Updated, 1:40 p.m., comments from Lori Torrano
NORWALK, Conn. – Yes, indeed, there was work done on Wall Street Place on Friday.
Although two NancyOnNorwalk readers were quick Friday afternoon to jump on the idea that Ken Olson of POKO Partners had not made good on his Thursday promise to begin the long-delayed construction on the controversial Wall Street project the next day, there was at least some activity. But while Mayor Harry Rilling said “very confident this phase will move forward to completion with no further delays,” Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Lori Torrano said it’s not time to pop the champagne yet.
A pile of crumbled parking lot now sits next to the backhoe that was stationed on the property Thursday. It looks like a ramp was created down to the hole where the former basement was.
Michael McGuire, who works out of his Wall Street office, saw the workers on the site.
“I was there through @ 1 p.m. and only saw about 20 minutes of activity. They have one very large backhoe on site that pulled up a bit of the macadam. I’m hopeful that they will begin in earnest next week,” McGuire wrote in an email.
Olson did not respond to late Friday attempts to contact him.
In February, Norwalk declared Olson in default of the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the property because he hadn’t obtained the project’s $13 million construction loan by Jan. 30. Olson said Thursday that the loan will finally close on the 26th or the 29th of this month, and he was beginning construction Friday.
POKO still has an i to dot with the state, Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
“I’m optimistic,” Kimmel said. “It appears that the financing is pretty much in place, which was everyone’s main concern. If it takes a week or two to settle some issues with the state, I can live with that.”
He said he didn’t know what the “pro forma” obstacle is.
Norwalk’s volunteer government officials agonized last August over whether to give Olson an extension on the 10-year old LDA.
“I started meeting with POKO immediately after taking office,” Rilling said. “There were some who wanted to pull the plug on the project but I knew that would result in nothing happening on that site for many years. Moreover, pulling the LDA would most certainly have resulted in a very costly lawsuit against the city. I worked with Mario Coppola and Tim Sheehan to finally get to this point. Senator Duff has also been extremely helpful with this project as well.”
Torrano cast the lone dissenting vote on the four-member panel. On Saturday she said she was cautiously optimistic.
“POKO’s loan application with Citibank is due to go to loan committee for final approval soon – I believe next week. Citi has received enough information from POKO (finally!) to advance to this final stage so this is looking better to me than at any other point in this long and unending process,” Torrano wrote in an email.
“Still, it’s not a true ‘go’ and no shovel can get in the ground until the loan gets fully approved by Citi,” Torrano continued. “While we are not privy to any of the specifics, I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic based on my understanding of the loan approval process that if there were any truly glaring red flags, Citi wouldn’t take it to loan committee for approval until all areas of concern are addressed. However, there is still always the possibility of denial or contingencies the committee requires that could further delay the loan approval process. We’ll have to wait and see. Citi has a few million of the bank’s money already in the project so I’m sure they want to see this move forward as much as we do but I’m not popping open the champagne until the loan is closed.”
Another deadline is coming up for Olson. According to the LDA extension, he must have a foundation completed for Phase I, as well as a construction permit for the rest of the work and some structural framing, one year after the extension was inked. That would be late August or early September.
“With Wall Street Place and Head of the Harbor, some exciting things are happening on Wall Street,” Rilling said.