It’s a great time right now to be developing property in Connecticut — we’re definitely keeping busy.”
So says Southport-based Summit Development Founder, CEO, President and Principal Felix Charney. The developer seems to always have a number of deals cooking, the most recent of which is the acquisition of a long-vacant IGA supermarket property in Fairfield, announced Jan. 24. The company has signed a lease with preschool franchise The Goddard School, with plans to have it ready for the 2019-20 school year.
The Goddard School, which provides a play-based curriculum for children 6 weeks to 6 years old, signed a 15-year lease with Summit for the former retail property at 1280 Stratfield Road — one of the major thoroughfares in the Stratfield Village neighborhood.
Goddard plans to convert the 9,700-square-foot, free-standing building into its newest location, with an eye on opening Sept. 1.
For more than 50 years the newest Goddard location, which is zoned for childcare use, was home to the Stratfield IGA Market. Since closing in 2006 the nearly one-acre property at the corner of Fairfield Woods Road has remained vacant. A Walgreens was proposed for the site but it was ultimately rejected by the town.
Fairfield Director of Economic Development Mark Barnhart said that over the years attempts to find a new grocery user were unsuccessful. At one point responding to another proposal, the Town Planning and Zoning Commission amended the permitted uses to include childcare. While that plan never moved forward, the use is now permitted.
Charney said the building has been “just a shell” for a number of years. “We will build out the exterior and interior, do landscaping, and build a playground,” he said.
The developer said the connection with Goddard came about after Summit purchased Danbury’s Matrix Corporate Center — where Goddard has a school — for $17 million in October. That school had been looking to move out of the Matrix — now called The Ridge at Danbury — but will remain there as Summit begins renovations to that property.
Charney said his company and the school will work closely with the town, which recently received a $650,000 grant for streetscape improvements to enhance the area. Charney added that he will also be working with the Stratford Village Neighborhood Association as the design for the school is developed.
James McCusker, a leader of the association, said the organization is pleased that a new use has been found and that the redesign of the building is a welcome step. “The Four Corners, as the location is known, is at the heart of the neighborhood,” he said. “The property has deteriorated and become a blight on our entire neighborhood.”
As for The Ridge at Danbury — one of Summit’s most notable acquisitions, not to mention one of the biggest deals in the county of the past year — Charney said the firm is “well on our way to getting the approvals we need to institute our renovation plans.”
The site at 39 Old Ridgebury Road consists of 100 acres, 25 of which are to be zoned for residential development. Summit plans to repurpose the building by subdividing it into 700,000 square feet of Class A office space, 400,000 square feet of residential apartments, 100,000 square feet of conference and event space and 100,000 square feet of core services and amenities.
Charney said that Christian nonprofit Guideposts, which had been threatening to relocate before Summit’s acquisition, recently signed a seven-year lease renewal for its approximately 30,000 square feet. “They had been looking at other locations in Connecticut and even New York,” he noted, adding that leases with another six commercial tenants are pending.
Approval for the redevelopment could be secured within 30 to 45 days, he said. “It’s a very good location, but it’s been extremely neglected. We’re in ongoing discussions with the city about how to position and rightsize the building and to maximize the return to them from an income standpoint.”
Although the project “has kept us really busy,” Charney noted another pair of recent acquisitions. One of those — 220 Carter Henry Drive in Fairfield, a 3,850-square-foot, free-standing, two-story office/retail property — was built in 1963. Located downtown near Fairfield’s train station, the building — formerly the home of the Fairfield Citizen newspaper — will be fully renovated.
The other, 81 Newtown Road in Danbury, is a 3,050-square-foot Friendly’s restaurant on a 1.37-acre site with 75 parking spaces. “It’s uncertain whether Friendly’s will stay” in the space, which was built in 1980, Charney said. “If they don’t, we can repurpose it as a restaurant space or maybe make it suitable for a financial institution.”
Charney said Summit would be announcing “a few more” major deals this year.
“The state seems to have a black cloud over it,” he mused, “but from a real estate perspective there are lots of interesting things happening. We’re as busy as we’ve ever been. We’re not struggling to find things to do.”