NORWALK, Conn. – A wait-and-see approach was again taken to the long-delayed Wall Street Place project Tuesday as the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (RDA) commissioners postponed a decision on POKO Partners’ request for an extension to its agreement with the city, the same move Common Council members made the night before.
The discussion at the RDA meeting began with Ken Olson of POKO Partners saying that he needed an extension on the deadline for the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) to satisfy his private funder, Citibank. Later, RDA Commissioner Lori Torrano led the charge on tabling the motion to extend the deadline for the LDA as she expressed skepticism that Citibank really needed the extension and cited her disappointment last month in reading the letter of commitment from Citibank.
“To say I was underwhelmed with what I saw last meeting doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Torrano said. “How it was represented and what it really turned out to be were really two different things. My preference would be to just kind of stop, figure out where we really are right now and that we really have something to proceed with.”
POKO has requested an extension for completion of Phase 1 of the project from September 2014 to June 30, 2016. The deadline for the entire development was November 2017. Olson is asking to move that to Nov. 14, 2022.
Olson obtained the rights to develop Wall Street Place more than a decade ago.
“I am keenly aware of how long this has been,” Olson said. “Nobody is more wanting to get this thing going than I am. It is more critical for me, far more critical for me, than it is for the city. I have a lot of money at risk and it doesn’t do me any good standing still.”
Much of his financing is coming from the state; Olson said he had “some very good exchanges” with the state Tuesday.
“So it is really about getting an extension from the city so that we can execute on the rest of the financing, which is really putting together the Citibank piece in a meaningful way,” Olson said. “Citibank remains engaged and has been engaged for the entirety of the process. … They continue to remain very focused on trying to get us to a place where we can close on the construction financing. We can’t do anything with Citibank bank while we are doing this because I have no way of knowing whether you are going to extend the LDA or not, whether the city is going to extend the LDA or not. That is no small amount of stress for me.”
The drafted extension includes a timeline of conditions that POKO has to meet. In the first 150 days, POKO would be required to show it has gotten the permits it needs, a completed Phase 2 environmental assessment of the site and an environmental mitigation plan, as well as evidence of financing. Requirements in 250 days would include finalized, stamped, construction drawings and a signed contract with a contractor. Within a year POKO would have to have begun structural framing.
Sheehan said Olson could have asked for an extension much sooner than he did (last April). “It was pretty clear that the potential to hit the deadline had been eclipsed some time ago. That being said, there is a general desire to advance the development in the Wall Street redevelopment plan area I believe among all parties,” Sheehan said.
But he laid out POKO’s problems: The project obtained zoning approval in 2008, only to face an appeal. It is impossible to get financing when there is pending litigation, he said. The earliest that POKO could have started was January 2010, and then it was an entirely different marketplace, he said.
“There needs to be some understanding, although obviously the request could have been made earlier, the project might have been able to advance a little bit quicker than what it has been able to do, but there certainly have been impediments along the way that have delayed the delivery of the project,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said that his office had gotten notification from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) on Tuesday that the $5 million grant for the project is still active. But the focus stayed on Citibank.
POKO is expecting provisional approval from Citibank on July 31, Sheehan said. With 65 days of due diligence, the final financing commitment is expected by Oct. 31.
“We were told that they had approved and everything was moving forward and we were ready to go, and all of that,” Torrano said. “We clearly don’t have enough information in my opinion about what the real relationship is with Citibank and what they are willing to do and where we stand with that. … It’s a little troublesome to me that we are at this point and we don’t even have a preliminary commitment. So I am not optimistic that Oct. 31 is remotely optimistic given the fact that we don’t have anything.”
“Clearly there is some level of confusion based on what has been given to us by the redeveloper’s team,” Sheehan said.
“My preference would be to table this, drill down just a little bit more, see what we are really doing,” Torrano said. “… Is Citibank really saying that if we don’t have an extension on the LDA they are not going to approve financing?”
The motion to table action on the extension was unanimously approved. The next scheduled RDA meeting is Aug. 12.