Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Local News

A Deal Years in the Making: Clinton Closes on Old Morgan Sale

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Town Manager Karl Kilduff and Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich finalize the sale of the old Morgan School property to Greylock Property Group at town Hall on Oct. 5.

Photo by Mary Schettino

Town Manager Karl Kilduff and Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich finalize the sale of the old Morgan School property to Greylock Property Group at town Hall on Oct. 5. (Photo by Mary Schettino )

Officially coming in fall 2022: Indian River Landing.

The $2.2 million sale of the town-owned old Morgan School property on Route 81 to Greylock Property Group closed on Oct. 5. The demolition of the school and construction of a Big Y and Starbucks is planned as part of phase one of construction, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Now that the sale of the property is complete, Greylock Property Group Managing Partner Ken Navarro said that work will begin on the site almost immediately and that the demolition of the school will begin in about two weeks. The construction of the full development will be done in phases, with phase one to begin following the demolition of the school.

Trucks and equipment have already been moved onto the property, the sight of which piqued resident’s curiosity even before the closing of the sale was announced.

According to the press release on the sale, phase one will include construction of infrastructure, a Big Y grocery store, a Starbucks coffee shop, and one retail building. Navarro estimated that phase one of construction would be completed by the end of 2021.

Asked when the next phases of construction will begin, Navarro told the Harbor News his company would build “remaining buildings as we can attract tenants. Needless to say, COVID situation has stalled tenant interest, but we feel that tenant interest will return soon. For now, we are moving full speed ahead with phase one.”

Big Y was announced as the anchor tenant of the property in spring 2020 and though a Starbucks had long been rumored to be a part of the development, an Oct. 5 press release from Clinton Town Manager Karl Kilduff was the first time it had been confirmed. So far those are the only named tenants in the development.

When Indian River Landing is built to completion, the 38-acre property where the town’s old high school stands will be filled with multiple buildings that will consist of retail, restaurants, and a hotel in addition to the Big Y and Starbucks. The development will also include walking trails and a park area for recreation uses.

“Projects like this are complex and we sincerely appreciate how town officials and residents and neighbors have all worked together with us to create a project we can all be proud of. Thank you!” Navarro said.

Development Design

When renderings of the property were displayed at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting in March, attendees overwhelmingly expressed support of the village-style design from Williams Architects, Inc.

Architect Matt Williams said he was excited to get to work bringing his designs off the drawing board and into real life.

“One of the major goals of the design was to echo building elements that were locally familiar and would reflect Clinton’s rich architectural heritage. Overall, the project’s style can only be described as ‘eclectic,’ creating a composition of themes that are subtly reminiscent of the buildings in Clinton’s town center. On top of that core concept, there are sub-layers of thought and intention that shape each building, but hopefully not in a way that is perceived as reconstruction of anything downtown,” said Williams.

“Just as important as the architectural philosophy itself is that the actual details are executed convincingly. Retail buildings are functionally simple volumes, which all too often present as boxy, nondescript buildings. We worked hard to avoid that,” said Williams.

An Important Milestone

“I think the whole town has to be excited,” said Town Council Chairman Chris Aniskovich, who noted that the sale of the old Morgan property was a years-long effort that took many people to pull off.

“We’re all excited that all the hard work paid off. This wasn’t just the current administration, and the former and current Planning & Zoning Commission members should all be extremely happy, too,” Aniskovich said.

Council member Christine Goupil was the first selectman when the deal with Greylock was announced in 2018. Asked her thoughts on seeing the sale finally completed, she said, “I was elected as first selectmen to get the Old Morgan property sold to a developer who had the experience and financing to see it through. We found the right partner with Greylock. Indian River Landing will be an economic benefit to the 81 corridor and compliment Clinton Crossing. The town and I look forward to a long-term successful relationship with the developer and tenants.”

Money in the Bank

Aniskovich said that it was too early to determine how the money from the $2.2 million sale will be used. “It could be used as a buffer or be used other ways should we need it,” said Aniskovich.

Aniskovich said that Kilduff will have a large role in recommending what the sale money is used for once the town begins its budgeting process.

“Ultimately, the Town Council will have to make a decision. It is an opportunity to improve the town financial position going forward. Clearly, we will be in budget season again in a few months and the funds can help the town in stabilizing the budget’s impact,” said Kilduff.

Before the sale was complete the town had to spend time and money maintaining the property and securing the school. Now, the town is no longer responsible for the maintenance on the property.

“Closing transfers the ownership of the site from the town to the developer. The developer then has the ability to move forward with the construction plans to develop the property. It will then become an active construction site,” said Kilduff.

A Long Road

Getting the old school property developed was took nearly seven years, two different developers, and a lot of patience from townspeople.

In 2012, voters in Clinton narrowly approved the purchase of land on Route 81 to begin building the current high school. The town then began soliciting plans for what do with the old school and in 2015 voters approved the conditional sale of the Old Morgan School to Mill Pond, LLC, for $2.8 million.

At the time, proponents of the move argued that the sale of property would help offset some of the construction costs from building the current school.

Mill Pond, LLC, had planned to break ground in late 2016 and turn the property into a mixed-use development similar to the current proposal, but that never happened. In summer 2017, then-first selectman Bruce Farmer attributed the delay to a backlog in the states Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) office and told residents not to believe rumors about the project being in jeopardy.

Subsequently, a DEEP official heard of the allegations against the department and reached out to the Harbor News to refute the allegations and say that delay in constructions was due to several deficiencies with the Mill Pond application.

Instead of breaking ground on the project, residents were shocked to find out in August 2017 that developer Henry Resnikoff had terminated the agreement with the town citing issues with obtaining financing and a permit application from DEEP.

With the deal dead, the town faced angry residents and unanticipated costs associated with keeping up the property.

A new iteration of the town’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) took over and spent much of 2018 soliciting and vetting new proposals for the site. After narrowing the search down to four finalists that the BOS felt had the financial backing to complete the project, the board made its decision by announcing Greylock as the chosen new developer in November 2018.

Residents unanimously approved the $2.2 million sale of the old high school to Greylock Property Group in December 2018.

In the 23 months since that approval, the town and developer have reached several subsequent agreements that culminated in the closing. The town’s Inland Wetlands and Planning & Zoning commissions approved the application for the project in the winter of 2020.

To help with the startup costs of the project, the Town Council approved a tax abatement with the developers that both sides hope will assist with attracting tenants.


Eric O’Connell covers news for Clinton for Zip06. Email Eric at e.oconnell@shorepublishing.com.

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