he has explained.
Call it “POKO,” Wall Street Place or “The Tyvek Temple:” we’re talking about the partially completed apartment building on the corner of Wall and Isaac Streets, a project that has its roots in a 2004 redevelopment plan. This involved turning over two City parking lots to POKO Partners, which was expected to build a three phase development.
Construction stalled in June 2016 as a result of a $9 million budget gap, and POKO went bankrupt.
Parking is a major roadblock to restarting construction, as Ken Olson of POKO Partners was granted Zoning approval to move some of the required spaces off the Wall Street lot and onto what had been the City’s Leonard Street parking lot.
Olson has died and Citibank, current owner of Wall Street Place, does not control that land because Milligan bought it in May 2018. The City and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency have sued Milligan and Richard Olson over that sale, attempting to overturn it. The matter is still in court. Milligan, meanwhile, has engaged in many taunting activities, such as building a Tyvek “fence” around a City utility box and reacting to a Zoning violation on a mural he had painted by covering it in Tyvek.
The public parties have negotiated with Citibank and its preferred redevelopers, John and Todd McClutchy of JMH Group, to develop a plan to finish the building. This involves purchasing and demolishing the Garden Cinemas to provide land for a two-story parking garage.
The Council Planning Committee advanced the plan to the full Council. The project was on Tuesday’s agenda, and a vote was possible.
A new twist
Many decry the potential loss of the cinema, while others blast the proposed look of the building. The Wall Street Neighborhood Association on Sunday posted a “Save the Garden Cinema Movie Theater” petition and had more than 2,800 signatures as Tuesday’s meeting began.
With the Council chambers full, Mayor Harry Rilling announced that the Council was delaying the vote to September, so that the City and two major stakeholders could discuss the Cinema issue and the design concerns.
‘Obviously for reasonable fees’
Milligan was the 22nd person to take three minutes at the lectern to address the Council.
“I am very proud of you. I can talk about this project, these properties for a long time and I don’t have to tonight,” he said. “…I have a stake in that area and I am so moved by you listening to the people and the people rising up, that I am going to make a public apology to the three of you.”
To Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C), he said, “I apologize for coming to your meeting wearing a Tyvek sweatshirt and being rude.”
To Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, Milligan said, “I am sorry for swearing at you multiple times and calling you names.”
To Rilling, he said, “I am sorry for treating you badly from time to time and getting frustrated at you, I think you are a good guy and I hope that this opportunity, where we have a pause, we can all get together and find a solution.”
“I happen to own a parking lot that has 137 parking spaces,” Milligan said. “Besides the few kids that people have sent to play over there, there’s not a lot happening there. It very easily could become the parking for the project that I am not that fond of but if it’s what we all decide what’s best for Norwalk, I am amenable to finding a way to providing that parking. Obviously for reasonable fees.”
$10 million; no, $8 million
More than an hour later, Rilling asked John McClutchy if he would divulge how much JHM was paying for the Garden Cinema.
There’s a non-disclosure agreement, McClutchy said.
“Would it not have been wiser to try to purchase the Milligan property?” Rilling asked.
There had been a number of conversations with Milligan, McClutchy replied.
McClutchy explained that he and his son had been negotiating with a mortgage holder to buy the five “POKO” phase II and III properties for $5.2 million but Milligan bought it out from under them for $5.3 million, and they hadn’t been given the chance to negotiate.
They were then willing to pay Milligan $3.7 million for the Leonard Street lot itself, but he abruptly demanded $3.75 million plus $25,000 a month plus an end to the lawsuit the City and Redevelopment Agency had filed against him.
Milligan has told NancyOnNorwalk that latter part of the story himself. The $25,000 a month was his carrying costs on the property and the lawsuit should be dropped, he has said. He did not respond to a late evening email asking about the rest of McClutchy’s comments.
McClutchy’s story continued: The demand to end the lawsuit ended those negotiations, but Milligan came back later and told Todd McClutchy that he’d sell the lot for $10 million.
“That went on for a little while, then several weeks later he came back and told Todd he’d sell the property for $8 million. So, we have no clue. I know it’s not worth $10 million, I know it’s not worth $8 million. I know it’s not worth $5 million,” McClutchy said.
He explained, “Perhaps” JHM would have bought the lot for $3.7 million and was “pretty close” but, “we can’t seem to get any commitment from his perspective.”
“When I met with Todd we brainstormed several scenarios,” Milligan wrote Wednesday. “With the timing scenarios and other contingencies he would have wanted I told him $10 million. Under other scenarios we discussed $8 million.”
“I am happy to brainstorm. There are many things to consider,” he wrote. “Value is derived in many ways. Time is money and I value speed very highly. … it is a year later. I have spend close to 500k in combined legal fees. I have put over a million into my properties. And I don’t really want to sell. I would rather find ways that don’t include selling.”