NORWALK, Conn. – Dirt is the word on West Avenue, where one Norwalk project appears to be on hold and another has passed a milestone. But over on Wall Street, there are no apparent signs of progress on another hoped-for jewel in the Norwalk's crown, POKO Partners Wall Street Place.
Demolition on Waypointe resumed last week after a four-month delay caused by the discovery of asbestos in a hidden foundation, said Tim Sheehan, executive director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. "I believe their building permits are waiting in place and ready to be pulled," he said. "I believe that they're anticipating to be commencing site work within the next few weeks. The first step of that would be, obviously, preparing the foundation work."
Sheehan understands the skepticism of many Norwalk residents. "The developer is very intent. The approvals are pretty much in place for Phase 2. They're communicated back to us that they're anticipating both Phases 1 and 2 will be complete in 20 months, but they've allowed themselves a 27-month construction window."
There has been a pleasant surprise: Belpointe Capital was confident it would find renters for the 400 apartments it is building at Waypointe but not so sure of renters for the commercial space the project includes. "They indicated that they were skeptical of that market going in, but they were pleasantly surprised as to how strong that market has been," Sheehan said. "It's a positive, because that was a question mark."
But on the other side of Interstate 95, nothing is happening at Sono 95/7, although developer Clayton Fowler of Spinnaker Partners obtained approval from the Common Council last August for a site modification. "They've been negotiating with their bank of record to get a release price to begin that construction and have yet to be successful in those negotiations," Sheehan said.
Because Spinnaker has proposed shifting around the plan for the property, "the bank has got to approve what they're releasing that piece of development for," Sheehan said.
Meanwhile, Ken Olsen of POKO Partners is attempting to secure a number of state-driven financing components for Wall Street Place, Sheehan said. The most significant component is a $5 million urban act grant from the state, which POKO applied for before the end of last year. It has the support of Mayor Richard Moccia and some members of the state delegation. Monday night, the Common Council's planning committee drafted a resolution supporting the grant to send to the full council for a vote.
"The developer has indicated that if that piece of the puzzle comes into play that will give the project significant leverage to move forward into construction," Sheehan said.
Would Sheehan make a bet that Olsen will get his grant?
"I don't know," he said. "It becomes a question of public financing – from the public financing aspect, it's a relatively large request when you take it from the aggregate. But if you just look at the urban act alone, it's not unusual in size. The Waypointe development got a similar $5 million urban act award from the state of Connecticut for public infrastructure. The urban act for Reed Putnam was $20 million, so it's not out of scale."
POKO has also submitted paperwork that indicates Citibank has increased the amount of its commitment, as well as term sheets from Connecticut Housing Finance Authority for the tax credit component and a debt component. There is a letter from their proposed syndicator for their tax credits for new markets and an indication of equity financing.
"The question becomes in terms of all of the aspects, the top end debt that CFHA is looking at and the grant component that DECD is looking at for the affordable units, it's significant, but then again the project is significant in terms of what it's putting back in," Sheehan said. "This project is looking at 30 percent affordable. Affordable housing is not free.
"This particular project meets all of the governor's cornerstones for affordable housing investment. It's in an urban area, it's close to transit, it's green, it's centrally located to jobs, it's starts to resonate with all of the administration's housing objectives."