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Push for Wall Street train station nets info on POKO, Duleep’s building

Michael McGuire of the Austin McGuire Company, a commercial real estate company, speaks last week at the Mayor's Night Out in City Hall.

Michael McGuire of the Austin McGuire Company, a commercial real estate company, speaks last week at the Mayor’s Night Out in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — A train station in the Wall Street area would capitalize on housing trends and revitalize the economic engine in central Norwalk, Michael McGuire is saying in multiple places.

McGuire made that push to the Redevelopment Agency recently. He brought it up at last week’s Mayor’s Night Out, where the conversation touched upon the blighted building at 45 Wall St. and the stalled construction at POKO Partners. He’s also discussed it with State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), Duff said Tuesday.

Mayor Harry Rilling, in responding to McGuire last week, said there are other things in the works that will help the economic condition of Wall Street. The city has always supported a train station on Wall Street, Rilling and Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker said.

Also in response last week, Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland offered information about POKO and the burned out building said for years to be bringing the neighborhood down.

POKO is a busted project, McGuire said to the Redevelopment Agency on Sept. 27.

“When I looked at this I thought what a great idea (a train station would be) because right now to get the POKO project off the ground you’ve got to give it a bunch of tax incentives to get a developer to come in there but if you get a train station there, a half a block away, you’d have developers fighting over themselves to take over that project,” McGuire said.

McGuire is a commercial real estate professional, who owns an office building on Wall Street.

“We have been very successful at 64 Wall St. for a long time, up until recently because the area looks so bad. I am losing tenants,” McGuire said to RDA.

All of the tenants tell him that they are going to offices that are close to train stations in other cities, he said, naming Stamford, New Rochelle and Larchmont. The tenants say they like Norwalk but they need to attract workers, who prefer travel by train.

McGuire told the city leaders present for Thursday’s Mayor’s Night Out that his commercial real estate practice is national in scope, that he is trained to look at things 10 years out. A Wall Street train station would be a jobs generator and attract millennials, who are looking for situations where they can walk to work or use a train, he said.

McGuire listed a series of statistics that show that rents are typically higher near a train station, information that is sometimes cited in city meetings as part of Transit Oriented Development discussions.

“Right now is the time,” McGuire said. “We have to do this now because this live/work community that we are talking about will be established somewhere in the 95 corridor or down in Westchester. … We have the best area for this to happen, between the Stamford and Norwalk area, particularly the Wall street area, if you put a train station in there.”

The stalled POKO Wall Street Place project is going to kill Wall Street, which is already “stuck” with Ganga Duleep’s blighted building at 45 Wall St., he said.

“It’s going to destroy the remainder of downtown, an area that has no real reason for faltering the way it is,” he said.

The common response to his push for a Wall Street train station is that it’s in the hands of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, McGuire said.

“Are you putting our economic welfare into the hands of the bureaucracy of the DOT, who are just kind of ambivalent about it?  I don’t think that’s a very good idea. I think collectively we should go try to make this happen, particularly with what is happening with the Walk Bridge,” McGuire said.

The city could take Duleep’s building by the process of eminent domain for about $4.5 million, McGuire said. A train station could go behind the building.

Or, the city could use the Mechanic Street lot and create a train station for $1 million, he said.

Now would be a good time because ConnDOT will have all of its equipment in Norwalk for the rebuilding of the Walk Bridge, McGuire said.

Stocker said the city is aware of all the statistics regarding the demand for TOD.

“Norwalk has gone on record with Department of Transportation supporting a station in that area.  We will work with them to try to get that moved ahead, so it goes in line with the rest of the funding on that,” Stocker said.

Rilling said there had been meetings with two groups just that week, about the Wall Street area.

CPTV is looking to take over the Fairfield County Bank building and use it as a film studio and public assembly place, he said.

Innovation Places is a small business incubator that would help small businesses grow and bring them into the area, Rilling said.

“Both of those things are very exciting,” Rilling said. “Last but not least, we are meeting with somebody about high speed internet, to bring that into Norwalk.  So there’s a lot of things happening. We are not sitting back idly but we have supported the concept of a train station with a stop in Wall Street area. It’s something we are very interested in, seeing how we can make it happen.”

Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland said he had just had a meeting with POKO Partners, the Redevelopment Agency and Citibank.

Citibank has identified a “funding gap” in POKO’s construction, leading to a halt, city leaders have said.

Sources say the illness suffered by POKO Partners principal Ken Olson has everything to do with the sudden stop to the construction.

“After that meeting it appears just from the discussions that the bank, they are going to be actively pursuing finishing that building. Whether it’s POKO or not I don’t know,” Ireland said Thursday. “They are in serious consideration to let (POKO) finish it, but have more of a say over the payments and how they go out.”

A source who was present for a recent meeting said Citibank was interested in having another developer to finish the “skin” of the building so as to protect the materials from the weather.

Citibank does not own the property. It doesn’t have the ability to hire another developer, another source said.

The city has sent POKO a registered letter and given the company 30 days to respond, Ireland said.

“Hopefully in couple of weeks we’ll have that decision of what they intend to do,” Ireland said.

The city is pursuing its blight complaint against Duleep, Ireland said.

“Does it have a building permit? Yes. Is it active? Yes. No, no, don’t shake your head. You’ve got to read the statute. Your interpretation of inactive is one thing, call the state of Connecticut, it’s something else,” Ireland said to McGuire. “Their attorneys know this. Inactivity, they can have one inspection. After that inspection, they don’t have to have another inspection for six months. Do I agree with it? No, but that’s the law.”

The interior of 45 Wall St. taken through the window on Aug. 27.

The interior of 45 Wall St. taken through the window on Aug. 27.

McGuire said the city should take Duleep’s building by eminent domain.

“That’s not me,” Ireland said. “As far as enforcing the building code, if we went to court on it I’m pretty sure we would be shot down. But we are making an attempt on the blight issue to at least get the outside of the building finished. Whether the inside is finished is really of no importance to us, but to make Wall Street presentable in this area.”

McGuire said he had been behind Duleep’s building and seen that the southwest corner is bulging out.

“We have letters from structural engineer saying it’s safe and its sound. So again, if you go into a court, which it would end up in, ‘who is the professional?’” Ireland said.

McGuire agreed that in court the professional opinion would win the battle.

After the meeting, Ireland explained more to NoN.

Work on Duleep’s building has stopped because the state has been doing work on the Wall Street tunnel, closing part of the road, and Duleep’s workers cannot park in front of the building because the parking spaces are being used as a travel lane, he said.

“They were working up until the point where they closed that (street) down,” Ireland said.

DPW Operations Manager Lisa Burns, at Tuesday’s Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, said that Wall Street will be reopened Sunday night.

“That project should be wrapping up right after that,” Burns said.

Ireland, last week, said that Duleep’s contractors have the materials needed to do the roof stored inside the building. The first and second floors are done, he said.

As far as POKO goes, his concern was that the building materials would lose their fire resistance because of exposure to the elements, he said.

Word was that Ireland told Citibank and POKO that the building would have to be covered up or the boards removed, within 90 days.

“They put together a meeting for me with the architect. I listed my concerns with the architect who brought me the paper work from the evaluation company that that’s not a worry,” Ireland said.

On Tuesday, NoN asked Duff about McGuire’s push for a train station.

“Michael and I continue to regularly discuss the issue,” Duff said in an email. “As I’ve mentioned to him on multiple occasions, the idea is a good one, but one that will take a lot of planning and need the support of many partners before execution of another station. This idea is only in its infancy and conceptual at best.”

ConnDOT Director of Communications Judd Everhart said, “This is not on the table from our point of view, and it is definitely not part of the scope of the Walk Bridge project. As you know, there are four train stations in Norwalk now (including Merritt 7).”

Previous discussions about a Wall Street train station have focused on reopening the underground station that has been closed for decades.

“The Mechanic street location is above ground and located just off the parking lot and extending under the Burnell Bridge.  This area is all above grade and wide open for a train platform of roughly 300-400 feet long,” McGuire said Tuesday in an email.

McGuire sent an email to the Redevelopment Agency on Monday:

“Clearly, if the POKO issue is allowed to fester the way the Duleep issue has, with no response other than ‘it’s between POKO and the bank’, than the marketplace will have little confidence in Norwalk’s ability to protect her citizens or her businesses.    That would be a bleak day for Norwalk.

“I would suggest building a station in the Mechanic Street lot on public land and locating the passenger platform along the east side of the tracks and extending from the NW corner of 16 River Street north under the Burnell Bridge as far as needed to accommodate a stop here.  DOT would only need to build a platform.  A ticket office/waiting area could be housed in the lower level of 16 River Street.

“This train station puts Norwalk first, puts Norwalk on the map, and retains jobs here in CT.”

ConnDOT said last year that the renovation of the Merritt 7 train station is expected to cost $20 million.

How then does McGuire figure $1 million for a Mechanic Street train station?

McGuire replied by email:

“I figured that all that’s needed is a concrete deck at train level with a roof supported by a truss system.

“Based on the cost estimators we have I estimated it to be similar to a dock height foundation for an industrial building which is roughly $55 per square foot.  Assuming a 10-foot-wide platform that 350 long you have 3,500 square foot platform at $55/SF = $192,500, say $200,000 rounded.

“Add in some exterior lighting, ADA ramps, steps and guardrails with a partial roof structure for maybe another $300,000.

“Revamp a 1,000 SF of the lower level of 16 River Street at $50 per square foot complete with a new access door and bathrooms at $50,000 each and you have another say $150,000 cost for the enclosed ticket/waiting room.

“So for all the hard costs above we are at  roughly $650,000.

“Finally soft costs (architect, permits, legal etc.) of 10% of the whole thing are added bring you to $715,000.  So my $1.0 million is a bit conservative.

“This is just one of several different ways to build this so the costs would vary but not by that much.”

13 comments

Tony P October 5, 2016 at 7:15 am

Both idea’s for a train station are so common sense and rooted in logic, that it’s hard to understand why the gears havent started to turn already.Oh wait, because its Duff and the DOT….

Lisa Thomson October 5, 2016 at 7:36 am

Is ANY elected leader going to represent Norwalk and fight for Wall Street? District A Reps, Mayor, State Reps????
What sort of elected officials sit on the sidelines?

EveT October 5, 2016 at 8:22 am

It is so frustrating to have to see the Duleep building and the POKO project in shambles year after year. If Chimento is correct that the city doesn’t have legal means to compel the property owners to fix things up, then what is wrong with our laws?

Andrew October 5, 2016 at 9:05 am

What I find to be a little frustrating is that after all the discussions – nothing has changed with the laws and planning and zoning regulations. But, there has been a lot of work and progress on the charter revision. That seems to have blasted through at light speed compared to the updates that the Wall Street area needs.

Please give the building department, planning and zoning the tools they would need to order to get things moving. Rather than extending the terms of office, creating new positions and increasing payments to elected officials.

And Senator Duff, maybe this station idea is a good one. If DOT is going to push a bridge down our throats, maybe they could add the station to at least give us a fighting chance into the future. Maybe you could help us in this regard and “stand up for US”

Colleen Cahn October 5, 2016 at 9:37 am

We bought our house, within walking distance of this project, 13 years ago. While the real estate market around us is improving, our neighborhood is worse off. From POKO, we’ve seen nothing but beautiful renderings of what could be, and a hole in the ground.

The Wall Street area would have been in better shape had the City just let nature take its course and allow the area to improve with the economy. There is no reason for our Historic town center (walking distance to restaurants, post office, bus station, banks, library, market, churches and the Green) to be a shambles while other areas are coming up. Instead, a lot of existing businesses were forced out, the ones who stayed had their parking taken away, taxpayers were sold a bunch of empty promises, and the Wall Street area was stripped of its identity.

Needless to say, I fully support Michael McGuire’s concept and his push for a train stop at Wall Street. It would be a huge, invigorating boost to Wall Street and add value to the entire surrounding area. Wall Street has unique charm, character and incredible potential. It’s time!

As a neighbor, I’m grateful to have Michael McGuire as an optimistic, energized property owner and real estate professional taking the lead and fighting for Wall Street and District A.

Nancy Chapman October 5, 2016 at 10:52 am

EveT,
Bill Ireland said the project is in compliance with the building code, that it would be difficult to win in court at this stage (not Bruce Chimento). He also talked about the blight ordinance. He said a property owner can be fined $100 a day for not addressing blight; Mayor Rilling and Mr. Ireland said the city is pursuing Mrs. Duleep with the blight ordinance.

EveT October 5, 2016 at 11:25 am

Hey Nancy, thanks for the detailed reply.
It seems to me Mrs. Duleep should have been pursued with the blight ordinance from the day it went into effect, because her building has been blighted for much longer than that. But, that’s just me as a non-expert.

Lisa Thomson October 5, 2016 at 11:39 am

@ Nancy, You reported, The city has always supported a train station on Wall Street, Rilling and Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker said.

However, Bob Duff said in an email, “… the idea is a good one, but one that will take a lot of planning and need the support of many partners before execution of another station. This idea is only in its infancy and conceptual at best.”

There seems to be a disconnect. Not faulting anyone – just wanting them to get on the same page and feel some sense of urgency for Norwalk.

I was once asked, why should I care about the Wall Street area, as if living on another side of town disqualified me from having an opinion. My response – It’s our downtown area, why does it need to look like garbage! Perhaps the reason Norwalk residents identify with their neighborhoods so much is because that area looks so ‘deplorable’ 🙂 Having a city center look like that doesn’t grow the grand list and places more pressure on homeowners.

The mayor should be the head cheerleader for Norwalk and the Wall Street area!

Gypsy October 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm

It would be really nice if the building designers would take into consideration the actual look of the neighborhoods they’re putting their buildings up in, and have the new construction look like the neighborhood, instead of standing out like a sore thumb. None of the new construction in Norwalk, with the exception of maybe the old Norwalk Company building on North Water, fits the areas they’re in, and it looks awful.

Norwalk Rover October 5, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Putting a train station as simple as a sidewalk like Merrit 7, next to Norwalk’s central bus terminal is incredibly smart and simple math. Traffic would be alieviated inherently as well as bus routes and schedules that limit people to SONO or East Norwalk stations.

The $1 million estimate seems ‘great’ for a whole regular platform and is conservative. MTA / DOT will come in with roughly that cost to reprint their schedules and maps, and a random excuse to increase fares…

Remember these rails were put in service in 1842, and still go all the way to MASS. Only freight however goes beyond Danbury at this time.

In July 2014, Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors authorized the purchase of 37 miles of the railroad’s Berkshire Line. MassDOT’s purchase is intended to extend rail services to New York City, following track improvements for passenger and freight service between Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Jlightfield October 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm

There are many positive things that are happening in Norwalk Center. Some of those things mean construction and barricades and challenges. Others happen when no one is looking, like the weekly street sweep and trash removal off the sidewalks.

Still others take place behind closed doors and rely on the efforts of private businesses to create traction and thrive.

There are three buildings that affect the area in a negative way, two are owned by The same owner and one is not. The Norwalk Center Task Force of which Michael Maguire and Lisa Thompson are both members, has taken the position that any commercial blight should be addressed. The repeated focus on one building, does not help advance enforcement and improvement on all.

The Wall Street Train Station is in fact a conceptual project. A conceptual project means that ideas and costs, plans and resources are being identified, however this idea that somehow that our elected officials should be making comments on plans that have yet to be put forward is silly.

It’s great that there is so much recent enthusiam for a Wall Street Train Station. But linking blight and negligent property owners to a project that is focused on a different model is confusing the issue. We don’t need a train station to draw attention to solving the negligent property issue. We need a train station to connect the Danbury line to the downtown, as it once was, and stimulate commercial development by investment in infrastructure instead of the misguided Redevelopment Agency approach of offering subsidy and mostly towards residential housing.

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