NORWALK, Conn. – A new – but allegedly temporary – Norwalk bombsite is expected to develop over the next three months on Norwalk’s Wall Street as buildings are flattened to make way for the long-awaited POKO Partners’ development, Wall Street Place.
It’s a campaign promise kept, Mayor Harry Rilling said at a Wednesday press conference called to announce the beginning steps of demolition on the corner of Wall Street and Isaac Street.
“It’s really I think a fine example of what happens when state and local officials work together with private sector developers to get projects up and moving,” Rilling said. “It is a project that we all have been waiting for. One of the things I said during the campaign was that I would be meeting with local developers to help them and encourage them to get their projects moving so that we can get moving Norwalk in the right direction. I am pleased to say that … we are finally seeing now that we are going to get moving.”
Rilling was joined by state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140), Norwalk Center Task Force Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield and Ken Olson of POKO Partners, who said that, in 45 days, Norwalkers will see the former bank building and the former church next to it come down. As the men talked outside, workers were busy inside, pulling down tiles from the bank’s ceiling. One of them said the abatement work began Tuesday, with the current chore focused on “seeing what is up there.”
Olson described it as “cleaning out the clean stuff.” In 10 days, the building will be closed off and work will begin to remove asbestos, he said. In “30 months, plus or minus,” the $43 million Phase 1 will be complete, he said, adding that the demolition phase, including abatement, would take about 9 months. Vertical construction would follow, he said.
Phase 1 will consist of 101 apartments, 60 percent available at market rate and 40 percent marketed as affordable housing, he said. There will be 60,000 square feet of retail space, 12,000 of it from Wall Street to Isaac and the rest of it in small spaces on the end of Isaac Street, he said. He mentioned a 220-car parking garage, which zoning commissioners have said will be underground and automated.
The project is now “in a very linear permitting process,” as it would be in any municipality, Olson said. Rilling promised to keep it moving, with the state’s help.
Rilling spoke of a collaborative process. “We got it done. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “When people put their heads together and start working together, you can get things done.”
“The last seven months, plus or minus, have been a very collaborative time for us, which is great because this is a public-private partnership,” Olson said. “We can’t do what we do without the city and the state’s help, and the governor has been great on that level as well. We needed to get to a point where the LDA (Land Disposition Agreement) is current and that we can go forward and that’s where we are. Or that’s what we’re working towards.”
The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has yet to sign off on an extension of the LDA, which Olson has requested. Under the current terms, POKO has until Sept. 1 to complete Phase 1. Olson is seeking to extend the deadline for Phase 1 to June 20, 2016. He has requested that the deadline for the entire three-phase project be moved from Nov. 2017 to Nov. 14, 2022.
In April, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that POKO had secured the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHAFA) 9 percent tax credits and Competitive Housing Assistance for MultiFamily (CHAMP) grant that it had been seeking. POKO was promised $5 million from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) in August 2012.
Rilling said getting POKO moving involved many telephone calls and meetings with the RDA, Corporation Counsel, zoning commissioners and Common Council members. There were letters written to secure state funding, he said.
He said the same approach has been taken with Head of the Harbor South, at the other end of Wall Street, and the 95/7 site at the intersection of Interstate 95 and West Avenue, now owned by General Growth Properties (GGP).
“I have been meeting with Head of the Harbor South developers,” Rilling said. “We are optimistic that that is going to get moving very soon and we are working towards that end. Also working with General Growth Properties in trying to determine what it is that they want to put on that property and how we can make that the best possible development that we can. So this is a huge announcement in moving the Norwalk Center forward along with Waypointe. … You’re going to see some tremendous things happening in Norwalk. You’re going to see tremendous growth with good affordable housing, with mixed use.”
Duff said public perceptions that POKO wanted eight years to get Phase 1 done were “patently false.”
“People may not see what is happening inside this building but important work is being done,” he said. “Inside this building so that the walls are going to come down and we will get shovels in the ground for what is going to be really the rebirth for Wall Street in Norwalk.”
That’s also happening at the Wall Street Theater down the street, he said.
The Isaac Street parking lot will be closed when demolition begins, Olson said. Traffic patterns on Wall Street will change and there will be a lot of street work done between Isaac Street and Belden Avenue, he said. Lightfield promised that pedestrian access would be maintained. Olson promised “lots of public discourse.” Duff said there would be more announcements.
Olson described the site as “relatively clean,” with “an old oil tank, a little asbestos” and “a small amount of lead paint.” Boring tests of the soil turned up “nothing particularly exciting,” he said.
“We’ve very confident about our knowledge of what is going in there and about the process that is going to go forward,” Olson said.
Olson said he thought the bank had been vacant for about 25 years. There is a large walk-in safe on the first floor; Olson said there is an even older vault in the basement that may date back 100 years.
“We did have fantasies at one time of saving one of the vault doors,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be practical anymore, but if we can we want to save one of the vault doors and put it in the building.”