December 4, 2009

On Thursday, November 19, 2009, The City of Stamford, Connecticut celebrated, with marching bands and great civic pride, the re-dedication of its Old Town Hall. Vacant for decades, the 1903 structure that is the physical and symbolic center of the community has been beautifully restored and revitalized, and NDC was there from the very first…

Stamford’s Old Town Hall, a stately-but-vacant Beaux-Arts style building circa 1906, was the architectural centerpiece of downtown Stamford.  Despite the strength of the Stamford real estate market, the Old Town Hall had remained vacant since 1988, when municipal government moved out into expanded quarters.  The problem: the very features that made the building aesthetically attractive made it functionally obsolete for  today’s standards, and as a result, financially unattractive for a conventional development.  Majestic stairways twenty-plus feet wide and grand hallways thirty feet wide left a 40,000 square foot building with only 21,000 square feet of leasable space.  That ratio, and the extensive renovation needed, added up to a serious challenge:  how to generate enough cash flow to cover development and operating costs in the Stamford market.  Do the math and it is easy to see that it wouldn’t work — at least with conventional financing.

Then one day, NDC Field Director Kevin Gremse found himself sitting in a Stamford barber shop next to long-time Stamford mayor Daniel Malloy. Gremse, then a Stamford resident, was frustrated to see the iconic downtown building vacant. He took the opportunity to approach the Mayor with a proposal: let NDC help find a way to renew and re-use that building;  Malloy invited Gremse to present finance and development options to him and Mike Freimuth, Stamford’s economic development director. After considering a variety of economic development tools known and used by NDC in its practice throughout the country, Stamford brought NDC on to its development team.  That was only the beginning.  It took years of persistence, and several different proposed financial structures, but NDC and the City of Stamford at arrived at a solution.

The plan leverages private funds with State of Connecticut grant funds and City of Stamford capital funds.  “The leveraging of private investment was critical to the success of the project,” Gremse explains, “because the building’s functional obsolescence limited debt capacity, and there wasn’t sufficient public investment available to cover he cost of historic rehabilitation.”  Through skillful use of the its U.S. Department of the Treasury’s New Markets Tax Credit program (NMTC) and Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits (RTC), NDC found the right formula to bring private investment to the project.

“NDC used its own NMTC allocation and delivered over $5 million in investment from our investment partner, US Bank,” Gremse adds.

Gremse emphasizes that it was the commitment of Mayor Malloy and Economic Development Director Mike Freimuth that was responsible for the successful outcome because “getting the local approvals for a rather complex financial and organizational structure was not easy or quick, but they showed great leadership in managing the process.”  Freimuth returns the compliment: “Without the NDC team, this project would have had no chance, and this great old building would probably continue to be the sad ‘ghost’ it had been for the past 22 years.”

Construction began in 2008, and the building is expected to be ready for occupancy in the first quarter of 2010, at a total cost of renovation of $16 million.  At this time, City officials are in discussion with several likely tenants for the main space, and have plans for a ballet school to occupy the basement floor.

Any lease agreement must maintain a degree of public access, so that the beauty of the main hall with its stately staircases and sky-lit ceiling can be admired by the citizens of Stamford for generations to come.  “The project calls for preserving the ‘ceremonial rooms’ for a public use, and currently, we’re thinking of a public gallery for local artists,” Freimuth explains.

Stamford’s downtown now stands ready for a renewed civic life with a renewed physical symbol of both its past and its future.

For more photos. Visit the Website of Stamford’s newspaper, The Advocate: