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Riverbrook YMCA not obligated to spend fed’s $2M on 98 South Main

Once home to Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) and the South Norwalk Community Center, City-owned 98 South Main St. now has one occupant, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said in November. He estimated that Americares is using 30% of the building. Urban Community Action in Norwalk has rights to building space through a seven-year agreement but is not using it, according to Lo.

NORWALK, Conn. — The fate of the former “NEON” building, a City-owned property at 98 South Main St., remains uncertain despite a December announcement that a $2 million federal grant has been approved for its renovation.

Riverbrook Regional YMCA, winner of a 2019 contract to redevelop the property, is no longer legally obligated to do that work, City officials acknowledge. Yet, Riverbrook is named as the grant recipient.

In October 2020, Riverbrook unveiled concepts for an updated facility in the storied building. But sometime last year the City terminated its agreement with Riverbook, after cost estimates came in higher than the nonprofit expected. According to Mayor Harry Rilling, Riverbrook had been struggling to raise the funds for the project even before costs escalated.

The December news release from U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) said Riverbrook would “build a community center for residents in South Norwalk, offering healthy eating and exercise education, ESL classes, resources for single-parent households, healthcare for those with no insurance, STEAM/STEM education, and afterschool homework help.”

Mayor Harry Rilling “is currently in discussions with the Riverbook Regional YMCA,” Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews said in an email. “… Yes, in 2022, the agreement was terminated and as Mayor Rilling previously mentioned, the City is working with another potential community partner to provide programming and services out of the space located at 98 South Main.”

Riverbrook Regional YMCA Chief Development Officer Jarred Barnes said last month that the Mayor’s Office had been in touch. “We are aware of the possibility of another agency occupying the 98 S. Main Street facility. We at the Y are looking at the viability to partnering with them if it makes sense for both organizations and the citizens of Norwalk.”

He released this statement:

“The Riverbrook Regional YMCA is honored to receive Community Project Funding through Congressman Himes’ Office per the 2023 Fiscal Year omnibus appropriations bill which has been signed into law. Though the original nature of this $2,000,000 request was for the 98 South Main Street project, due to increasing costs with inflation for that of the Y and our partners, that project has been discontinued.

“However, this funding will be used to the benefit the citizens and children of Norwalk through programming and partnerships with other local non-profits per the revised language which HUD approved for this funding:

“‘The Riverbrook Regional YMCA will continue providing relevant and accessible programs and services by administering an inclusive plan for the children and families of Norwalk which includes program and infrastructure investments.’

 

“We thank Congressman Himes and his office once again for believing in the Y and pivoting with us to provide the citizens of Norwalk and the Riverbrook Regional YMCA with funding to further our mission of Healthy Living, Youth Development, and Social Responsibility.”

 

So where does Riverbrook plan to offer its programs?

“We plan to continue to work with our partners and provide Camp Sunrise at All Saints, along with our Race4Chase Youth Triathlon Training Camp with the Norwalk Housing Authority,” Barnes said. “The Riverbrook Regional YMCA will also continue to transport youth to the Wilton Family Y for the SwimAccess program. Possible additional programming is being considered with additional partners within the City.”

Riverbrook’s grant came as part of a $23.9 million package approved to fund 14 community projects in Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District that were advocated for by Himes, according to a Dec. 23 news release.

His office declined to comment on the Riverbrook grant.

“The Riverbrook Regional YMCA is a collaborative organization by nature, and it is our desire to continue discussions with the city on the implementation of this $2 million federal grant,” Bob McDowell, CEO of Riverbrook Regional YMCA, said Wednesday. “While the South Main Street building is no longer available, the need continues and our commitment for high quality programs and services to young people is unchanged.”

Riverbrook originally estimated it needed $4 million to enact its plan for 98 South Main, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said at the November Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting. That’s in addition to the $1.2 million the City has earmarked for the project, out of money paid by GGP as it sought additional approvals for its mall, now known as The SoNo Collection.

Riverbrook’s estimate jumped to $6 million pre-COVID, Lo continued. Over time, the price tag escalated to $9.5 million for “soft costs,” “so the project becomes like $12 million.”

Riverbrook was “not successful in their capital campaign,” Rilling said, as part of the BET discussion. “They kept asking for extensions. And we felt that continuing to give extensions would put us in a precarious position. Because we might give another year and another year and then find out we’re back where we began.”

Rilling said he reached out to the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford. “We’ve had several meetings with the executive committee of Boys and Girls Clubs. And there seems to be some interest to provide some programmatic things in that building.”

Lo expressed doubt that the renovation could be that expensive, given that it’s a 20,000-square-foot building, though he did mention a roof replacement.

The Boys and Girls Club of Stamford is seeking other estimates for the work and looking for value engineering, Rilling said, in November.

Rowena Track, Stamford Boys & Girls Club Chief Executive Officer, said Tuesday that the organization had no comment at this time.

The City had no further comment. On Jan. 27, Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said, “We will let you know when we have something to announce.”

McDowell said, “For the last 95 years, serving children and families throughout Greater Norwalk, is at the core of the Y’s mission. Since merging with the Wilton Family Y in 2015, the Riverbrook Regional YMCA’s purpose is to continue that legacy and this Community Project Funding will ensure that. From Camp Sunrise to the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon Training Camp, from swim lessons to afterschool programs to numerous other offerings families have come to count on, the Riverbrook Regional YMCA will always be there for Norwalk’s children. Moving forward, we want to keep working with the city and with other partners where appropriate to ensure this mission remains intact.”

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3 comments

Bryan Meek February 23, 2023 at 8:50 am

$12 million for a building assessed at $3 million. Sounds about right for the public construction industrial complex. Because it’s all about the kids of course

Johnny cardamone February 23, 2023 at 9:21 am

Is the city open to other faith based groups such as a church, that could make good use the space and serve the community!?

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