NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk developer reaped what appears to some to be a huge profit when he sold his West Avenue property recently, scuttling his long fought-for mixed use development and sending Norwalk down a road that may result in a shopping mall just off Interstate 95.
Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners sold the decade-long “bombsite” at West Avenue and North Water Street Extension to General Growth Properties (GGP) – a company known for building malls – for $35 million in late November, according to records in the Town Clerk’s Office. He bought it for $26,970,000 from Fred F. French Investing LLC in July 2005, operating as 95/7 Ventures, records say. In between, Fowler and a team of lawyers and architects appeared at many Norwalk government meetings, seeking and gaining approval of plans for a mixed use development, dubbed 95/7, which originally called for 600,000 square feet of office space, 125,000 square feet of retail space, 300 residential units and a 150-room hotel.
Nothing was ever built, in spite of a groundbreaking held just before the 2011 election and a construction permit pulled for the property on Aug. 9 at a cost of $39,304.50.
This leads some Norwalk residents to think there has been a scam.
“Developers don’t ever build because they know they can ultimately make money by just collecting land giveaways and incentives from the city and then sell the land,” a NancyOnNorwalk reader said in an email.
Fowler did not return a phone call asking for a response to that allegation.
While it might look like the developer reaped $8 million for selling the property without doing much to it, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said the developer paid carrying costs for the property, including taxes and mortgage interest.
Norwalk tax assessment technician Jason Hanlon could only find tax records back to 2008. Those added up to $428,210.
There were also pre-development costs, Sheehan said.
“They took this project into design build plans,” he said. “They went through a entitlement process associated with this site. All of that has been costs that are gone.”
How much might that have been?
“It’s not my place to disclose that for them but it’s a substantial amount of money,” Sheehan said. “You’re into the millions of dollars, not into the $50,000, $60,000 (range), because this project was huge. They had architects, engineers, everything else.”
The company also paid to demolish Maritime Motors, the only building left on the site when it was bought, Sheehan said. Plus, the property was refinanced in February, with the ownership shifted from 95/7 Ventures to 95/7 Enterprises.
About $26 million in public funding was spent on improving the infrastructure around the 12-acre site, which comprises parcels 1, 2 and 4 of the Reed-Putnam Urban Renewal Plan, Sheehan said. That includes widening West Avenue and the North Water Street extension, where there are new traffic lights that are years away from seeing use. The city bonded $6 million for the project and $20 million came from the state.
Spinnaker no longer owns any of the property that was proposed to be 95/7, Sheehan said.