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CT Construction Digest Monday September 26, 2022










Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary




Hartford firm tapped to partner with Middletown to develop prized lots near river

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — The city has chosen a firm to be part of a public/private partnership to redevelop three parcels at the site of the former municipal garage near the Connecticut River.

These “opportunity zones” are located on a total of 3.5 acres at 60 Dingwall and 195 deKoven drives, and at the rear of 222 Main St., something officials have described as prime real estate.

Mayor Ben Florsheim announced the city narrowed down proposals to the application submitted by principles of Spectra, Wonder Works, and Crosskey Architects of Hartford. The project is called the “Village at Riverside,” Deputy Mayor Vincent Loffredo said. 

As part of the plan, a new parking arcade would be built to replace the aging structure knocked down in 2018 due to dangerous conditions.

The original request for qualifications sent out early this year solicited only two applicants, Loffredo explained, so the city issued another, which drew three developers. One of the original two firms modified its request and resubmitted it during the second round, he said. 

The final three went through a “vigorous review” by selection committee members, the councilman said.

The plots have “scenic and panoramic views” of the Connecticut River, according to the 26-page request for developer qualifications created in March. Each parcel is in the “heart of Middletown’s thriving downtown,” it said.

Florsheim said in a letter to the selection committee Sept. 1 that he viewed this time as an “engagement period that precedes the actual wedding ceremony (so to speak), which will come later if the engagement goes well.”

The proposal from Spectra, Wonder Works, and Crosskey Architects stood out, Florsheim wrote.

“The biggest factors for me that elevated Spectra over the other extremely competitive applicants were their innovative approach to parking, their successful track record with projects in Connecticut (and strong references from those projects), the diversity and local roots on their team, and their very confidence-inspiring financial approach," he said.

Loffredo said the partnership hinges on an agreement being reached with the firm. If that is successful, documents are expected to be drawn up by the end of the year, at which point the matter will be reviewed by the Common Council.

One of the conditions is the purchase of the Attention to Detail property next door, Loffredo noted.

ADT Properties owns the 0.9-acre plot at 195 DeKoven Drive, which faces the river, and opens up “vistas” to the main site, the RFQ explained.

If conversations are successful over the next few weeks, the agreement will be referred to the Economic Development Committee, Florsheim said in the email.

Loffredo said he's optimistic a consensus will be reached. “I’m hopeful, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done," he said. "This is not going to happen immediately. Hopefully, we can come to some reasonable terms and understandings.”

Florsheim explained that he shares concerns raised by some people that quality of life downtown and in the business district could be affected. “The site should not be overdeveloped to the point where any public parking we recoup will only suffice for the increased traffic driven by new retail and residential,” he wrote.

The city already has committed $20 million of bond funding to construct a new public parking garage, the RFQ said.

The city also has invested “significant dollars” in the Return to the Riverbend project, Loffredo said, where members of the public were invited to jot down their ideas and points of concern at a pop-up shop at Main Street Market.
The project would initially kick off efforts to reconnect the city to the riverfront, which was cut off with the construction of Route 9, the deputy mayor said.

A similar situation occurred in Hartford, he added, when officials sought to reconnect “in a very meaningful way” to the riverfront near Constitution Plaza, with pedestrian access over the highway, something riverfront revitalization plans call for in Middletown at Riverview Center on Main Street.

The vision has been around since former mayor Michael Cubeta led the city in the late 1970s, Loffredo said.

According to the RFQ, the city is seeking to construct an “iconic development which will bring people and business to downtown, provide places for people to live and work, and become a regional attraction.

“The city’s opportunity zones offer developers a low-risk project due to the city’s extremely economically vibrant … downtown,” it continues. The site could become the “key connection” between the city’s urban commercial center and future riverfront development,” it reads.

Applicants were difficult to choose, the mayor said.

“Today is a difficult day, because, as with the riverfront master plan, I wish we could work with almost all these teams,” Florsheim wrote in his email. “However, it is also — I hope — a turning point for this site and for downtown, and that means it is also a very good day for Middletown."

A decade after Sandy, Bridgeport flooding project over budget and delayed

Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT — A decade after Hurricane Sandy flooded the city's South End, a massive, federally funded project to fortify that neighborhood from future severe weather is at risk of turning into its own disaster if some major hurdles are not addressed.

What began as a $64 million total vision is, at the 90 percent design stage, going to instead cost another $30 million. And as of this week it was unclear where those additional dollars, a figure that until now had not been made public, will come from or when ground will be broken. The most recent goal had been this winter.

Meanwhile a state official who has been managing the project, dubbed Resilient Bridgeport, insists that, once the network of new pumping stations, flood walls, raised streets and other related improvements is complete, the city needs to assume operating and maintenance costs — a responsibility that has caught some local officials by surprise.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat representing Fairfield County, including Bridgeport, has been doing his part to try and get things back on track.

"I've been concerned with this project for a long time," Himes said in an interview this week. "My job is to try to deliver federal money, especially to places like Bridgeport that need it badly. So it is really important to my ability to advocate that we use this money well and quickly."

Himes was first elected to Congress in 2008. He helped Connecticut's largest municipality post-Sandy obtain a pair of federal grants totaling over $64 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2014 to stop flooding in the South End. Situated along the harbor and Long Island Sound, the area is home to the University of Bridgeport, Seaside Park, a new gas-fired power plant, the now-retired coal-fired plant and lots of working class and low income housing.

Resilient Bridgeport is being planned by the state's housing department, with help from Connecticut's departments of transportation and energy/environmental protection. The progress, or lack thereof, made few to any headlines until the last couple years when Mayor Joe Ganim's administration decided to relocate Bassick High School from the West End to the South End.

Initially there was a debate over whether construction of the new Bassick should wait until Resilient Bridgeport's completion. But city officials, increasingly skeptical the latter will happen, have instead decided to alter Bassick's design to address potential flooding around the campus.

"We were building it there thinking that (and Resilient Bridgeport) would happen at the same time," City Councilman Marcus Brown, chairman of the school building committee, said in a recent interview. "Now we have to think about, 'What if it doesn't happen at all? How do we protect the school?'"

As previously reported, in mid-March Dr. Shante Hanks, a former Himes staffer and Bridgeport activist who inherited the flooding project when hired in 2019 as a deputy state housing commissioner, during a public teleconference acknowledged "the budget is growing." But Hanks at that time declined to say by how much.

Himes this week said, “The last number I heard was there’s as much as a $30 million gap.”

"That is the ballpark, yes," Hanks subsequently confirmed, adding, "This (money) was awarded in 2014. If you start building a house in 2014 but don't put a shovel in the ground until 2023 it's going to cost differently." 

Hanks said "there are certain aspects of the budget that were not taken into consideration" eight years ago, and the global coronavirus pandemic slowed progress down and hiked prices. 

The HUD money was set to expire next year. Himes said that deadline has since been extended until 2025. As of earlier this year, construction was going to begin this winter. But Hanks said that is now on hold.

According to Himes, Gov. Ned Lamont's administration has been working on a way to help cover the additional costs that would include Bridgeport pitching in.

"Whether that's going to happen or not I don't know," he said.

Hanks said there is no more money available from HUD, and scaling back or phasing in the work will make the flood protection less effective.

"I would love to hear Bridgeport would put some funding toward the project," she said. "But I can't speak for Bridgeport."

City Councilman Scott Burns, a budget committee co-chairman, said he has been concerned about the lack of progress. Told Friday about the $30 million issue and asked whether the city could help foot that bill, Burns said, "We don’t have $30 million of capital lying around. (And) I wouldn't be inclined to say we should go bond (borrow) for all that."

Lamont's office in a statement Friday said, "The State of Connecticut is focused on mitigating the negative impacts of climate change in our 169 towns and cities, each one with their own unique needs to protect lives and livelihoods. We’re working with our federal and municipal partners to actualize a variety of climate resiliency projects, and will continue to review each individually to determine an equitable way to fund them.”

But whatever that may be, there are other issues. Hanks and her team are in talks with the Ganim administration and the Bridgeport Water Pollution Control Authority to assume the future costs of Resilient Bridgeport once it is up and running.

Bridgeport Economic Development Director Thomas Gill could not offer much insight into the overall state of Resilient Bridgeport or its funding challenges and efforts to resolve those. Gill, however, was familiar with the push to have Bridgeport take on operations and maintenance expenses, and claimed the message from Resilient Bridgeport's team has been "it's all or nothing" — meaning accept the burden or Resilient Bridgeport will not move ahead.

He said the city has not been provided "concrete numbers" in order to determine the budget impact. He noted any agreement will also need City Council approval and "I wouldn't even be comfortable" taking a proposal to that legislative body at this point without more information from the state.

Hanks said estimates are in the works. She also urged Bridgeport officials to "look at the big picture" of having received significant federal dollars to address a problem which, due to climate change, will only worsen over time.

"The area floods from heavy rains, constantly. That's not going to get better. Sea level isn't going to suddenly stop," Hanks said. "So I'd like it to move forward. But the only way it's possible is if the state and city work together on this."

If and when those fiscal matters are settled, there is still even more to do ahead of a ground-breaking. Hanks said the Resilient Bridgeport project will also need to enter into negotiations with South End private property owners to build some of the infrastructure on their land.

City Council President Aidee Nieves said this is all new information.

"Nobody knows about the $30 million overrun," Nieves said. She wants representatives with Resilient Bridgeport to meet with the council for a status update and to discuss what the state may expect in terms of financial and other assistance.

"At this time I’m not knowledgeable and only hearing it from word of mouth," Nieves said. "It is extremely disappointing.” 

"My concern is we're kind of dabbling in the dark in terms of trying to figure out what's happening," Burns said. 

"We are trying to get on the council's agenda for next month," Hanks said.

State Rep. Antonio Felipe, whose district includes the South End, said he respects the state housing agency's leadership but "the communication within that office has been shoddy."

"It's been difficult trying to really pinpoint what the actual hurdles are. All we want to do is help," Felipe said.

Hanks disputed the allegation that there has been poor communication. And she also sought to address any skeptics who believe Resilient Bridgeport is a failure and will never get finished.

"Let's be clear," she said. "It's beyond 'off the ground' because we're at 90 percent design."

"However," she continued, "There's multiple factors here. These are huge projects. It's not just about 'design it and go build it.' There's other aspects that have to come into play."

Preston residents to vote on amendment to Norwich Hospital sales agreement with Mohegan tribe

Claire Bessette

Preston ― After two years of negotiations between town, state and Mohegan tribal officials over terms of the final cleanup and property transfer of the former Norwich Hospital property, the amended agreement is ready for a town vote.

The Board of Selectmen Thursday endorsed the amendment to the Property Disposition and Development Agreement between the town and Mohegan tribe and scheduled a town meeting and vote for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6 at Preston Plains Middle School. The Preston Redevelopment Agency approved the amendment Wednesday night.

Cleanup work has virtually halted at the 393-acre property for the past two years as the parties wrangled over the terms of the final cleanup, to be funded with a $7 million state grant approved in 2020 and a $2 million state loan to the town if necessary.

The amendment being put to voters calls for the town to use $5 million of the $7 million state grant to continue the cleanup to the point where the tribe would be able to take ownership of the property. Mohegan, which is the name of tribe’s development entity, then will receive the remaining $2 million state grant money and use of the $2 million town loan money , if necessary, to complete the cleanup based on Mohegan’s proposed uses for the property.

While no specific development plans have been announced, tribal officials have proposed a mixed-use, non-gaming development, possibly including a sports complex, hotels, major sporting goods retail store, luxury campground, marina and artificial snow ski facility.

Preston Redevelopment Agency Chairman Sean Nugent said another substantial change eliminates the requirement for the town to clean up the property to the point where it is suitable for residential development. Instead, Nugent said, the language calls for getting the property clean enough to mitigate contamination to the point were work can be done such as erosion control and using clean fill in low-lying areas where water might pool up.

“Kudos to the tribe. They never said, ‘That’s it we’re walking away,’” Nugent said of the change in cleanup standards. “Instead, they said, ‘How can we find a way to move forward?’”

Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman James Gessner said the tribe and the Preston Redevelopment Agency worked together on the amendment. He said the amendment “allows for a more realistic timeline” after the parties reached a better understanding of the environmental cleanup needed and the usage of state funding.

“It is also the perfect example of our shared commitment to this project, which will be an incredible asset to Preston, the Mohegan Tribe, the state, and region,” Gessner said in an email statement. “We look forward to its final approval.”

The amendment changes, and the original Property Disposition and Development agreement is updated throughout the lengthy document, with deletions in red and added language in blue. The documents will be available for viewing at the town clerk’s office and selectmen’s office at Preston Town Hall, at the Preston Public Library and will be posted on the town’s website, www.preston-ct.org.

Nugent said once the amendments are approved by the town and Mohegan Tribal Council, the parties will meet to iron out details on restarting the cleanup. Nugent hopes some work can be done later in fall, but the big push will be next spring.

The delay started in 2019, when testing showed more extensive than expected coal ash contamination throughout the property. The state approved a $7 million grant to be used along with a previous $2 million loan the town had received from the state to finish the cleanup. Another delay occurred when state officials initially required the town to use the loan money first, before the $7 million grant. Legislative action in 2021 clarified that the grant money would be used first.

Another part of the agreement covers terms between the state and the tribe after the tribe takes ownership of the property, called a pass-through agreement.

The amended agreement also changes terms to the $2 million low-interest loan the town obtained several years ago. The original language called for the loan to be forgivable if Mohegan development creates 200 permanent jobs, and the amendment allows loan forgiveness for either the 200 jobs or $200 million in construction value of new buildings.

Once approved, the town will have two years from the restart of work to complete the cleanup and convey the property to Mohegan.

Changing Hands: Sons of developer, lawyer take control of major downtown Hartford developments

Michael Puffer

Before he was 10, Daniel Klaynberg was spending a portion of his weekends answering phones in the Manhattan office of his father’s company, Wonder Works Construction.

As a teen, Klaynberg began tidying up job sites as a laborer. But Wonder Works founder Joseph Klaynberg quickly moved his son into administration, working with financial records, record keeping and event management at job sites.

By the time he was 23, Daniel Klaynberg was helping lead construction of a 163-unit apartment development in Manhattan.

Now 36, Klaynberg is stepping into the forefront of a company that has created more than 550 market-rate apartments in downtown Hartford over the past decade, and many more in New York City.

Daniel Klaynberg has been the company’s face in Hartford for about a year, meeting with city officials and putting his name to loans and agreements on pending projects.

“It’s a little bit of a natural progression,” said the younger Klaynberg, who has been CFO for Wonder Works since 2016. “I’ve been working with Wonder Works and my father for a long time.”

The transition, Klaynberg concedes, may have been accelerated by financial troubles that hit his father in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as one New York condominium project failed. The building was completed, but Wonder Works was unable to show units at the pandemic’s outset, Klaynberg explained.

Joseph Klaynberg filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February in the Southern District of New York. According to Klaynberg’s filing, he has $5.2 million in assets and $121 million in liabilities, which includes his debt guarantees for prior Hartford projects.

“It sure has made changes in our lives and made us have to go about securing deals differently,” Daniel Klaynberg said.

Klaynberg said he took on increasing responsibilities and ownership of projects even before his father’s financial troubles.

“It’s possible I would have been at the forefront and the guarantor anyway,” he said.

Klaynberg said operations at the four Hartford apartment buildings his father helped develop have not been impacted by the bankruptcy filing.

Hartford a good bet

Wonder Works got its Hartford start in 2012, when it partnered with another New York developer — Girona Ventures — to buy a long-vacant hotel on Constitution Plaza for $500,000. The 250,000-square-foot building was remodeled into 193 apartments in a $23.6 million project that wrapped in 2016.

Wonder Works and Girona subsequently remodeled two decaying Pearl Street office buildings into modern apartments. They also purchased and remodeled the former Trumbull on the Park apartment building.

The buildings — operating under the “Spectra” banner — feature premium amenities including a theater, fitness center, rooftop deck and more. Any amenity in the four buildings is open to all Spectra tenants.

These projects made Wonder Works one of the most prominent players in the city’s ongoing efforts to grow its downtown residential population and create a more thriving restaurant/retail culture.

That has become all the more crucial as the pandemic emptied corporate office buildings and taught companies that much of their workforce can effectively work from home.

Daniel Klaynberg said Hartford remains a great investment. He praised city staff as responsive to everything from inspection requests to road closures, which has saved considerable time and development expense.

Even so, the Spectra apartment buildings were shaken by the pandemic. As occupancy declined in 2020, Girona sold its half-share in those buildings to local parking mogul Alan Lazowski and prominent developer Martin Kenny. Occupancy quickly bounced back into the 90s, Klaynberg said.

New projects, new partners

Now, Daniel Klaynberg is teamed up with new partners for mixed-use redevelopments of a former fire station at 275 Pearl St., and a former municipal building at 525 Main St.

In November, the Hartford City Council signed off on a tentative deal to sell the buildings to Wonder Works for $785,000. Under the terms, Wonder Works was to lease the parking lots adjacent to the municipal building for $32,000 yearly, with an option to buy at any point for $162,000.

Klaynberg is partnered with Matthew, Evan and Dean Levy — sons of prominent Hartford-area attorney Coleman Levy — on the redevelopment.

The plan is to build 40 apartments at 525 Main St., and 36 rental units inside the fire house, with retail on the first floors of both buildings. Daniel Klaynberg said he has secured financing through Massachusetts-based PeoplesBank.

Klaynberg said he plans to redevelop parking lots associated with the municipal building into about 80 apartments with parking on lower levels of a six- to eight-story building. That work could begin in a couple years, he said.

Officials and Klaynberg say they are on the cusp of finalizing legal agreements for the sale and redevelopment of the firehouse, municipal building and associated lots.

The municipal building already hosts a deli and shoe repair shop. Klaynberg said both are welcome to stay. A convenience shop operator has signed a lease to move into a roughly 500-square-foot space as well, Klaynberg said.

At the fire station, Hartford restaurant entrepreneur Gina Luari plans to open a 4,500-square-foot pizzeria.

Coleman Levy had provided legal counsel to Joseph Klaynberg since his arrival in Hartford. Daniel Klaynberg said Levy’s local knowledge and banking connections proved crucial to prior efforts.

Matthew, Evan and Dean Levy, as well as their mother, Judie, are principals in Levy Properties. The company is a legacy business from Judie Levy’s side of the family. It has focused on redevelopment and leasing of Greater Hartford retail centers of up to about 65,000 square feet.

Matthew Levy said it was “mutual respect” between his father and Joseph Klaynberg that paved the way for the sons’ partnership. He said his family’s expertise in retail will help keep the first floors of the redeveloped buildings filled with quality tenants.

“Daniel and I have a very nice working relationship,” Matthew Levy said. “They are good people. We have primarily been in retail strip centers, so this is a nice opportunity to diversify into multifamily with retail.”

As with virtually all market-rate apartment developments in Hartford, the Capital Region Development Authority is lined up to provide a portion of financing. CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said Daniel Klaynberg has represented the Wonder Works side throughout the latest deal.

Freimuth said all of the necessary finances and legal agreements for the redevelopments are “pretty close” to being completed.

“It’s really been Dan, not Joe,” Freimuth said. “This is really a whole new creature. We’ve been dealing with Dan and his banks and his investors. The transition is relatively smooth.”