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Norwalk Nonprofit Hunts for new Home

Christi Pope has been getting some unexpected lessons in real estate. "Renting is like buying. I didn't know that," said Pope, director of Christian Community Action . "Usually when you rent residentially you just take it or leave it. But apparently in commercial, it's a more complex lease arrangement."

Pope is looking for commercial space because her nonprofit group has been asked to leave the Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now building, its home since the 1980s. NEON Executive Director Joseph Mann says it's a matter of space: "We have four nonprofit organizations in this building, and we are all just pressed for space. ... Our activities have grown, their activities have grown, and we're just pressed for space."

Christian Community Action has 986 square feet at NEON, located at 98 S. Main St. Pope's group was asked to leave in early December and given a deadline of Feb. 28. Last week, Pope asked Mann for an extension. Even if she found a site and worked out a deal with the landlord, the space would have to be built to its specifications.

Some progress has been made. The group was granted zoning as a community center, which opens up the kinds of spaces available. A woman who does interior design work volunteered to help for free, which Pope called an "incredible blessing." Students at Fairfield University will do the architectural work at no cost.

And she's gotten real estate advice from Norwalk's director of marketing and business development. "Tad Diesel said to me, 'Christi, you know that the amount of space that you want for the price that you are willing to pay does not exist,'" Pope said. "I said, 'Yes, Tad I know that.' We need a philanthropic landlord or a very generous backer."

Pope said she is realistic but hopeful. "We have looked at some spaces right in this four-block radius, which is where we would really like to be," she said. And she has made her first bid. "We're in the negotiations for our first space and still looking at other spaces," Pope said.

On Wednesday, Mann said he hadn't thought about an extension. Sitting in his expansive office, he said no one in the building has a place to sit and eat lunch, except at his or her desks. There are no places for groups to meet, either.

He said he has ideas for the space occupied by Pope's group but isn't discussing them. "It's not that we have any problem with CCA," Mann said. "We've been co-existing with them a lot of time." NEON'S clients use the action group's services, he said, so he wants the organization to thrive.

"I'm sure it will work out," Mann said. "They've got a lot of good friends, they've got a lot of supporters and there are spaces available. ... I certainly wish them well."

Do you know of a landlord or group that could help the Christian Community Action group? Send an email to nchapman@mainstreetconnect.us .

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