Norwalk council expected to approve Wall Street redesign company

by Abigail Brone

NORWALK — The Common Council is set to approve a $350,000 deal to revitalize Wall Street, with construction to begin in the next 18 months.

On Thursday, the Common Council’s Planning Committee approved the contract with Fuss & O’Neill, which has offices in Trumbull and Manchester, to design the new Wall Street corridor. The Common Council is expected to finalize the agreement Tuesday night.

Fuss & O’Neill was chosen out of five request for proposal respondents.

The preliminary plans, first unveiled at the end of October, showed a vision for a new gateway to the Wall Street Historical District, replacing a leafy island plaza that separates entry and exit routes for vehicles with a single roadway, flanked by walkways that are wider than the ones that exist now.

“We put forth the design firm that had highest score, but really what shined about Fuss & O’Neil was really the community engagement portion and their commitment to hit the streets and variety of different methods in order to engage the public,” Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Jim Travers said. “We know what the people are looking for. We know how to create an environment.”

As part of the first phase of the project, sidewalks will be widened, and two-way traffic will be restored to Burnell Boulevard, Travers said.

The firm plans to spend between 12 and 18 months planning the redevelopment, set to be completed in two phases. Following design and planning, the construction will take an additional 12 to 18 months, Travers said.

Subsequent phases will include work on Isaac and Commerce streets, creating two-way traffic on River Street and making River Street a unique feature of the downtown area, among other improvements.

“We need to create this pedestrian gateway much more focused on the environment than cars for quick hits,” Travers said. “We have a garage that is massively underutilized and it’s not in great shape, but we are engaging the Parking Authority to make investments into the façade of this garage, to make it more welcoming at the same time.”

To fund the project, Travers applied for two federal grants. The smaller grant is from the Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program, run by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, and is worth $3.8 million. The second grant, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is worth $13 million.

If the city receives the FEMA grant, it will turn down the local transportation grant, as the FEMA funds are expected to cover the entire cost of the project, Travers said.

Should the city receive only the local transportation grant, it will cover the cost of the first phase of the project.

“Our investment into the Wall Street area will be pretty substantial at end of day,” Travers said. “The LOTCIP (Local Transportation Capital Improvement Program) application … is what we can get in phase one. We’ll use some ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to make this happen. This is an opportunity to transform a neighborhood.”

The plans to not require any additional capital funds for the Wall Street project.

“We don’t want this to be a project that sits on the shelf for a number of years, for 10 years. We are committed to making sure that it is completed,” Travers said. “We are hopeful we can secure grants and not have to ask for city capital dollars for the bulk of this.”

The Wall Street improvements have been in the works for nearly a decade, after first being discussed in creating the Citywide Traffic Management Plan developed in 2012, Chief of Community and Economic Development Jess Vonashek said.

The project was first included in the city’s capital budget in fiscal year 2013-14, where $25,000 was allotted for the project. For fiscal years 2016-17 and 2018-19, $500,000 was allotted for Wall Street. For 2017-18, $1 million was dedicated to the project, according to city documents.

“We have had money in the budget for a number of years to look at Wall Street, and that has included the intersection to Wall and Belden and West,” Vonashek said. “One of the things we asked Jim (Travers) to do when he came on board was to focus on the Wall Street area, in particular looking at circulation.”

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