After nearly 20 years of vacancy in the vacant Newtown Hall building on the Fairfield Hills campus, the city is suddenly faced with competing bids for the former state hospital’s administration building.
The EverWonder Children’s Museum of Newtown had submitted a letter of intent requesting 18 months to fundraise and bid on the building in August. Then, in September, 1st Financial Bank USA, headquartered in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, submitted a letter of intent for the building.
The bank’s intent was to use the historic structure as the corporate headquarters for Premier Financial Services, one of its subsidiaries, which manages classic and luxury vehicle financing. The Midwestern financial institution recently acquired Premier, located in neighboring Woodbury.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal narrated The Newtown Bee on Oct. 11 that following social media posts from EverWonder last week, 1st Financial Bank decided to step down to give EverWonder an “opportunity to see if they can make it work.”
After the bank withdrew from the immediate review, Merredith Christos, Executive Director of EverWonder, thanked “the townsfolk, businesses and friends who stood by, showed up and spoke out [their] opinion on the city.”
“We are beyond grateful for the opportunity to further pursue our dream of Newtown Hall,” said Christos.
In a modified social media post originally appearing this past weekend, EverWonder chief executive Aaron Coopersmith said EverWonder “awaits further guidance and signed agreements from the Fairfield Hills.” [Authority] and the city of Newtown.”
“On behalf of the EverWonder Board of Directors and all of its supporters, I am extremely pleased,” Coopersmith said in a statement The bee. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride and the ride is far from over. Newtown Hall is a beautiful gem.
“The EverWonder staff and its extremely supportive community are all excited about this opportunity,” he continued. “The EverWonder Board of Directors believes that the addition of the museum to the Fairfield Hills campus will bring added value to all Newtown residents, both financially and philanthropic.”
By bringing tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors to the museum to take advantage of Newtown’s many restaurants and shops, Coopersmith believes that if completed successfully, the museum will help make the city’s campus a destination.
“We invest in the future through our mission to make a positive contribution to the development of a child’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical abilities. The dovetailing with NYA, the community center, arts festival, farmer’s market, Victory Garden, Reed School, etc. makes sense given how Newtown would like to see the development of such an important site,” he said.
“We are so grateful to First Financial Bank for recognizing the value of our mission and wanting to give us the best opportunity to reach our full potential. It speaks volumes about her character and values,” added Coopersmith. “We hope they find a place in Newtown because these are the types of individuals and businesses we want to grow our city’s future with.”
Original plan changed
Rosenthal said that after hearing about the FFHA’s decision to file 1st Financial Bank’s letter of intent with the BOS, it originally intended to give both 1st Financial Bank and EverWonder eight weeks to file new letters of intent with definitive offers , and the city would then consider this between the two.
However, since the bank withdrew its offer, Rosenthal said he still intends to give EverWonder eight weeks to put together their plan.
“We will deal with it in the same way as with any offer,” said Rosenthal. “We will ask them to prove their finances and make an offer. If that works out, we’ll negotiate a lease. Otherwise, the building is in play for anyone who wants it.”
Rosenthal said that while 1st Financial is currently looking at other locations, it may still be interested if the building will still be available eight weeks from now.
Referring to Rosenthal’s plan to give EverWonder eight weeks to make a new offer, Fairfield Hills Authority Chair Ross Carley said the FFHA made its decision in favor of 1st Financial and he “didn’t know we were doing reruns.” gifts”.
“I hope [Rosenthal] doesn’t crease on online print,” said Carley. “But that’s his decision, he can do that.”
Coopersmith and Christos both declined to comment on the first Selectman’s schedule until they see something in writing from town.
On October 3, the EDI met to review both letters of intent and make a decision between the two competing bids. According to the minutes of the meeting, Christal Preszler, deputy director for economic and community development, told the commission that both the bank and EverWonder were “really good choices.”
“EverWonder is great for Newtown and a goal,” Preszler said in the transcript. “The timing and funding from the bank puts them in a better position to be selected.”
The minutes state that FFHA members “all agreed that EverWonder would like to find the best building in town for their growing museum.” EFHA then unanimously recommended that 1st Financial Bank’s letter be submitted to the Board of Selectmen for final consideration.
Carley said many at FFHA were involved with EverWonder and agreed with her request. He said some were inclined to pick her for Newtown Hall, but two board members said 1st Financial was “a no-brainer.”
After reviewing the offers, the FFHA as a group decided that 1st Financial was the best offer for the city.
“The city would get rent money, it would get tax money — the whole burden would be taken off the city,” Carley said. “It was a good deal all round.”
According to Carley, the decision to go with 1st Financial was not “last minute”. “We thought about it for a month. We looked at all the pros and cons and came to our decision.”
Carley said in his decision that FFHA members noted that EverWonder was “vague on funding” while 1st Financial was “very prescient with the fact that they had unlimited funds to complete the project”.
Carley noted that EverWonder has expressed an interest in “any building.” [on the Fairfield Hills campus] in the last ten years but never been able to raise the funding.”
“Now they say they can,” Carley said.
Carley noted that 1st Financial wanted the building as it is, offering to buy it outright, which would bring taxes to the city – and not asking for additional land for parking, all of which would be negotiated in a lease for the land, on which the building is located.
EverWonder didn’t want to buy the building; It’s a tax-exempt nonprofit, and Carley said she wants additional land to fence around for outdoor activities and additional parking.
“Parking has always been a problem in Fairfield Hills,” Carley said.
Carley also noted that Newtown Hall is an office building with “several small offices and a front desk,” along with narrow hallways and no elevator.
“We tried to tell them that from the start [the museum] doesn’t look like it would fit well in the space,” Carley said.
EverWonder officials have “looked at the building for over a year” but brought “no architects and no structural engineers” to assess the building for space, Carley said.
“And now they want another 18 months,” Carley said.
In an email dated October 7th The Newtown BeeChristos explained: “We had finalized our letter of intent and submitted it to the Fairfield Hills Authority on September 26th as a formality to officially move Newtown Hall to the next phase by bringing in a structural engineer (employed and pending) and then an architect (selected and waiting) to accurately calculate the cost of renovating the building into a children’s museum.”
Carley said 1st Financial reportedly hired an engineer and architectural firm to review the building and intended to finalize the deal with the city within six weeks.
During deliberations and before it was announced that 1st Financial was withdrawing its offer, Carley said FFHA members were concerned about having to wait 18 months for EverWonder to make its decision. And when EverWonder decided Newtown Hall wasn’t a good fit or not affordable, he said the 1st financial offering was long overdue.
“The Well Poisoned”
Carley expressed concern that EverWonder “poisoned the well” over interest in Newtown Hall.
“It’s almost like she [EverWonder] force us to allow them to occupy Newtown Hall,” Carley said.
Rosenthal said the museum has expressed an interest in Newtown Hall for a “long period” and in the letter of intent asked for an additional 18 months to make an offer.
The first selectman said he could not justify holding the building long-term, adding that the only promise EverWonder was ever made was that Newtown Hall could be at their disposal as long as no one else had the building wool.
“I will not agree to taking the building off the market for 18 months while someone decides if they can raise the money,” Rosenthal said. “It’s not realistic. It’s too big a question. We cannot justify keeping the building for the long term.”
Rosenthal was also concerned about an early version of the museum’s memorandum of understanding, which asked for rent of $1 a year, which Rosenthal described as “giving the building free of charge.”
Rosenthal noted that Newtown Hall was formerly an administrative building and was furnished for office use, making it well suited for the bank’s intended use.
“As far as elevators go when the building is renovated, it’s already configured as an administrative building,” says Rosenthal.
According to online information, 1st Financial Bank was founded in 1910 and, through one of its subsidiaries, Premier Financial Services, offers credit cards, mortgage lending, rental investment home loans, community banking, and vintage and luxury car financing.
Contrary to some suggestions on social media posts, the company only operates bank branches near its Midwest headquarters.
1st Financial’s Letter of Intent, obtained from The Newtown Beesaid moving Premier Financial Services’ headquarters to Newtown Hall would bring 35 jobs to Newtown, with promises that the workforce would grow by 25% over the next five years.
The letter states that 1st Financial will conduct a six-week “due diligence” review of the building and will enter into a written purchase agreement “upon completion of this successful due diligence”. 1st Financial had engaged Maier Design Group LLC, an architectural firm specializing in adaptive reuse of historic buildings and historic restorations, to review Newtown Hall and possibly undertake design work.
Maier Design Group was recently involved in the refurbishment of Hartford’s iconic Colt building, which is now part of the Colt Gateway development.
Associate editor Jim Taylor can be reached at [email protected]
A view of Newtown Hall on the Fairfield Hills campus.