Fairfield Metro Center back on track

Public-private partnership back on track for 1,500-space parking lot

FAIRFIELD -- With the developer kicking in $5.2 million, state and local officials announced Thursday that construction of a 1,500-car parking lot and access road at the town's third train station on lower Black Rock Turnpike will move forward.

The Metro Center, a public-private partnership, became bogged down when developer Blackrock Realty began to feel the effects of a weakening economy and ended up in foreclosure on its portion of the 33-acre site. The state Department of Transportation had already begun its share of the project, building a bridge into the property, the train platforms and pedestrian access.

"We will be bidding the project out over the month," First Selectman Kenneth Flatto said. "It's important to understand that this is a win-win for the town and the region."

Blackrock Realty has restructured its loan with TD Bank, according to principal Kurt Wittek, which has allowed them to put up the $5.2 million toward portions of the public project it originally agreed to finance. Prior to this new agreement, there was concern that funds would not be available immediately to construct the full parking lot and the access road.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Jeff Parker said the $5.2 million, along with the $19.4 million bonded by the state and $5 million committed from the town, will cover the costs of the parking lot, access road, drainage plan, wetlands and shoreland remediation, site regrading, soil capping, utilities and retaining walls.

As Gov. M. Jodi Rell touted the benefits of mass transit, a train riding past the future station tooted its horn. She said the new agreement between the town, the state and Blackrock Realty "finally came together" after many months of negotiations. "At 6:10 last night we finally crossed every `T' and dotted every `I,' " Rell said. "This has been a long time coming but it will be the catalyst to moving this along."

The private portion of the development is supposed to include five office buildings, some retail space and a hotel. Wittek said he believes with the train station work moving forward, they will be able to secure tenants for the proposed development. "We've been kind of on hold," he said, adding that before the economy went sour, they had heard from quite a few interested tenants.

Flatto said it is in the town's best interests to get the public train station done in order to drive the development of the private portion.

"As soon as the construction (on the lot and roadway) starts to go in, we'll actively seek an anchor tenant," Wittek said.

DeeDee Brandt, a former Representative Town Meeting member, candidate for state representative and vocal critic of the Metro Center project, was in attendance at the announcement but declined to comment because she said she did not have any details on the new agreement.

RTM Moderator James Walsh, who is expected to fill the vacancy on the Board of Selectmen left by the death of Ralph Bowley, said, "I'm glad we're finally moving forward with this project; it's been like nine years in the making." He said it will be good for the local economy "if we could finally get this thing off the ground."

Town Attorney Richard Saxl said the new agreement does not need to go before any town bodies for approval. "The original bonding resolution gave the first selectman the authority to do such things necessary as to effect the intent of the three-party agreement," Saxl said.