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 Plans for new hotel spark debate over historic preservation—or stifling competition 

A rendering of the proposed hotel at 25 and 31-35 South Main Street. (Courtesy of Norwalk)

A proposal to build a new hotel in South Norwalk is at the center of a debate over whether the plans will impact historic buildings or whether a neighboring hotel owner wants to limit competition. 

TR Sono Partners, an LLC under F.D. Rich Company—which has been involved with many properties in the Washington Street–South Main Street area, submitted an application to build an eight-story, 100-room extended stay hotel with 83 off-street parking spaces at 25 and 31-35 South Main Street. As part of the plans, the existing two buildings at those sites would be demolished. 

The application states that the redevelopment of these properties will “further assist SoNo to thrive and flourish,” and that it would “assist the city’s goals and efforts to upgrade and enhance the corridor.” 

Thomas Rich, the owner of F.D. Rich Company, said the hotel would help “bring bodies into the historic district to spend money.”

That sentiment was backed up by more than 45 organizations and businesses in the area that wrote letters of support to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“I am writing to express our support for the application, regarding the proposed new 100-room hotel in South Norwalk by F.D. Rich,” Brian Griffin, the president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, wrote to the commission. “It seems the new hotel would only further enhance and elevate the area, not to mention address the need for more rooms in Norwalk, especially considering the recent closing of the DoubleTree Hotel.” 

Except for one business. Right next to the newly proposed hotel is the Marriott Residence Inn, which is petitioning to intervene in the application, a formal procedure the state allows when historic structures are involved. The hotel owner, along with local historians and preservationists like Tod Bryant, the former head of the Norwalk Preservation Society, said these plans would demolish historic structures that were part of the history of South Norwalk.

But in addition to being detrimental to Sono’s history, Attorney Adam Blank, representing HOSP CORCT RE LLC, the owner of the Residence Inn, also noted his client objects to the project for the impact it would have on the existing Marriott property.

“Obviously we’re the Residence Inn next door, and we don’t want it. I’m not going to hide from that. We’re here because we think this will negatively, financially impact the Residence Inn,” Blank told the commission. “We think that’s going to be very bad detrimentally for this hotel, which also means the tax base, which also means our employees.”

Backstory on the newly proposed hotel

Rich and his team hadn’t always planned to propose a new hotel for this site. In fact, Rich, whose company built the Marriott Residence Inn, had planned to expand the existing Marriott hotel with the current owner. The team submitted plans that were approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission  to add 48 rooms to the existing hotel last year.

Neither Suchy nor Blank commented specifically on why that deal fell through. 

“Although that project was approved, for whatever reason, the deal with the Residence Inn and its owner never materialized,” Suchy said.

Blank said the owner had “a very different story about who the good guy is and who the villain is,” but added that he wasn’t “going to get into that.”

He did note that the owner of the Residence Inn wasn’t sure it made sense to expand that much.

“That didn’t go forward because they didn’t think that the numbers worked, that it justified a 50-room expansion and here we are with a 100-room hotel proposed next door,” he said.

As a part of the previously approved plans to expand the Marriott, the commission gave the OK to demolish 31-35 South Main Street to allow for the additional rooms. 

“The owner of the Marriott property, who is now a petitioner on the petition for intervention, sought the expansion, and TR Sono Partners handled the application and the processes,” Suchy said. “The owner participated in, consented to, and was fully aware of each and every step.”

She also noted that last year, the state Historic Preservation Office looked into the plans to demolish 31-35 South Main Street but “did not move the matter to the state Historic Preservation Council, paving the way to the application of a demolition permit.”

Historic preservation concerns

But even though the demolition was approved under the previous plans, local historians teamed up with the current owner of the Marriott to make the case to the commission for preserving the historic structures on the site. 

The property at 31-35 South Main Street is a two-story building erected during the 1920s that has been vacant for a few years, while the property at 25 South Main Street is a three-story building constructed around 1900. 

According to Preservation Connecticut, a nonprofit organization, 25 South Main Street has “provided space over the years to businesses that included Pong’s Chinese laundry, McPartland’s saloon, and the Elite Bakery.” The nonprofit said 31-35 South Main Street “originally housed Udelman’s Cloaks and Suits, one of the many clothing retailers that dominated South Norwalk business. Other tenants over the years included the Sanitary Bakery, the Post Office, and the American Conservatory of Music, plus law firms, realtors, and a bonding company.”

The nonprofit said “these are two of only four historic buildings that remain on the west side of South Main Street … They are important elements of the historic streetscape that defines this historic district. Their loss would cut Norwalk’s architectural legacy in half on this section of South Main Street.”

“They really contribute to the story of the district, the story of South Norwalk,” said Wes Haynes, a historic preservationist. “Removing these buildings should not be done lightly.”

David Goslin, from Crosskey Architects, said that they “contributed to the character of South Norwalk.”

“Both buildings appear to be in good solid structural condition,” he said. “Through my years of doing this type of work, we’ve restored buildings in far worse condition. These buildings have potential to be preserved.” 

Bryant said there were four state and federal programs the developers could take advantage of to get grant funding or tax credits for repurposing the historic structures. 

“There is a lot of money available,” he said, especially “because of the significance of these buildings.”

Michael Devonshire, an architectural conservator and preservationist hired by the F.D. Rich team, evaluated both properties. For 25 South Main Street, Devonshire wrote that “nothing of historical value remains on the façade.” 

“All of the original features of the historic main façade have been removed, and the present treatment is a pastiche of awkward design, poorly executed … Restoration is not possible, only reconstruction of historic features,” the report read

For 35 South Main Street, Devonshire wrote that “restoration for reuse of the building façade to a level complying with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards will be very difficult, if not impossible.”

He did recommend that “several unique elements that might be able to be salvaged without damage,” such as the central entry door, “be incorporated into or displayed within any new building constructed on the site.”

‘Un-American’ attempt to stop competition

While Rich said he believed Haynes, Bryant, and Goslin legitimately believed in historic preservation, they were being used by the Marriott owner to limit competition. 

“It was the first thing that Adam Blank said that he doesn’t want competition, that’s really what’s behind this,” he said, adding that he owns many historic buildings on Washington Street. “I love old buildings. So I really appreciate Mr. Goslin and Mr. Hayes, Haynes and Mr. Bryant’s mission, but I can tell you, their client doesn’t care about their mission. What he cares about is keeping out competition. And that is just really un-American if you ask me.”

Decision on the Plans

The commission kept open the public hearing to allow for comments on the application from the Redevelopment Agency. The members then will discuss the application, before a final vote. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 8 at 6 p.m. 

Comments

One response to “ Plans for new hotel spark debate over historic preservation—or stifling competition ”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    The previous owner let that building turn into a rathole. And it was ugly to begin with — it’s not like it was ever one of those stately marble facades on the rest of Washington.

    Tear. It. Down. The new hotel will match the neighborhood’s character BETTER. And I say this as someone who literally lives 50 feet away.

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