NORWALK, Conn. – If everything goes right, a new anchor for the Wall Street area will be open about a year from now, the man behind the purchase of what was once Norwalk’s Globe Theater said.
Frank Farricker of the Wall Street Theater Company said his non-profit group, which purchased the dilapidated 71 Wall St. for $1.5 million just over a week ago, is in the process of finalizing the plans with an architect. “Dramatic demolition” is imminent and “serious hard-core construction” may begin in April or May, he said.
Mayor Harry Rilling said this may be the start of redeveloping Uptown Norwalk.
“We’ve met with all the developers in that area. I believe we’re making good progress. I expect to see something happening in the next six to eight months,” he said.
A state grant of $1.5 million, awarded last summer, was used by the non-profit Wall Street Theater Company to purchase the property, Farricker said.
“We’re in the final stages of receiving a construction loan with a local bank for a $5.5 million loan to complete the construction,” he said.
Farricker said his company expects to pay off that construction loan with tax credits and a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 108 loan, which is still in the process of being approved, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said.
The HUD loan application was authorized by the Common Council in June 2013 and recently advanced from HUD Hartford to HUD Washington, Sheehan said. The loan of federal money will be guaranteed by city block grant money. The Common Council will have approval of the closing of the loan, according to thee minutes of the June 25, 2013, council meeting.
Farricker said that, in the next few weeks, his company will be securing the building and fixing the holes in the roof. The rotted drywall will be cleared out.
He expects to have an overall site plan in February; the portion of the building that is a theater will stay the same, and plans will be finalized for the rest of it. He plans removable seats on the ground floor to allow for different uses. There will be an elevator to make the structure American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
What will it become?
“Somebody used the term art house, and that’s pretty much the way we view it,” he said.
He plans to have “something for everybody” and be open as many days as possible. The goal is to provide for all tastes, with concerts and live shows, perhaps touring professional theater productions.
“We have a significant fly but we would need to know how much of the fly we’re going to have to redevelop to get the kind of backdrops to be able to run a professional show,” he said. “We’re getting into the dollars and cents right now, but yes, I would love to have that kind of a theater. I think it’s not as well served even in just Fairfield County.”
There will be programs for young people, too.
“Part of our requirement for financing is programs for youth in the neighborhood. We’ve got older stage hands to teach the kids how to do stage craft. There will be other programs,” he said.
Patrons will park in the nearby Yankee Doodle Garage, and there may be valet service, Farricker said. The company is working with the Norwalk Parking Authority for way-finding signs from the lot to the theater.
Farricker said he has experience in theater and in real estate.
“Years ago I was a union stage hand in Washington, D.C. I used to work at the Constitution Hall in Washington and with their auditorium and the Capital Center before they knocked it down,” he said. “I know my theater. I know both concerts and I know live theater. Granted, it’s been a long time, but I don’t think it ever escapes you.
“I’ve been in real estate development for the last 15 years – I can’t say I ever renovated a theater, but I’ve done a lot of historic renovation of old brownstones in New York, and some historic buildings, and in Greenwich, so I know what you need to do to build, too. I’ve got the passion for the theater, but I’ve got the common sense that it takes to get the job finished.”