The City of Ansonia is in talks to sell two buildings it owns downtown to the developer who purchased most of Farrel Corp.‘s properties nearly two years ago.
The general idea — make the redevelopment of the city-owned parcels, which sit next to the former Farrel property, easier by combining them under one owner who could develop them all together, rather than piecemeal.
At the same time, the city would look to insert a “clawback” clause into any contract to sell the buildings calling for the redevelopment within a certain period of time.
The developer, Moustapha Diakhate, was in the city Tuesday (Oct. 14) checking out the two city-owned buildings.
In a brief interview with the Valley Indy, Diakhate said he’d hear out the city’s proposal, but indicated a deal between the two sides isn’t imminent.
The three buildings in question are:
— 501 E. Main St., Farrel Corp.‘s former “Process Lab,” owned by Diakhate, 88,155 square feet;
— 497 E. Main St., the “Ansonia Technology Park” building, owned by the city, 52,850 square feet;
— 153 Main St., known as the Palmer Building, owned by the city, 47,050 square feet.
Diakhate bought nearly 10 acres of property straddling upper Main Street nearly two years ago, in January 2013, for $1.9 million.
At the time of the deal, Diakhate said he wanted to first focus on redeveloping the former Farrel properties on East Main Street into a mixed-use development incorporating residential and retail space.
At the time, officials suggested construction on the redevelopment could begin within a year or so.
Diakhate has been working with architects and engineers to develop plans for the former Process Lab and trying to drum up financing to pay for the project, but has not yet formally applied to the city’s land use agencies for the approvals required to build.
A New Wrinkle
The city’s theory: development of the Process Lab won’t happen with the blighted ATP and Palmer buildings sitting directly next to it.
So in an effort to spur construction — and at the same time rid itself of two eyesores — the city wants Diakhate to take the two buildings off its hands.
Sheila O’Malley, the city’s economic development director, revealed the talks publicly last week during Mayor David Cassetti’s “State of the City” event.
“We are currently working on a memorandum of understanding with the owner which will require the owner to redevelop within a certain period of time or to allow for the purchase of his building at fair market value by developers who have expressed interest,” O’Malley said.
Ins, Outs, What Have Yous
It is still very early in the process.
The two sides would have to work out a host of issues before arriving at any deal.
For one, developers have in recent years treated the two blighted city-owned buildings as if they were poison.
In 2008 the city inked a deal with a New Jersey developer to buy the buildings for $1.5 million, but the company washed its hands of the deal in 2012 without so much as a phone call.
Since then the city tried to solicit offers for the sale of the two buildings, but not one bid has been submitted.
Government honchos pow-wowed for nearly two hours during a February meeting about what to do with the buildings but couldn’t arrive at a consensus.
The two buildings also have a handful of tenants that would need be moved if a deal occurs.
For instance, the city’s Senior Center is housed on the ground floor of the Palmer Building.
Could Diakhate’s redevelopment incorporate a new Senior Center in some way? Could the facility be moved to another location? Could the Senior Center merge with Derby’s?
Diakhate: I’ll Help If I Can
Diakhate was pondering that question outside the Palmer building Tuesday when the Valley Indy saw him and asked whether he wanted to buy it.
Diakhate was noncommittal but said he’d hear the city out.
“I’ll listen to what they want to do, what vision they have for those buildings,” he said. “And I want to see if we can fit my vision. If I can help them with their development, I definitely will.”
He said the rough concept of his vision for the properties is for a mixed-use residential development incorporating retail space on lower floors.
Perhaps a Senior Center could be fit into that plan, he said.
“I’m trying to put something together with my architect to see if we can incorporate that,” he said.
He said the development of his properties would probably occur in phases.
And he knows residents are anxious to see action at the properties he’s owned for nearly two years.
“Hopefully within the next three to six months we can start construction and the town can see some movement,” Diakhate said.
Deal Or No Deal?
At the same time, Diakhate indicated he isn’t close to a deal to buy the buildings from the city.
The two sides haven’t even discussed a possible price for the two buildings, he said.
John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, who along with O’Malley is negotiating with Diakhate, briefed Aldermen behind closed doors on the discussions at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday.
The state’s Freedom of Information Act allows public agencies to exclude the public from discussions of possible real estate deals.
On Wednesday, Marini also indicated the talks are in their early stages.
“We’re trying to see what can be done,” Marini said. “Nothing’s been formally proposed.”
“We’ve been talking about a potential agreement with him,” he went on. “The potential agreement does get it developing, one way or another, that entire parcel — Palmer, ATP, and the Process Lab.”
Time and more talks will tell whether the two sides can strike a bargain, he said.
“Moustapha’s the owner,” Marini said. “Can we work with him? Is there a way to work with him to resolve this? Right now we’re still in talks.”