For decades, the Glenbrook Community Center had played a vital role in the neighborhood—serving as both a community hub and service provider. Many kids took dance lessons and attended events, while those in need attended AA meetings or found resources in the building.
But even before the pandemic—which forced the center to close—city officials said they had been looking for a provider to run the center. The city sent out a request for proposals (RFP) in 2018-19 and received few responses, even after it brought in local nonprofits to review the site. In 2020, the city sent out a request for proposals to renovate the property, which is a historic building in the city, and include affordable housing on the site. Crescent Housing Partners LLC was selected as the developer for the site and plans to construct 51 affordable units on site.
However, members of the Board of Representatives and members of the community are hoping the board will reconsider and send out another request for proposals for someone to run the building as a community center.
On August 23, the Legislative and Rules Committee voted 3-4 to recommend rejecting the Crescent Housing Partners proposal, despite pleas from the mayor, city staff, and other residents to provide much needed affordable housing. Any member of the Board of Representatives can bring up the item to the full board during the Legislative and Rules section, which is expected to happen at the full Board of Representatives meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m.
How Did Stamford Get Here
According to Sandy Dennies, the city’s director of administration, the city put out a RFP in 2018-2019 for an operator to come in and run the building as a community center. She said that they conducted multiple walkthroughs of the site with potential bidders and ultimately ended up with one bidder that was not prepared to run the whole facility.
“Because of that we had a member of the staff walk several nonprofits through in 2020,” she said. “That did not produce any results.”
Dennies said that was because the property “needed too many repairs.” She said the administration then “came up with plan B,” which was for the facility to be used for affordable housing. That plan went through the city’s Planning Board, Zoning Board, and Board of Representatives committees in the fall of 2020 before the RFP was put out.
“We had 3 responses to the RFP and the strongest of them is the one that is before [the committee],” she said. “We are not doing this in a vacuum; we have done this over several years.”
However, members of the Board of Representatives were critical of the city in part for letting the property fall into disrepair.
“The reason this is in disrepair is because we let it,” said Representative Sean Boeger. “Now we're going to come by and say, “this is a relic.”
What’s in the Current Proposal for the Building?
The proposal from Crescent Housing Partners—a joint venture between JHM Financial Group and Viking Construction—called for redeveloping the property for affordable housing and community space. The plans call for 51 units of affordable housing at various income levels—12 within the current structure and the remainder in a separate structure behind it that will be attached. The plans call for seven studios, 30 one-bedroom units, and 14 two-bedroom units. The site must have a minimum of 1,000-2,000 square feet of community space, but Mayor Caroline Simmons said the developer has said it will provide at least 3,000 square feet.
Simmons voiced her support for this proposal—both to the Legislative and Rules Committee and in an op-ed published in The Stamford Advocate.
“As mayor, my goal is to build a more equitable, inclusive, vibrant city where everyone can thrive,” she said.
Simmons said this proposal helps achieve three goals—creating workforce housing; helping the city remain economically competitive with additional workforce housing; and revitalizing an important building.
What is the Opposition to the Proposal?
While some members of the community would prefer to see the building remain a community center in general, the movement took on an even louder voice after two late proposals to keep the building a community center were revealed right before the Legislative and Rules Committee vote.
Reverend Michael Thomas, a local pastor, submitted a proposal to the board to utilize the building for “Acts Community Resource Center,” which is currently occupying space at 98 Richmond Hill Avenue and is pending 501(c)3 approval. The center would provide a variety of services including day care, counseling, support for those in recovery, health programming, and financial resources for small businesses and first-time home buyers.
“The Acts Community Resource Center, Inc. (ACRC) mission is to provide health and wellness, spiritual, emotional and social services to its members in the Stamford community,” the proposal states. “ACRC will provide services in Glenbrook and to the neighboring communities. It is our mission to provide practical solutions to some of the most challenging problems confronting communities today. ACRC strives to reach and uplift all people in need.”
Thomas said at the public hearing that he wanted to “make it a safe place for people to come.”
“It’s so important to the community center for kids and all ages to have access,” he said. “We’re familiar with the building and we’re committed to this.”
Jamie D’Agostino, a Stamford resident who owns Netology, an IT support company, also submitted a proposal to move his company to the space and use the rest of the building to support his wife’s bilingual learning center and community space.
“As a 3rd generation son of Stamford, I would love to give that 79-year-old historical building the love it deserves and serve the wonderful Glenbrook community that I grew up with,” he wrote in an email. “As a potential owner of the property I would be open to providing community space. Whether it be a youth event in the gym, a meeting room for a book club or a barbecue in the parking lot, as the new caretakers, my wife and I would be passionate about engaging the local community.”
The proposals were submitted, in part, because Stamford Representative Nina Sherwood worked to solicit them in an effort to keep the building a community center and prevent the plan to turn it into affordable housing.
Sherwood said that the center was “near and dear to my heart.” She said she met with the administration months ago to express her concern about turning the center into affordable housing.
“Where there's a will, there's a way—we should figure out a way to keep it a community center,” she said.
Sherwood said she reached out to people she knew in the community and that’s how Thomas’ and D’Agostino’s proposals came to light. She said that she wanted to give the mayor and her administration a chance to meet with those who proposed them—which they did—before making them public, which is why they came to light at the last second.
Simmons said that they reviewed the proposals and noted that the administration believed they were not “legally, fiscally, or operationally viable.”
“What has happened in the last 24 hours feels like what has happened in cities and towns across the country when affordable housing developments are about to cross the finish line,” she said.
Still many members of the Board of Representatives and the community voiced their support for exploring ways to maintain the community center.
Resident Michael Batinelli said that this is “not the first time” they’ve been down this road with the center.
“It’s not just a building—it’s the heart of Glenbrook,” he said. “It’s always been a place to go…we need a community center now more than ever.”
He encouraged the board to “consider these new proposals before we make any rash decisions.”
Resident Joe Avalos said that this center provided so much to people, particularly by giving those in recovery a place to meet and help stay sober.
“We need a community center in the center of Glenbrook,” he said. “We have to take care of our at-risk population.”
Resident Christopher Twardy said that the center has “touched thousands of lives in Stamford.”
Representative Megan Cottrell said that she felt like they were “giving away” the community center.
“If we want to make it a comm center that's viable, we can make it a community center that’s viable,” she said, citing that the city should look to find alternative sources of funding like grants to run the center.
Representative Boeger said the center has been an institution and that he was moved by the residents speaking out.
“People who were really speaking from the heart, 'Please don't take this away from us,’” he said.
Because the item was not recommended by the committee, its future is a little murky.
Boeger, who serves as a parliamentarian on the Board and often explains its rules and processes explained what could happen next now that the vote to recommend the item failed in the committee.
“When Chair [Susan] Nabel goes to do her report at the full board meeting next month, the report will indicate the item failed,” he said. “Any board member can bring the item up. Committee votes are only opinion in nature and are not binding.”
That meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m.