NORWALK, Conn. – The old “NEON building” would be turned into a state-of-the-art community center under a proposal set to come forward to the Norwalk Common Council.
The Riverbrook Regional YMCA would put up $1.2 million and the City of Norwalk would contribute an equal amount from money collected from GGP as part of the approval of The SoNo Collection, to begin renovations of 98 South Main St., Mayor Harry Rilling and Riverbrook Regional YMCA Chief Executive Officer Robert McDowell said in a Thursday press conference. The YMCA is prepared to enter a long-term lease, after answering a Request for Proposals (RFP) a year ago.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
“We did a feasibility study. We talked to community members to help us understand what’s out there to support in an environment like this, where we could thrive with a facility like this and renovate,” McDowell said.
The building has sat underused since the demise of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) in 2014, a bankruptcy that took years to unravel. In August 2018, the Common Council voted to buy the South Norwalk Community Center’s half of the building, gaining control of the entire property. The City then put out its RFP.
Norwalk lost its YMCA in 2012, when it closed due to the dilapidated state of the building.
“We never really left Norwalk,” McDowell said. “We didn’t have a swimming pool. We didn’t have a gymnasium, but we were in a couple of school sites and we were serving children in this community after school.”
The YMCA intends to keep AmeriCares in operation in the building, and “hopefully” expand its space, McDowell said. The South Norwalk Community Center will continue and the Norwalk Housing Authority may offer programs in the new facility. Renovations are expected to total up to $5 million and “I have no doubt that we’re going to be able to help fund this.”
GGP, then-developer of The SoNo Collection, in 2017 agreed to pay Norwalk $3.5 million because it was dropping its plan for a hotel over the mall. The company expressed a desire for the funds to help South Norwalk. The $500,000 deal with SoNoCC came from the $3.5 million, as well.
Rilling said the City would also seek State funding for the project.
A teen center is planned for the new facility, as well as arts and music programming. There will be a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) component, McDowell said, joking that no one wanted to use the acronym STEAM because of the old Y’s issues.
“If you remember the old Y, we had a gymnasium and swimming pool,” he said. “We’re not going to have a gymnasium and a swimming pool here, but we’re going to serve the community with multipurpose space that will be available to different groups throughout the day throughout the week.”
A community kitchen is planned, to teach “young children and families, or anybody who’d like to learn a little bit more culinary,” McDowell said.
“This is really an exciting, exciting time, because we’re energizing this area for people to come down to get the services that they might need to have recreation,” Rilling said. “And if you look at the renderings here, it’s absolutely phenomenal…. what an addition to the South Norwalk area.”
NEON founder Bobby Burgess was on hand as well.
“I like the revitalization,” Burgess said. “It was dormant for a long time. So, we need to bring the spirit back into the community. I’d say the Y can do a good job. Let’s work with them and make sure the service is available to the community, what it was before.”
“An ad-hoc committee of the Common Council reviewed the RFP and has been working with the YMCA and other community leaders on this proposal,” a press release said. “The committee included Council President and Land Use and Building Management Committee Chair Tom Livingston, fellow committee members Greg Burnett and Barbara Smyth, and District B Council members Ernie Dumas and Darlene Young…. This proposal is still subject to authorization from the Board of Estimate and Taxation and approval by the Common Council. Both votes are scheduled to take place in the coming months.”