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CT Construction Digest Monday October 14, 2019

Republicans Wait For More Information On Lamont’s New Transportation Plan


Jordan Grice
The construction of Fairfield Metro station was supposed to be the start of grandiose plans for the area’s improvement, but instead it’s a reminder of unfulfilled promises.
It’s been more than a decade since Blackrock Realty LLC pitched a plan of massive construction around Fairfield’s third train station to make it a hub of commuter and shopping activity. Today, the area around the station remains nearly as bare of new construction as it did when Blackrock Realty first unveiled its plans.
But while development has remained in limbo, officials say the station’s grounds may finally see some movement with a fresh face leading the charge. Blackrock Realty has given over control of the project to its partner, Enclave Equities in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge, I’m sure, for these guys to wrap their head around a path that makes sense going forward, but it seems like we are very close now to seeing the fruits of that labor,” said Mark Barnhart, Fairfield’s director of economic development.
Blackrock Realty LLC
The Fairfield Metro Center development, when initially proposed in 2005, was to consist of roughly 1 million square feet of mostly office space with a mixed of retail and hotel elements to it.
Developers had wanted to pre-lease a large portion of the office space before starting construction. They eventually found that demand for that space dried up after the economy crashed about 2008.
“It was conceived at a much different time,” Barnhart said. “If they had gotten started, they probably would’ve been in a world of hurt.”
As a result, Blackrock Realty’s plans went through a series of revisions as developers tried to find the best use for the space. Among the changes were proposals for a five-story 197-unit apartment building.
Missed opportunity
Development of the site has been a topic of debate between Fairfield officials who say the site, the 35-acre former foundry off lower Black Rock Turnpike, has been dormant for too long.
“It’s just inconceivable to me why (that site) is like that,” said state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, who is running against incumbent Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau in this November’s election.

Kupchick was a member of the Representative Town Meeting when it voted to get Fairfield involved in an agreement to build the train station with Blackrock Realty and the State of Connecticut.
Blackrock Realty contributed $5.4 million to the construction of the station in exchange for the rights to build its initial commercial and residential project connected to the station. When the agreement was approved, Kupchick said, development hit setbacks after starting with a six-year permitting process that extended into the recession. According to the Republican candidate, town officials have been partially to blame for the site going undeveloped in past years.
“We have a giant space there that doesn’t have anything happening with it,” Kupchick said. “For 12 years, it hasn’t been a priority and it should’ve been. That’s a goldmine over there. That’s income that we are losing every year that we could’ve been adding to our tax rolls and taking off the burden from residents.”
Tetreau attributed the longstanding halt in development to Blackrock Realty not having the funding needed to move forward with construction. He said officials have suggested to the developers that they sell the site to a new party that would develop it.
“They don’t seem to be making progress on coming together as an ownership group on what they want to do and then putting forth a project to any of the town boards,” Tetreau said.
According to Tetreau, Blackrock Realty has declined to sell the site. Instead, it turned over leadership to Enclave.
New face, new ideas
For the past year, Enclave has been taking point on planning for the 12.5-acre site Blackrock Realty owns. “They were part of the investor mix behind Blackrock Realty and now they have kind of taken the mantle of leadership and are pursuing getting the project approved under a new development plan,” Barnhart said.
Enclave is a partner in the project, according to the company’s website, which also says the project is currently in the “planning and approval process.”
Enclave did not return several calls and emails asking for a comment for this story.
Barnhart said that the New York firm has been present during ongoing planning for Fairfield’s new transit-oriented-development study, which identifies ways the town can encourage economic development in areas near train stations. That includes mixed-use projects along with potential zone changes to improve regulations and land use in designated areas, according to Barnhart.
“There is no question that it is a key site,” Barnhart said. “We are in a much different situation today. …It makes sense to have a much more diversified plan for the site. (Enclave) has indicated their intent, and they are in the process of seeking revisions to their master plan and approval to move forward with a different development plan for the site which will be more in keeping with the town’s plans as it relates to transit oriented development.”
No formal proposals have been filed at town hall, but Barnhart said the New York firm has considered a mix of residential, retail and commercial development for the site.
Barnhart said he expects Enclave to submit a new application to planning and zoning before the end of the year.

Ferry from Stamford, Bridgeport to NYC part of Lamont plan
Kaitlyn Krasselt
A plan to bring a high speed ferry to Fairfield County, with service out of Stamford and Bridgeport to lower Manhattan, is being resurrected by Gov. Ned Lamont for his yet-to-be-released transportation plan.
The idea has been studied, considered, planned and dropped multiple times since at least 2002, and as a result, much of the work and resources for nearly everything needed to bring ferry service from Connecticut to New York City — including up to $15 million previously earmarked by the Federal Highway Administration specifically for such a project — has already been done or is in place.
Lamont met with ferry supporters in Stamford to discuss the project in early August, and has consulted with the state Department of Economic and Community Development on existing plans for the project since learning the federal funding may still be available.

“What we learned is that most of the funding for that project is basically ready to go,” said Lamont spokesman Max Reiss. “This could be a real opportunity for another mode of transportation to get folks around not just lower Fairfield County but to New York as well. With a lot of that ground work already being laid, we view it as what could be an incredible opportunity toward unleashing another mode of transportation in Fairfield County.”
The plan was dropped in 2014 after the state Department of Transportation denied a request for $1.2 million to the Bridgeport Port Authority "for a feasibility study and to complete preliminary engineering and construction of a high-speed ferry terminal" off Water Street. At that time, the money was to come out of a section of the state budget, passed in 2013, dedicated to improving ports and marinas, and the Port Authority was relying on federal grants for additional financing. Stamford had already pulled out of the plan, hurting the feasibility of the project. The City of Stamford backed out of the plan in 2013 following a $50,000 study by the Beta Group in Hartford that examined the idea of establishing a ferry service to Manhattan at the southwest end of Atlantic Street. At the time, the city’s economic development director said there was difficulty projecting demand for the service, and the city was still waiting to learn if Bridgewater Associates would open an office in Stamford, which they anticipated could impact demand. So the city ended the project but did not rule out future opportunities for a ferry service.

The Westport-based hedge fund has since moved a portion of its workforce to offices on the southwest end of Atlantic Street, and Stamford’s South End has seen substantial residential and commercial development in the years since the plan for a ferry terminal was last canceled.
A 2013 assessment by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the City of Stamford also found that the ferry service would require a substantial annual subsidy to operate. That could still pose a problem in developing the service.
“The hope would be to partner with a private operator to make it like a public-private partnership,” Reiss said. “At the end of the day all public transportation is publicly subsidized to some degree so we would explore it, but the hope would be to provide the service at an affordable cost. We’re looking at it because we see potential opportunity here.”
Reiss said new market research and environmental impact studies would need to be conducted for a ferry service in both Bridgeport and Stamford. In Bridgeport, Reiss said the ferry would work in tandem with the existing ferry service to Port Jefferson on Long Island, with the Bridgeport ferry terminal located under I-95 near the existing site. He said it is unclear if there would be back-and-forth service between Stamford and Bridgeport, but said the route from Bridgeport to Manhattan and back would include stops in Stamford.
Because the project never moved forward in Stamford, the state paid back $305,727 in Federal Highway Administration funds as reimbursement for a 2007 feasibility study by the city. But those funds are assumed to still available as part of the $15 million earmarked by the Federal Highway Administration for a ferry project since 2002, Reiss said. A November 2012 draft copy of the Beta Group's feasibility study concluded that the development of a high-speed ferry service to Manhattan from Stamford could be successful, according to reporting by the Stamford Advocate at the time. The study projected a potential ferry ridership of 1,900 commuters per day from the Atlantic Street site by 2035 using 90-foot long catamaran vessels with a capacity of 149 passengers, and assumed some passengers would pay a monthly fare of $500.
The draft report also estimated a ferry terminal at the southwest end of Atlantic Street would cost between $12.2 million and $12.7 million, and estimated an additional $8.8 million to $9.5 million would be needed to build a 250-space parking garage for passengers. It is unclear if this would still be the preferred location for a ferry terminal in Stamford.
Ted Ferrarone, Chief Operating Officer of Building and Land Technology, a major developer of Stamford’s South End, said the development of a ferry service has previously been discussed, but he was unaware of any current plans for such a project.
 “It’s one of these things that it’s surprising that there is not a robust ferry service because when you look at other locations that have it and when you look at the amount of congestion that is on the highway, it seems like something that would be there,” said Joseph McGee, vice president of the Fairfield County Business Council.
McGee, who said he hasn’t been contacted about the potential resurrection of the ferry plan, was part of the original discussions regarding a ferry service from Fairfield County to Manhattan. Those discussions also included the development of a ferry terminal in Glen Cove on Long Island, which is now slated to begin service in May of 2020.
“If that money is still available, it’s worth looking at, no question,” McGee said. “There are some very big hurdles. We put a lot of effort into this a few years ago and it just never came to fruition ... If there is money still available it would be perfectly legitimate to examine something that didn’t work five or six years ago.”

Details of Vineyard Wind’s offshore wind bid unveiled
Kimberly Drelich
Vineyard Wind on Friday unveiled details of its offshore wind proposal centered on Bridgeport, an initiative that would create "thousands of jobs" and "help make offshore wind a statewide industry," the company said in an announcement.
The "Park City Wind" proposal comes as the New Bedford, Mass.-based company bids into Connecticut's request for proposals for offshore wind projects alongside Ørsted and Eversource and Mayflower Wind. The state said it is preparing to make a decision next month.
“Our commitment to Connecticut is significant,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen said in a statement. “We see a future with thriving ports in both New London and Bridgeport and manufacturers in every corner of the state working to literally lift this industry off the ground in the U.S. If Park City Wind is selected, the jobs and economic opportunities created by this project will be available in the region for decades to come.”
Vineyard Wind, which owns leases in waters south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, would plan to transform Barnum Landing, an underused part of Bridgeport Harbor, into a manufacturing and staging facility, Pedersen said in a call with reporters. After the construction phase, Vineyard Wind would turn it into "a long-term hub" for at least 25 years for workers servicing the offshore wind operation.
Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables, submitted five different projects in response to Connecticut's request for proposals, from 400 megawatts to up to 1,200 megawatts, the equivalent of powering 600,000 homes annually, Pedersen said.
 "... Park City Wind could generate upwards of $1.6 billion in direct economic benefits and create as many as 12,000 direct, indirect, and induced full-time equivalent (FTE) job years across Connecticut," the release stated.
Among other partnerships, Vineyard Wind's proposal calls for partnering with Mystic Aquarium and the University of Connecticut on researching the impact of noise and other marine construction activities on North Atlantic right whales and other marine species, Pedersen said. Commercial fisheries also will be studied, according to the release.
“The investment that Vineyard Wind is making in better understanding how to maximize the environmental benefits of this technology in design, installation and operation is extraordinarily important," Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Mystic Aquarium, said in a statement. "Vineyard Wind understands that the question is not whether ocean wind technology is beneficial; it is how to make it more beneficial for the whole ecosystem.”
Over the last 18 months, offshore wind has been rapidly growing in the United States, with states from Virginia to Massachusetts, announcing procurements, Pedersen said.
In Connecticut, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is seeking proposals "from providers of energy derived from offshore wind facilities that are Class I renewable energy sources" for as much as 2,000 megawatts in total, states the request for proposals issued in August. DEEP has received proposals from three bidders, according to Kristina Rozek, department director of communications.
The bids were due Sept. 30. Rozek said the agency is working diligently to be able to make selection decisions in November.
Vineyard Wind, Ørsted and Eversource, and Mayflower Wind, a joint venture of Shell New Energies and EDPR Renewables North America, submitted the bids. Mayflower's bids included 800 megawatt and 400 megawatt proposals, The Day reported.
Ports in high demand
Ørsted and Eversource, which held a groundbreaking this week for its new office on Bank Street in New London, have submitted proposals as part of its Constitution Wind project, 65 miles from the New London shoreline.
"Following up on the selection of our Revolution Wind project by the state and our investment to turn New London State Pier into a world-class offshore wind center, our proposed Constitution Wind project will be delivered by the industry’s leading experts to ensure the project is achievable, sustainable and successful for Connecticut,” Ørsted North America President and Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind CEO Thomas Brostrøm said in the announcement at the end of last month.
Vineyard Wind is "watching with great interest" as Ørsted and Eversource negotiate with the Connecticut Port Authority on the plan to upgrade State Pier into a hub to accommodate the offshore wind industry.
With states looking into offshore wind energy "up and down the Eastern seaboard," Vineyard's CEO said that his company sees the need for several ports to be developed for staging and construction — and even more facilities for the manufacturing, operation and maintenance — of wind farm components. Pedersen said there are "very few ports that don't sit behind bridges or other obstruction, and Connecticut is very fortunate that it actually has two such ports": New London and Bridgeport.
"We would need to work with all the ports that are being made available," he said, and his company would make an effort in a public-private partnership to develop new assets. If New London were available, he said his company could see it being used for this project and potentially others.
"We expected to be a significant player in this industry and both New London and Bridgeport are interesting to us," he said. "We know there is another tenant in New London and we're following that with great interest but in the big picture, we need to develop more of these port facilities ..." He said the company thinks Bridgeport is an "excellent starting point."
The Connecticut Port Authority has been under scrutiny in recent months. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, announced in a news release Friday that he requested a second public hearing on the Connecticut Port Authority, in light of a "whistleblower's" comments to the news media.
Last month, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, also called for another hearing.

East Lyme officials deliberate future police building costs and plans
Mary Biekert           
East Lyme — Town officials are deliberating how to complete renovations within their allotted budget for a future policing and public safety facility after recently being presented with higher-than-expected architectural estimates for the project.
Voters in a February referendum approved spending up to $5 million to purchase and renovate the former 30,000-square-foot Honeywell office building at 277 West Main St. into a consolidated space that would host a new police facility, as well as the town’s dispatch center, fire marshal’s office and emergency operations center.
Having closed on the building in May for $2.77 million, the town is left with an approximate $2.23 million budget for renovations.
But contracted architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates said, after completing an initial "needs assessment" of the building with town officials, that renovations could cost upward of $5.8 million, according to an in-depth presentation the architects gave to the Public Safety Building Vision Committee on Sept. 26.
With a $3.6 million difference between the architect’s initial $5.8 million estimate and the $2.2 million budgeted by the town for those renovations, some town officials have voiced their skepticism of the overall building plan, sparking a political hot-button topic over social media as Election Day nears. Some have questioned whether the town can complete the renovations on budget, as was promised to taxpayers, and if so, whether it will offer residents the promised value they voted for.
First Selectman Mark Nickerson — who took an active role in presenting the proposed public safety building to voters and town officials last year and who sits as an ex-officio member of the Public Safety Building Vision Committee — maintains that renovations will come in on budget and within the scope promised. He says the initial estimates provided by architects were only a “wish list” of sorts, outlining a “down to the beam” renovation “that we never intended to do” but which town officials needed to see before proceeding.
“This is a preliminary snapshot of what it would look like if we wanted to do everything in the building and build it as new,” Nickerson said in an interview. It includes “a new roof that doesn’t need to be done. New air handlers, which don’t need to be done. A new parking lot to be torn up and redone, which doesn’t need to be done.”
“The initial plan was to buy the building and get it to a place — not with new ceiling tiles and LED lighting and a new beautiful parking lot and whatever else shiny and new — where we could move police in as quickly as possible,” Nickerson said.
At a follow-up meeting held with the Vision Committee on Monday, Nickerson said he emphasized that the committee and architects need to stay within the $2.2 million budget moving forward.
The architects “know they need to bring in a new plan, with new parameters, at our $2.2 million price,” Nickerson said to The Day after that meeting. “They did their due diligence in the first meeting. They must go through a building to be renovated, and go through every mechanical, everything, light switches, carpet ... and they did. If we renovated it as new, it costs $5.8 million.”
As part of Silver/Petrucelli's presentation on Sept. 26, principal architect William Silver and project architect Brian Cleveland, both of Silver/Petrucelli, and Will Walter, a senior project manager from engineering consulting firm Alfred Benesch & Company, thoroughly outlined the retrofitting needed to turn the now-business office into a public safety facility. They detailed exterior site work, building renovations and remodeling needed in various parts of the building, including a holding cell area, an emergency operations center and a dispatch and communications center, as well as various building and Americans with Disabilities Act code requirements the town would need to adhere to.
Architects also provided a “facility conditions analysis,” in which they ranked on a scale of one to four — with one being the highest priority — the need for certain replacements within the building, including its HVAC systems, parking lots and roofs.
As part of their assessment, architects suggested that things such as an elevator, costing about $100,000, are high priorities, while a new roof, costing more than $370,000, is less of a priority.
A cost breakdown showed that renovations, which were proposed to cover 22,537 square feet, would cost about $248 per square foot.
As part of the Sept. 26 meeting, Vision Committee Chair Paul Dagle, who is also a selectman, said the committee needed to obtain all the building code requirements needed for the building from the town’s building official before proceeding with the plans.
In a phone interview with The Day this week, Dagle said he believed a better deal within the town's allotted budget could be worked out with the architects, though he said it would take some time and effort, as well as clear communication between architects and the committee.
Lisa Picarazzi, a committee member and the Democratic vice chair of the finance board, who has been skeptical of the police building proposal since it was first announced by Nickerson last November, said by phone last week that she is deeply concerned with the provided figures and felt that what the architects presented wasn't a “wish list” but rather a realistic outline of changes needed for the building.
She added that even if renovations could be completed under $2.2. million, she questioned whether the town would be skimping on aspects needed to ensure a quality public safety building.
Picarazzi also questioned the validity of the proposal that her finance board passed in January under what she described as undue pressure by the task force that researched the building.
Passing the proposal in January
The Board of Finance voted during a Jan. 23 special meeting to decrease the amount the town is allowed to bond out for the project, unanimously approving $5 million — $2.77 million to purchase the building and $2.23 million for renovations. That was below the initial nearly $6 million request based on estimates Nickerson and the task force obtained from experts.
Cutting $1 million from the original request, the board acknowledged, would mean potentially putting off installing proposed holding cells, estimated to cost $1 million.
Picarazzi said the Board of Finance passed that $5 million figure without seeing detailed price list estimates for renovations or official inspections of the building — even though they requested to see this documentation — and passed the proposal on the promises provided to them by Nickerson and the task force researching the building.
Nickerson had, in that meeting, argued the new building was needed, stating that the police force has been operating under less-than-ideal conditions in a small building on Main Street, which the town leases from Millstone Power Station owner Dominion Energy for $1 a year. Building owner Honeywell Building Technologies and the town had negotiated a deal for the town to purchase the new building within a specific time frame and Nickerson said that a better deal couldn’t be found.
In public presentations detailing the proposal, Nickerson and the task force — which included Fire Marshal Chris Taylor and police Chief Mike Finkelstein — told voters that the new building was in good condition and suitable to be used as a public safety building.
In Board of Finance meeting minutes from Jan. 23, Picarazzi and board members Jason Pazzaglia and Camille Alberti — who is running for first selectman as a Democrat — questioned whether it was wise to proceed with the plans before seeing a detailed price breakdown of the renovations.
The town did not hire architects to provide estimates before February’s referendum, due to a lack of funding, Nickerson has said, but fielded estimates pro bono from experts, specifically Tom Gardner, a crisis management and risk mitigation expert who was on the task force.
Alberti said at that meeting she felt uncomfortable appropriating $6 million for the project, of which $3.2 million would be used toward renovations, “without the building blocks to justify it.”
After now seeing initial renovation estimates, both Alberti and Picarazzi in separate interviews last week expressed worries that the project has been rushed and was not thoroughly or methodically planned out to begin with.
Moving forward
Nickerson has provided The Day with documents detailing an environmental study, conducted by a contractor hired by Honeywell in January for the purposes of the sale, and asbestos testing performed earlier this year by private contractors hired by the town before it purchased the building.
Both studies cleared the building of environmental and asbestos concerns. The environmental study found no concerns with the building’s 650-foot-deep water well, according to tests performed in late 2018.
Nickerson also has told The Day that Building Official Steve Way, town engineer and deputy director of public works Bill Scheer and Fire Marshal Chris Taylor each inspected the building early last spring before the town closed on the purchase, going over the building’s systems, including its HVAC, as well as the walls and roof. Nickerson has not yet provided documentation detailing this.
Way, in an interview last week, also detailed which renovations would be needed for the police force to move into the building and he said he believed it could be done “well within budget.”
He said certain areas of the building, such as the emergency operations center and a holding cell area, would be required to follow stricter building codes, while other office areas could be exempt from those requirements.
Way and Nickerson said the town had not yet confirmed details with the state building official but modification waivers to allow those exemptions could be obtained.
Nickerson added that because the holding cell of the building is estimated to cost $1 million, Vision Committee officials will begin discussing how and when to build that part of the facility, as well as how to finance it — either through a $1 million appropriation, to be approved by voters, or by cutting from other areas of next year's town budget.
Nickerson said a follow-up meeting of the architects and committee is expected to be scheduled next week, and the committee then will have a better idea of which aspects of the renovation plans need to be scaled back and what’s absolutely necessary to get the police in that building “as quickly and safely as possible.”


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