Push for Wall Street train station
Sept. 18--NORWALK -- Though it's long forgotten, Wall Street once had its own train station, right downtown.
Now, as apartments go up along Wall Street and the state prepares to replace the Walk Bridge to the south, some people say it's time to bring a train station back to the heart of the city.
"When you start looking at Gov. Malloy's transportation plan about the need to increase capacity of roads and rails, when you look at the economic corridor between Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford, the increased economic activity in residential buildings that are going up, it would suggest that adding a train station where historically there has always been one is a good idea," said Jackie Lightfield, chairwoman of the Norwalk Center Task Force and chief problem solver for Norwalk 2.0.
To that end, Norwalk 2.0, a nonprofit economic development and community organization, has actively pursued developers interested in advancing a development project and getting the state Department of Transportation on board to open a train station in the Wall Street area. Lightfield said a private development group, whom she declined to identify, has expressed interest and the idea is in the conceptual phase.
The past as the future
For decades, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad operated a train station at 47 Wall St. The train station is long gone but the building and railroad tracks beneath the building remain in use (see related story).
Mayor Harry W. Rilling said bringing a train station back to the Wall Street area would require approvals by the DOT and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversee operation of Metro-North Railroad.
"It's not something that could just happen," Rilling said. "But I think it's an interesting discussion and if I felt it was something that would help the Wall Street area, help our overcrowded streets, I would be very, very much in favor of it."
Rilling said he has spoken with Elizabeth L. Stocker, the city's economic development director, about the possibility.
"I've said, one of our first things we have to do is reach out and see if there's any interest," Rilling said.
DOT's hands are full
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's 30-year transportation vision, as unveiled in early 2015, includes a number of projects aimed at improving aged infrastructure in southwestern Connecticut, including electrifying the Danbury Line and upgrading the Merritt 7 train station off Glover Avenue in Norwalk.
For now, bringing a train station back to Wall Street isn't on the drawing board, according to the DOT.
"There have not been any real discussions about a Wall Street station and it is definitely not in the scope of the Walk Bridge project," said DOT spokesman Judd Everhart. "But having said that, nothing has been ruled out."
The DOT plans to begin replacement of the 120-year-old Walk Bridge, which carries Amtrak and Metro-North Railroad New Haven Line trains over the Norwalk Harbor, in mid-2018. The project will include upgrades to the track system and construction of a dockyard along the Danbury Line tracks near Crescent Street.
Everhart said Norwalk already has three stations along Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line (East Norwalk, South Norwalk and Rowayton) and design work for major upgrades to the Merritt 7 station off Glover Avenue is underway.
The DOT spokesman noted that the department recently built new stations in Fairfield and West Haven, is designing a "Barnum Station" in Bridgeport and is in the early stages of considering a new station in Orange. Without a specific proposal, he said, speculating on the cost, property acquisitions and timeline for a Wall Street area station in Norwalk would be difficult.
Wall Street rebirth
Former Councilman Jerry E. Petrini, owner of My Three Sons Family Fun Center on Wall Street, said he's reached out to Norwalk's legislative delegation in Hartford and stands ready to push the matter of a Wall Street train station with Malloy.
"If you're looking for something that's going to rebirth that area, really a train station is a no-brainer," Petrini said. "Can you imagine walking out your door 200 feet down the street to pick up the train to go to New York?"
At present, construction is under way along upper Smith Street on 60 upscale apartments. The development, undertaken by M.F. DiScala Co., is known as Head of the Harbor South. The company hopes to break ground next spring on Head of the Harbor North -- 80 apartments along High Street. And while POKO Partners this summer halted construction on Wall Street Place -- 101 apartments off Wall Street -- city officials hope to see work resume.
In February, Waypointe developer Paxton B. Kinol received zoning approval to build 278 apartments along High Street, Main Street and North Avenue/Route 1 in central Norwalk.
Petrini said the property at 45 Wall St. would be the "perfect solution" for creating a train station and eliminating a "dilapidated building," which he said remains largely the way it was after a fire struck it in August 2010. The property lies adjacent to the Danbury Line tracks.
Lightfield said she was not at liberty to reveal the footprint of the proposed station in the conceptual plan but added, when asked, that it is not 45 Wall St.
Rilling said the Mechanics Street Parking Lot, a city-owned parcel flanking the Metro-North Danbury Line railroad tracks near Wall Street, would be the most logical location for a station.
For now, getting the state on board would be the first hurdle.
"Any developer can come in with a proposal to do something but without the state wanting to create a station, without the city getting behind it and thinking this is a good idea, the project would run into major difficulties," Lightfield said.