Exotic car lender won’t bid against museum for Newtown building

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NEWTOWN — If you weren’t aware of the truce in the bidding war between a children’s museum and an exotic car financier over Fairfield Hills real estate, you probably didn’t know the building is the only one on the market. old campus hospital with marble bathrooms.

The marble bathrooms underline the architectural opulence of the empty red-brick structure known as Newtown Hall, but also indicate that it is an office building, city officials said Monday. .

“It’s all raised signs everywhere with these ornate desks,” said Ross Carley, chairman of the Fairfield Hills Authority, an appointed body that advises city leaders on the 185-acre campus. “You can tell where the superintendent was because it’s the most amazing office.”

The fact that the 1930s structure with its distinctive clock cupola housed offices for the administration of the psychiatric hospital means it is not easily adaptable to other uses, city leaders warned on Monday. town.

But the EverWonder Children’s Museum will offer to do just that, now that a Woodbury company that funds exotic cars has pulled out of the bidding war for the 16,000-square-foot Newtown Hall to give the organization a nonprofit the right of first refusal.

“Since our inception, we have dreamed of moving to Fairfield Hills,” said Merredith Christos, Executive Director of EverWonder. “Our visitors will grow from 21,000 to 70,000 if we can make Newtown Hall our permanent home.”

It remains to be seen whether the nonprofit is able to put together a proposal to renovate and operate the two-story structure with a lease agreement acceptable to Newtown, Newtown’s top elected leader said. .

“The building is solid concrete walls and it needs more than a coat of paint,” first coach Dan Rosenthal said. “It’s quite a big job in terms of renovations – they’re going to have to show us their finances and then there’s the ongoing cost of running a building.”

The museum, which has offered a long-term lease with the city for a nominal amount, has seven weeks to submit a proposal, which may be a challenge for the nonprofit. In an August letter of intent, the museum asked the city for 18 months to come up with a plan.

“I think the timing is going to be tight,” Christos said of the deadline. “I would have liked to have had more time, but we are confident that we will find something that works.”

If the museum came up with a plausible plan, Rosenthal and the Board of Selectmen would work with Carley and the Fairfield Hills Authority to negotiate a lease and payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the nonprofit.

Anything less than a plausible plan would mean Newtown Hall is back on the market and could potentially be offered by Woodbury-based exotic car financier Premier Financial Services, Rosenthal said.

“They have graciously decided to step aside and give EverWonder a first chance,” Rosenthal said. “They didn’t have to do that.”

Before pulling out of the bidding war to give the museum the right of first refusal, Premier’s parent company said it was ready to bid on Newtown Hall in six weeks.

“They wanted to come in with a wide open budget, clean it up as an office building and move their 35 employees,” Carley said. “They wanted to roll in six weeks.”

Interest in Newtown Hall comes at a time when redevelopment of two of the largest former hospital buildings in Fairfield Hills is progressing. Newtown has initiated a federal process to establish a historic district in Fairfield Hills and list World War II buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. This historic designation would make the two buildings under consideration for redevelopment into apartments and retail eligible for $10 million in preservation tax credits — an incentive the developer needs to get a return on renovation investments. .

Newtown Hall, like some of the smaller buildings known as duplexes on the west end of campus, is one of the few empty structures in Fairfield Hills with potential for commercial reuse.

And yet, there hasn’t been a one-upmanship for Newtown Hall for decades.

So it was unusual for the Fairfield Hills Authority earlier this month to have two letters of intent to entertain – one from the museum and one from the exotic car lender.

The exotic car lender offered to move quickly with financing in place to negotiate a purchase price and start paying taxes. The nonprofit organization wanted 18 months to come up with a plan that would include a $1 annual lease and reduced property taxes.

“The authority lawyers said, ‘It’s a no-brainer,'” Carley said. All eight members of the Fairfield Hills Authority voted unanimously to recommend Premier’s offer to Rosenthal and Selectman’s board of directors.

But the museum hit back, taking their case to social media and urging supporters to petition city leaders.

Rosenthal stepped in and gave both suitors eight weeks to submit proposals for Newtown Hall.

“I was disappointed because we made our decision which I think was very well thought out,” Carley said.

The prime minister has declared a truce in the bidding war by stepping down.

“The prime minister being the gentlemen that they are, they said they weren’t going to compete with the museum,” Carley said. “It’s a shame because it was so perfect.”

Contact Rob Ryser at [email protected] or 203-731-3342

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