Norwalk takes steps to access federal funding, move forward with plans for 98 South Main Street

(Kelly Prinz)

The City is working to get $1.75 million in grant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help support the creation of a community recreation center at 98 South Main Street. 

The funding was initially awarded from HUD to the Riverbrook YMCA when the nonprofit was going to be the developer and operator of the building, but since that agreement fell through, the City is working to become a subgrantee and access the funding. 

Alan Lo, the City’s buildings and facilities manager, told the Land Use and Building Management Committee that the $1.75 million will be paired with funds from the State’s Department of Economic and Community Development, City GGP funds, and ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, and local City funds to get to the project budget of $12 million. 

“We’ve talked so much in the past with all those hopes dashed,” Council member Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), who chairs the Committee, said. “The Y did receive this grant, and so this is a sub grant that we need to move forward with, so that those monies can continue to be used in this building.”

The grant overall is $2 million, but the YMCA is keeping $250,000 to use in the building as a tenant, Lo said. As a part of the agreement, the YMCA will be providing programming at the space, including STEM and e-sport programs. 

Wednesday’s Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee meeting on Zoom.

While the council members ultimately voted 4-1-1 to recommend the agreement to the full council, many said that they were skeptical of any agreement with YMCA after the initial plans to have the YMCA run and operate the site fell through.

“I just have to say that I’m quite uneasy with this position, and I need to speak on behalf of the residents of South Norwalk, really the residents of the whole city,” Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) said. “I’ve always supported Mr. (Robert) Stowers (director of Recreation and Parks) and the great work that he has done in the city and is capable of doing. I guess my uneasiness is the fact that we’ve been down this road before with the YMCA.”

Ayers abstained from the vote due to her uneasiness.

“I do recognize that the company has to approve this grant relationship in order to receive the funds, but due to the relationship that we have had, and the rockiness of the relationship, it brings me a lot of discomfort,” she said.

Council member Dajuan Wiggins, a Democrat who represents District B which is where 98 South Main Street is located, said that he really wanted to look out for his community with this. 

“This is a sensitive topic for me—I grew up in this area, I know families and people around this area. So, it’s a very sensitive topic to me personally, but I’m thinking about my community, and how my community will look and benefit from this,” he said, adding that he saw what happened when the last agreement fell through. “I’m really just thinking about this and thinking about if it will be the best thing for us.”

Council member Jenn McMurrer (D-District C) said that she supported the project in the hopes that the groups would act in “good faith” for the agreement in an effort to make it “the best place” for the community.

“If this money gets us to that point, or closer to that point, I’m in favor of it,” she said. “I hope that whatever programming does come out of the Y in partnership meets that goal. But I am hesitant because of the past experiences we’ve had, and so I just want to go on record with that.”

Stowers said that he believed previous agreements with the site failed because the City tried to have nonprofits take on this responsibility. 

“The reason why this historically hasn’t worked is because the City hasn’t run it,” he said. “We want it to work. And we want it to work the way other cities run their community and recreation centers. And nonprofits, they come and go.”

Stowers said that he believed the City “has a responsibility for recreation, and the health of their citizens in this community. And so the City has determined that they want to run a recreation and community center based upon the master plan that went out to the whole community and to the whole city.”

He also responded to Wiggins and said that having the first recreation community center in South Norwalk showed how important that community is.

“There is no recreation community center in the whole city. And this one’s being built in your community. So that says a lot, because the city really needs about three for its size,” Stowers said. “You’re concerned about your community—that’s the community, we chose to build the first recreation center run by the City, in that community. And I think that says a lot right there.”

Architect for the site

The committee also voted 5-1 in favor of using Silver Petrucelli Associates as an architect for the new community recreation center. The city plans to use $662,751 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the architect’s contract.

Wiggins questioned whether any of the bidders, particularly the top three finalists, were minority-owned businesses. 

“What was the inclusiveness? When I see all the people that’s on that on the list—I don’t see any diversity at all. So what was the process?”

Wiggins said that the community center will be located in the “most populated Black and brown community” in Norwalk which is why he said it was important to make sure the community was reflected in this construction.

“This firm is going to come out and it’s going to have some community input, but…It’s important that they understand the community,” he said. “If it was to my liking, I would definitely have some representation of the community.” 

City officials said that currently there’s not a requirement for them to consider whether a company is minority-owned in the bidding process. Ayers told Wiggins that he should look at bringing this issue to the Ordinance Committee if he wanted to work to make it part of City code and policy.

“If we have ordinances, and we have policies, like other nearby municipalities, that govern contracts and different contracts and stuff like that, that is inclusive to minority groups, then Alan is empowered to make that a part of his schematic,” she said. “But if Alan is not given that guideline, it is unfair to him to ask him, ‘Why did he look for something that he didn’t have the guideline to look for?’”

Ayers added, “If that is something that you are very passionate about, and I think that there are other people who are also passionate about diversity and making sure that we are promoting diversity, not just saying the word diversity, the process to getting that is to start with ordinance.”

Wiggins, who voted against the agreement, said that he hoped the architect would work with minority-owned companies in the construction process.

“That’s some of my hopes for this project if it does go through,” he said. 

Kelly Prinz, formerly Kelly Kultys, is the founder of Coastal Connecticut Times.


3 responses to “Norwalk takes steps to access federal funding, move forward with plans for 98 South Main Street”

  1. Tysen Canevari

    Good luck to Dajuan Wiggins when facing the ordinance committee asking them to consider minority companies for jobs in South Norwalk. This is a group that forced through a ban on gas backpack blowers without ever publicizing it in Spanish before the make up of the common council changed and asked the correct questions! Estimates are that 75 percent of our local industry is hispanic. This is why I personally refer to the ban as the Rowayton Rule!

  2. Bryan Meek

    Disappointed but not surprised that NO ONE would ask how much money has been put into this building over the years and how much of it we are still paying for. Here comes another $12 million and the kids won’t even get a pool.

    The public construction industrial complex rolls on our nickel.

    This building is a knock down and everyone who has stepped foot in it knows it. And the price tag of $12 million is clearly a land grab. The SoNo field house cost half as much to build and dwarfs the footprint of this building.

  3. John O’Neill

    A few thoughts on this: 1) Kids need gyms — Kids need fields. Let’s make it happen. That being said, why aren’t the 20+ school gyms better utilized? Why aren’t the 20+ school fields better utilized? Some may give excuses, but that’s a lot of BS. Driving passed an unlit gym at 7:00 on a January night is ridiculous. So we’ll spend all this money, but not utilize the infrastructure we already have?
    2) I find it humorous that many on the committee have concerns but still voted to proceed. What? It’s pretty easy to spend money when it’s not yours.
    3) Regarding Wiggins comments on diversity of project — I agree with the concept. Where he doesn’t go far enough is demanding apprentice programs for these projects. Every one of these projects in Norwalk should require apprentice programs for NORWALKERS. NOT out of town applicants – NORWALKERS. IF it’s a South End project, hire NORWALKERS. NOT Trumbullers/NOT Bridgeporters….NORWALKERS. But it needs to be understood, it’s not a free ride. IF an apprentice doesn’t cut the mustard he or she needs to be held accountable. IT needs to be a true apprentice program, not a facade.
    4) The “Fun” money from Washington should begin drying up — Life will get interesting over the next 12-24 months…Hold on to your wallets.

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