Officials hail new deal to finish town's third RR station
With a private developer kicking in $5.2 million, state and local officials announced Thursday a deal to keep construction of the town's third railroad station on track, with financing to ensure completion within 15 months of a 1,500-car commuter parking lot and access road.
The Fairfield Metro Center, a public-private partnership, became bogged down when the developer, Blackrock Realty LLC, saw its financing collapse because of the weakening economy and its share of the 33-acre site off lower Black Rock Turnpike was foreclosed on.
But the project got a high-profile boost as Gov. M. Jodi Rell joined state and local officials at the site Thursday to confirm allocation of $19.4 million in state bonding for the project, which, with additional town and private financing of more than $10 million, should ensure completion of the depot.
The state Department of Transportation has already been working for months on its part of the project, constructing platforms for rail passengers and a bridge into the property from Kings Highway East. In addition, a pedestrian walkway between the passenger platforms and an elevator to provide access for the disabled are also under way.
"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."
Since being in foreclosure, Blackrock Realty has restructured its loan with TD Bank, according to Blackrock principal Kurt Wittek. The restructured loan has allowed the developer to put up $5.2 million for portions of the public project it originally agreed to finance. Prior to the agreement announced Thursday, questions arose over whether there would be money to construct the full parking lot and access road.
DOT Deputy Commissioner Jeff Parker said that Blackrock's $5.2 million, along with the $19.4 million bonded by the state and $5 million committed by the town, will cover the costs of the parking lot, access road, drainage plan of the former foundry site, wetlands and shoreline remediation at Ash Creek, site regrading, soil capping, utilities and retaining walls.
As Rell touted the benefits of mass transit, a train passing through the future station tooted its horn. She said the new agreement between the town, the state and Blackrock Realty "finally came together" after months of negotiations. "At 6:10 last night, we finally crossed every `T' and dotted every `I'," the governor said. "This has been a long time coming but it will be the catalyst to moving this along."
The private portion of Fairfield Metro Center was initially supposed to include five office buildings, some retail space and a hotel, comprising about 1 million total square feet. Wittek said he believes with construction of the train station moving forward, the developers hope to secure tenants for the proposed development. "We've been kind of on hold," he said, adding that before the nation's economy went sour, the developers had heard from quite a few interested tenants.
"As soon as the construction [on the lot and roadway] starts to go in, we'll actively seek an anchor tenant," Wittek said.
Flatto said it is in the town's best interest to get the train station done, which then could provide an impetus for the commercial/retail project. The private portion of the project would be among the town's top taxpayers, if built to the full extent of the original plans.
DeeDee Brandt, a former Representative Town Meeting member, candidate for state representative and vocal critic of the way in which the Fairfield Metro Center project has been handled so far, was on hand for announcement of the new agreement, but declined to comment because she said she did not have details on the deal.
RTM Moderator James Walsh, who is expected 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 boards or commissions 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.
The town will manage the remaining work, which is supposed to start in June and include:
• Building the commuter parking for about 1,500 vehicles on 10 acres of the site.
• Construction of a new roadway through the site for public access, on land now deeded from the private owner to the town.
• A drainage cleanup plan, as well as remediating nearly 10 acres of wetlands and shoreline as required by local and state permits.
• Regrading and capping soil and utilities.