The South Norwalk Community Center has been at the center of South Norwalk for years. But now the building at 98 South Main Street now joins the Glenbrook Community Center in Stamford as the latest community hub with an uncertain future.
Last week, the city’s Board of Estimate and Taxation approved an additional $50,000 to help the city maintain the building through at least July 2023 while it sorts out future plans.
The building was the center of the community for years, but since about 2014 when one of the operators of the building declared bankruptcy, the space has been underutilized. In 2019, however, the city thought that was changing after the YMCA was awarded a contract around the end of 2019 to lease the space and provide resources and programming to the community. The agreement was highly publicized, as a way to bring services and community space back to South Norwalk.
But like many things, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the YMCA’s plans for the building. The YMCA also said it was too expensive to renovate the space so the city and nonprofit terminated that agreement, leaving the future of the property a bit unclear.
History of 98 South Main Street
The building was constructed in the mid-1980s, and for years was operated by two organizations—the South Norwalk Community Center and an anti-poverty group called NEON, Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now. In 2013, issues and arguments between the two groups related to the building spilled into the press and in 2014, NEON went bankrupt. It took years to sort out the legal matters, according to an article from NancyonNorwalk.
During the bankruptcy proceedings, the city acquired NEON’s shares to the building, and in 2018, the city purchased the remaining shares from South Norwalk Community Center—making it the sole owner of the property—for $300,000 and spent about $200,000 more on some needed renovations. It currently has two tenants—Americares and a group called Urban Community Action in Norwalk, the latter of which officials said hasn’t returned to the building since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later that year, the city issued a request for proposals to lease the entire building to a service provider that would bring community resources and programming to the area. At that time, the YMCA was the only one who responded and was awarded the contract near the end of 2019.
The agreement was highly publicized, as a way to bring services and community space back to South Norwalk.
“This is really an exciting, exciting time, because we’re energizing this area for people to come down to get the services that they might need,” Mayor Harry Rilling said at an announcement of the agreement in October 2019, when the plans were unveiled, according to NancyonNorwalk. “And if you look at the renderings here, it’s absolutely phenomenal…. what an addition to the South Norwalk area.”
The YMCA said it would bring family and children’s services, health and wellness programs, and community activities. The organization told the Planning Commission in 2019 that it would include programming at the park, a teen center, arts and music facilities, a community kitchen, and a multi-purpose room for meetings and educational opportunities.
But like many things, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the YMCA’s plans for the building.
Alan Lo, Norwalk’s buildings and facilities manager, told the Board of Estimate and Taxation that the construction costs to renovate the building for what the YMCA wanted to do skyrocketed. The original agreement estimated that about $5-6 million of work was repaired. The city put forward about $1.2 million of funding for capital improvements, the rest of which the YMCA was planning to fundraise and pay more.
However, earlier this year, the YMCA projected it would cost up to $11-$12 million, according to Lo. He said he “didn’t blame them for having second thoughts,” based on that estimate, but also noted that he and other city officials thought the estimates were higher than they should be for renovations to the 22,000 square foot building.
Because of that, the agreement was terminated. Rilling said that the extensions the YMCA was requesting to try and complete the project “put us in a precarious situation,” so he said the city decided it was better to terminate the agreement.
What’s Next for the Space
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling told the board that the city is working with the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford, which could potentially take over at least part of the building as a satellite space from its main office and provide programming and services out of it.
“We’ve been inspecting the building. We have local people that are interested in making this a Boys and Girls Club—we anticipate very soon [that] we’ll have an idea about whether or not it’s possible,” Rilling told the board.
In the meantime, Lo said that it costs $70,000-$80,000 to keep the building maintained and operated annually. Because the city thought the YMCA would be taking it over earlier this year, it only allocated $20,000 to cover the building. That’s why Lo requested the additional $50,000 to run it through June 2023, the end of the fiscal year.
This is the latest community center in our area with an uncertain future, as plans for the Glenbrook Community Center in Stamford also remain unclear.