Apartments, not retail, likely first up at Fairfield Metro
Updated 6:13 pm, Thursday, July 12, 2012
The nearly 1-million-square-foot commercial development planned next to the Fairfield Metro train station may begin sooner than initially thought.
Kurt Wittek, a managing director at Blackrock Realty, LLC, said Wednesday night that his firm is proposing that an apartment building replace a retail building envisioned on the 35.5-acre property at 21 Black Rock Turnpike.
"I have my financing lined up for the apartment building. Once it's approved, I'm going to build it immediately," Wittek said at a meeting of the local environmental group, "Green Drinks," at Captain's Cove Seaport in Bridgeport. "We're hoping that, by itself, could kick-start the overall momentum of the project and say to the world that we're alive and well."
The proposed apartment building would be five stories, total about 240,000 square feet and house 197 apartments, ranging in size from about 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet, Wittek said. About 60 percent of the apartments would have one bedroom, 30 percent would have two bedrooms and most of the remaining apartments would be studios, along with one or two three-bedroom apartments. Monthly rent would range from $1,500 to $3,500, Wittek said.
The apartment building would be located on the other side of an interior road from Fairfield Metro's rail commuter parking spaces, Wittek said.
"I think that it's a smarter, more importantly compatible, use to have some critical mass of residents there that can walk across the street and get on a train," Wittek said. "The site on which we're building the apartments is a stand-alone site and works very well for residential."
The developer added that apartments are "very much in demand" and Fairfield County had a "very real shortage of rental space." Replacing the proposed 30,000-square-foot retail building with an apartment building requires approval of Fairfield's land-use boards, and Wittek said he anticipates they will review the proposed change later this month.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who attended the meeting, declined to say what he thought of replacing the retail building with an apartment building because the proposed change has yet to go through land-use boards and he is an ex-officio member of those bodies.
But Tetreau said he wants to see construction begin on the property. "We need to get something moving there as soon as we can. The town has invested, at this point, 13½ million dollars. I'm looking to get something developed there so we can get it back," he said.
If the commercial development is fully built out, it should generate about $6 million a year in tax revenue to the town, Wittek said.
The first office building that Wittek plans to build -- the Concourse -- would be incorporated into the train station, which opened Dec. 5, and have 166,000 square feet of office space above a first floor that would include retail space, as well as a waiting room and bathrooms for rail commuters.
In the past, Wittek said he needed a high percentage of space in a proposed office building pre-leased before he could build it and that the sluggish economy prevented that from happening. On Wednesday night, Wittek said Blackrock Realty is actively seeking tenants for the proposed office buildings. "I've made presentations to dozens of companies, spoken at brokerage events and we're keeping as many tentacles out there as we can," he said.
Of potential office tenants, Wittek said, "The list is a little shorter than it was six months ago, but I have two very real prospects that we're discussing things with, but we'll see."
Blackrock Realty's proposed commercial development also still envisions a Hilton hotel, Wittek said. "I'm still an approved Hilton franchise," he said. "We're looking to partner with a developer of hotels and have had ongoing conversations with seven to eight different hotel development companies, [none] of which is ready to build a new 200-room, full-service hotel."
The Board of Selectmen was scheduled last week to discuss naming the interior road in the Fairfield Metro Center development "Daly Drive" after the late Michael J. Daly who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War II. But the selectmen postponed their discussion after Tetreau said town officials want to discuss the idea with Daly's family.
Wittek on Wednesday said he fully supports that idea and offered to pay for the design and installation of a plaque that honors Daly. "I think it's a great idea," he said.
Wittek was invited to speak at the "Green Drinks" meeting because his proposed commercial development is designed to encourage people to use mass transit and to reduce the number of cars on Interstate 95. The Concourse building is supposed to be constructed to the gold-level standards set by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Laura Schultz of Shelton, a member of "Green Drinks," said she was glad Wittek spoke to the group and that he had "a good plan to bring some business and revenue into the town of Fairfield."
"It would be an economic boon to the town of Fairfield," Schultz said, adding that it would reduce the need to drive because necessities of life would be within walking distance of office workers and people living in the proposed apartment building.