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Milligan reveals library lot negotiation hurdles; Knopp gets Milligan’s price down

STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS: Heading level 2Milligan would take $1.75M; City offered $1.2MARIA: ARIA*role=”document”, aria-multiline=”true”*ARIA: ARIA label*aria-label=”Block: Heading”*ARIA: ARIA tabindex*tabindex=0*

Real estate broker Jason Milligan signs a term sheet Tuesday in the Belden Avenue parking lot desired by the City. NancyOnNorwalk chose the location.

NORWALK, Conn. — With a June 30 deadline looming for the City to buy land next to the Norwalk Public Library at a price negotiated six years ago, former Mayor Alex Knopp is trying to ease an impasse between the Rilling Administration and real estate broker Jason Milligan.  

City leaders haven’t commented publicly on the option to buy the 1.27 acres at 11 Belden Ave. for $4,885,000, even as Knopp and others have pressed for action, emphasizing the need for library parking and possible expansion.  On Monday, Milligan released emails in which he rejected a deal offered by Assistant Corporation Counsel Darin Callahan for the .25-acre Mott Avenue frontage.

Callahan on Aug. 3 offered $700,000 for the property. Rebuffed by Milligan’s attorney, Callahan made another unsolicited offer of $903,000 in September.

Milligan stood firm at $2 million, repeating the price in a May 9 text message to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola, with the comment, “You are simultaneously forcing me to sell and then trying to rip me off… If you want it, pay up.”

Former Mayor Alex Knopp, left, and Mayor Harry Rilling in June 2017 remove a chain from the lot next to the Norwalk Public Library.

Knopp, on his own initiative, negotiated with Milligan and drafted a term sheet with a $1,750,000 purchase price.

In 2017, Knopp, then-Library Board of Trustees Chairman, negotiated the option to purchase with Milligan. The former Mayor is still on the Library Board of Trustees but is acting as an individual citizen.

“I bit my tongue for years, hoping that there were private, productive negotiations underway,” Knopp said. “But I decided to become more of a public advocate when the City announced the lease arrangement with the Eagles, as a quote, replacement, unquote, parking for the library lot. That’s a dead end. And therefore, I felt it was appropriate to become more involved.”

Knopp’s description of the motives behind the Eagles agreement is a misrepresentation, Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said Friday.

“The leasing of the parking spaces in the Eagles lot is not intended as a long-term parking solution,” she wrote. “The agreement with the Eagles club was signed to ensure that there would be no gap in the availability of parking during the time period a long-term solution was being negotiated. It is the hope of the city that a long-term solution will be resolved prior to the option agreement with Mr. Milligan expiring in August. However, as a precaution, the city leased the Eagles spaces to make there would be ample parking for library patrons during the pendency of those negotiations should they extend passed August.”

Milligan signed the term sheet Tuesday and emailed it to Common Council members ahead of their executive session on the topic, telling NancyOnNorwalk that he’d spoken to four Council members that day and, “I’m under the impression that this was not presented as an option.”  

That evening, Knopp spoke to the Council first.

“The idea of providing a municipal service is how I urge you to look at this issue, not as a real estate transaction,” he said. “How do you put a value on a parking space at a beach, if the alternative is no access to the water, or to a park, or to any other kind of crucial municipal facility?”

Milligan’s demand of $2 million is “clearly too high” and he understood, from a Milligan email, that the latest City offer was $1.2 million, he said, characterizing his negotiated price of $1.75 million as “a 30% reduction in the gap between the city’s last offer and Milligan’s long term position of a $2 million sale price.”

Real estate broker Jason Milligan provided this screenshot of comments he made May 2 to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola.

If the City were to attempt eminent domain, then a judge would set the price, not an appraiser, Knopp argued, asking, “Is it worth the risk that a judge is going to come in with a higher value or property that once was the site of 69 residential units could now be the site of 111 residential units?”

He suggested that $550,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds could make up the difference, “to obtain this essential service,” mentioning that Norwalk’s surrounding communities have invested in their libraries.

The Council later approved using $2.5 million in ARPA funds to pay for one-time Norwalk Public Schools expenses, lightening the district’s budget burden. On May 11, Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) said the measure would “deplete the rest of the ARPA funding.”

Milligan’s attorney, Marc Grenier, told Council members Tuesday that in their executive session, “you will have no tangible way … to question the narrative that’s being told to you about this particular project.”

Milligan would stay through the executive session to be available if they wanted to hear from him, Grenier said.

Milligan spoke of his passion for the library and his involvement in the Wall Street area, as owner of about 40 properties and landlord to more than 200 tenants.

They could exercise the purchase option and buy the entire parcel but, “I don’t think that’s the right move, that puts you in the real estate game,” he said.

The parcel includes a bank/office building.

“It reminds me of POKO, you don’t have a use for my building right now,” Milligan said. “I think that your hands are tied in a lot of ways.”

He said, “I appreciate what Alex Knopp did, I wouldn’t have written it exactly that way … That’s not my terms, and that’s not my price. But I just before this meeting, I executed that agreement. You all have it, I can leave a copy with you now. My signature’s on it, I agreed to it. If you want to contemplate it and agree to it, we can do it. And it could be a down payment on the future.”

“Term sheets evidence serious intent but are generally not legally binding,” Investopedia states.

No Council members offered any comments. The executive session, which also concerned the First Taxing District property on the other side of the library at 3 Belden Ave., began at 9:29 p.m. and ended at 10:54 p.m. Milligan sat where visible in the YouTube broadcast, waiting as promised. The meeting ended with no comments from the Council.

Neither Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews nor Chief of Staff Thomas Livingston replied to a Thursday evening email asking for a response to the term sheet.

Knopp said Wednesday, “If the City can come up with a better deal to acquire the parking lot, then I hope that happens but in the meantime I wanted to present an agreement that’s fair to both sides, that there’s an agreement that can be reached that’s affordable and reasonable by the June 30th deadline.”

Milligan said he’d heard nothing from the City.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan shows off his new office space, Tuesday on River Street.

Value of the parcel?

The parcel the City seeks is 19.6% of the entire lot, in terms of square footage. Multiply $4,885,000 by 19.6% and you get $954,460.

But there are other factors. An appraisal done by Vimini Valuation Services in March 2022, using an effective date of Oct. 1, 2018, pegs the value of developable area of the site at $1.7 million.

That 17,000 square foot section of the property includes the 11,000 square foot parcel sought by the City. It’s roughly 64.7% of that section, and 64.7% of $1.7 million is $1.1 million.

Milligan provided the appraisal to NancyOnNorwalk. There will be a new valuation this year, he said.

Milligan’s real estate office is on the 11 Belden Ave. property. He is moving to a new office on River Street, in property he bought in September.

Knopp’s term sheet moves the timeline for a transaction up two months. Milligan could rent out his Belden Avenue office space sooner.

Milligan said he could make more money in a private sale. The broker he bought it from said he could get $60,000 a unit for the property and 111 units could be built, according to Milligan.

That would be $6.6 million.

Real estate broker Jason Milligan stands in the Eagles lot Tuesday. His 11 Belden lot actually goes to the red dot by his foot, he said. “The Eagles club was formally put on notice of this fact 6-7 years ago, and an encroachment was filed on the land records.”
Real estate broker Jason Milligan provided this screenshot of comments he made May 9 to Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola.

Milligan: ‘I have absolutely nothing to do with this problem’

In an email, Milligan said:

“It is extremely unfortunate that after 6 years this is where we are with the library. We spent considerable time negotiating a settlement the lawsuit they brought against me. We had the same discussions back then. I wanted $2 million for the parking area portion of my property, and they felt it was better to buy the whole property for $4,885,000. The price I gave for the parking lot portion 6 years ago was $2 million.

“The big reason the parking lot piece is so valuable is that I can build a large building on that site while simultaneously keeping my existing building up. If I build residential on the smaller piece I can share all of the parking between the retail, office and residential. It is called being efficient and the zoning regulations encourage this type of mixed use efficiency. Having parking lots used around the clock through mixed use sharing is much more environmentally friendly than having an office building parking lot used during the week days and another residential parking lot used primarily overnight and weekends.

“I can build 111 apartments on the area I am willing to sell for $1,750,000. I have a design where I can establish 2 levels of parking. It is likely the most profitable use for my property, but it is not the best project for the area. Working together on a master plan would be best. I am not willing to continue to waste time though. We had 6 years to work on a master plan. “Right now, buying the parking lot piece from me for $1,750,000 is the best option for the city. It is a limited time offer. It secures base level parking, and it preserves the ability to start working on a master plan.

“Buying the parking lot portion from me and acquiring the parcel from the First Taxing District would at least give the library somewhat adequate parking, which is the absolute 1st step required to modernize and improve the library. It is just so obvious! Any meaningful improvements, renovations, or expansion will be worthless if adequate parking is not secured.

“What is so frustrating is that I have absolutely nothing to do with this problem. I have done nothing wrong. I have tried to assist.

“I did not buy 11 Belden Avenue to sell it to the City. I bought it to develop it. If the city does not exercise their option to buy my entire property or accept my limited time offer to sell just the parking lot piece than I will be pursuing my own independent development plans in the very near future.”

Information added, 3:15 p.m. Friday.

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Comments

9 responses to “Milligan reveals library lot negotiation hurdles; Knopp gets Milligan’s price down”

  1. JasonMilligan

    The library needs parking to remain relevant.

    The lease for the parking area is ending very soon.

    Buying it is a no brainer.

    The library has more than enough money in the budget for it.

    This should not be controversial.

    The solution is so obvious and easy to get done.

    Let’s do it and move on to the next phase.

  2. John O’Neill

    Not sure if the guy responsible for Oak Hills Restaurant Debacle in 2003 should be negotiating with Milligan on his own. Can Milligan stories get any more bizarre than the above. Why would a developer who could make $ 6.6 Million on a transaction sell for $ 1.75 Million? You’re right — He can’t otherwise he would.
    Property Assessor should also take note — It sounds like that property is undertaxed..

  3. David Muccigrosso

    Just want to ask what should be an obvious question… why in tarnation is anyone concerned about parking for a library in an area that relies on FOOT TRAFFIC?

    If anything, we should be trying to increase foot traffic. Build another public garage somewhere in the area, sure, but adding any new surface lots should be UNTHINKABLE.

    And one of the best ways to increase foot traffic would be to shut down lanes on West/Belden and turn them into a park that people would actually want to go to. Host a freaking street festival every once in a while! There are thousands of apartments in the Wall Street corridor, and yet barely any foot traffic. That should tell us that there’s something INSANE about the area’s current hostility to pedestrians.

  4. David McCarthy

    Mr. Milligan has proven himself a shrewd investor and negotiator. The mayor has proven that he has been in hiding for three years, and ignored his job for the years before that. He is so far over his head, he has Alex Knopp acting for him. Anyone who can make the former mayor seem reasonable is really rock bottom.

  5. Alex Knopp

    As a courtesy, I would like to reply to several of the comments as well as to the remarks added to the article from Laoise King, former Chief of Staff.

    First, let me offer Ms. King congratulations on her new state position and thank her for her work for the City. I’ve admired her skills ever since she asked me 25 or so years ago to provide an affidavit as her character witness for her admission to the Connecticut Bar, which I was glad to provide. The State DOT is getting an effective manager by hiring her.

    In terms of her quoted comments, I am glad she has affirmed that the Eagles lot is not intended as “replacement” parking for the current library lot. I was careful to place the word “replacement” in quotes when I was interviewed. The only information I had back in March came from the this assertion in the March 29, 2023 memo sent jointly to the Common Council and to Mayor Rilling by the City’s Chief of Economic Development and the City’s Corporation Counsel: “The leased auxiliary parking available for the Norwalk Public Library on 11 Belden Avenue is set to expire in August of this year. The City has reached a deal in principal for REPLACEMENT PARKING (emphasis added) at an alternative location, 6 Mott Avenue….” As there was no advance notice of the plan to lease Eagles parking spaces as “replacement parking” to the Library Board at the time, I was naturally concerned and decided to become more public in my advocacy which as a good “team player” and out of deference to City Hall I had not done for several years. So I was not inventing or imagining the characterization of leasing of the Eagles spaces as “replacement parking” but only quoting from the City own characterization of those spaces in this memo to the Council and Mayor from the two main City officials dealing with the option agreement and Milligan negotiations!

    Second, in response to David McCarthy’s nasty comments, it should have been clear to him from the article that I was not “acting for the Mayor” but was acting on my own initiative to help find a compromise. As far as I know, Mayor Rilling may not agree with my proposal. Blame me if you like but it’s not fair to ascribe it to Mayor Rilling, who had not seen my Term Sheet proposal until after I got Mr. Milligan to agree to it.

    Third, I don’t recall ever meeting Mr. Muccigrosso so I don’t know if he attends major library events at Belden Avenue, like weekend concerts, poetry readings, cultural celebrations and author book discussions. Many of these attendees are very elderly, or parents pushing strollers or managing toddlers, or are people with disabilities. Audiences at Belden library events are the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen at indoor events in the City. Unfortunately, many of them would choose not to attend if there were not on-site and free parking at the library. The on-site parking we gained after the chain came down in 2017-18 was greatly appreciated by many patrons. I am not suggesting we “add” a new lot but rather keep the lot we have had for the past 6 years.

    Finally, I’m glad to review any complaints about the Oak Hills restaurant and the management of the course with John O’Neill, who keeps trying to blame me for the price of a hamburger in 2020 or 2023 even tho I left office in 2005 after the restaurant had been open for only a few months. When I left office, it was on its way for several years to pay its rent bills, serve golfers and be an asset to the West Norwalk community.

    In addition to these few comments, I draw the attention of interested residents to the well over a hundred comments and responses on various Facebook posts and groups in support of parking at the library.

  6. Bryan Meek

    I know it won’t last, but the Sierra Club for CT ad slobbering over Bob Duff is just perfect for this article. They are thanking Bob for “Efficient, Renewable, & Affordable Housing”……

    What?

    Who knew Housing is now Renewable. This sounds like more of the Washington Village replacement that cost taxpayers $800,000 per unit in a flood zone that reportedly is infested with rodents now.

    These projects are precisely why cities like Norwalk can’t afford things like parking spaces at their local libraries because we are paying 2-3x for what construction should cost thanks to Duff and the policies his team support.

    With things like a $1 billion bridge and a $300 million NHS more important for team Duff donors than the rest of our infrastructure we will sadly see it continue to whither away until we are another Duffian utopian place to dream about.

    It sure worked for places like Bridgeport and Detroit, so why not continue here?

  7. JasonMilligan

    @John O’Neill

    I can see how you got confused.

    The city has an option to purchase my entire parcel at 11 Belden Ave for $4,885,000.

    They have until June 30th to exercise that option. So far, it seems like they will not exercise that option.

    The term sheet for $1,750,000 is an alternative proposal to buy only a portion of the 11 Belden parcel. (The portion that the library has used for parking for the past 6 years.)

    The dilemma is that $1,750,000 is expensive for a parking lot.

    However, the highest and best use for me is not a parking lot. I can now build 111 apartments on that section.

    Hopefully that clears up the situation for you and perhaps others.

  8. John O’Neill

    file:///C:/Users/JohnOneill/Downloads/IMG_20210718_0001.pdf

    Mr. Knopp — Here’s an article that might refresh your memory. If the price of Hamburgers was the only issue Oak Hills Restaurant Space has faced over the past 20 years I wouldn’t be bringing it up regularly. Funny thing about facts — They never seem to go away.

  9. David Muccigrosso

    @Alex Knopp: The fact that you’re defending these events as justifying the need for a few dozen parking spaces…

    … as opposed to frantically raising the alarm that we need dozens upon dozens MORE parking spaces…

    … means that barely anyone shows up.

    Those aren’t civic events, they’re window dressing trying to ignore the fact that you’ve built a downtown whose civic culture is dying because no one wants to risk death from the cars on its streets.

    I’m not trying to be a jerk here; I’m sure you and the city’s other leaders feel plenty proud of the work you’ve done organizing those events, and I’m sure their attendees are plenty grateful that you’ve gone through so much effort to host them. I’m sure a lot of effort went into everything you all have done.

    But you are ALL missing the big picture. You probably feel that people like me aren’t appreciating your efforts; but the problem is that your task is so Sysiphean because downtown’s streets are so hostile to pedestrians. The design speed of West/Belden is just TOO HIGH, and there’s NO REASON for it to have 5 whole lanes anymore. Slowing the design speed and removing lanes would create REAL space for REAL civic events that would attract more than a few dozen octogenarians and young families.

    Look, I’m just telling you what will fix the problem. You guys — the leaders — are the ones who’ve presided over a downtown that’s crumbled for 5 straight decades despite your best efforts. The scoreboard says you’re losing, that your way of running things isn’t working. The only question is whether you’re going to listen to real problem-solving or just cast about for more quick fixes.

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