Last week’s Economic Development Commission meeting featured an area realtor as a guest speaker who discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Wilton’s commercial real estate market.
“The residential market is hot, but I can’t really say the same of the commercial market,” said Mike Spremulli, who said he heads the commercial real estate division of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Fairfield and Westchester counties. As part of his comments, Spremulli pointed to certain dynamics (like loyal Wilton customers) that might be attractive to prospective businesses, but others that might be deterring them (like the low inventory of buildings currently for sale.)
One key person watching the meeting was a bit dismayed to hear someone say the commercial market in Wilton isn’t “hot” — First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice. Part of her job description means being ‘Champion in Chief’ to advocate for Wilton as a viable commercial location, and she wants to make sure the public understands there is more happening on the economic development front than might meet the eye. She hopes no one has the impression Wilton is being left in the dust of other towns.
Vanderslice and Wilton’s Director of Planning and Land Use Management/Town Planner Michael Wrinn — a highly experienced municipal planning professional — spoke with GOOD Morning Wilton to clarify some key points about the state of economic development in town.
“We’ve been amazingly busy here at Town Hall — Michael in particular with the amount of activity that’s happening in the commercial sector,” Vanderslice said to lead off the conversation.
Vanderslice acknowledged, as Spremulli also discussed, the commercial real estate market is very tight at this time. However, Vanderslice says that’s not necessarily a negative indicator.
“The reason [for low inventory] is because a lot of those properties that were on [the market] two months ago are now under binder,” Vanderslice explained. “We think [that] is a good thing for the Town. There’s such high interest… A lot of things have come under binder very quickly.”
She offered examples of properties having multiple bids, much like the residential side of the market.
Wrinn echoed the high level of interest Vanderslice observed.
“[There is] tremendous, tremendous interest in a whole bunch of [Wilton] properties, and it’s all over the board — small ones, large ones, and everything in between,” Wrinn said.
GMW pressed for details, but Vanderslice and Wrinn weren’t giving away any secrets.
Leading Efforts, With Discretion
While Wilton’s Economic Development Commission has a visible role in supporting the Town’s economic goals, Vanderslice and Wrinn hold the primary responsibility for economic development.
Wrinn and Vanderslice are both heavily engaged with existing and prospective businesses; commercial property owners and brokers; and developers.
Wrinn emphasized that his role requires discretion whenever a prospective business is exploring the Wilton market.
“[When] someone’s looking at a property and they’re doing their due diligence, they don’t want the word to get out,” Wrinn explained.
Before proceeding with a deal, a prospective business might want to explore how zoning regulations potentially would apply to a particular site, for example, or how many affordable housing units the Town might desire as part of a new housing project.
“We do all that preliminary review and back-and-forth with them to give them a better sense of what we see as applicable to the particular site they’re looking at,” Wrinn said. “It doesn’t make the news because it’s not public [information].”
Vanderslice revealed the first question she is often asked by a prospective business is whether she will maintain confidentiality about the discussions — and that’s a prerequisite for getting deals done.
“Then they come in, and they’re a hundred percent comfortable to speak because they know it’s confidential,” Vanderslice said. “If they think that I’m going to be out publicly discussing it, they’re probably not going to meet with me. And we want them to meet with us. I think it’s just the right way to do business.”
“It’s not something unique here,” Vanderslice continued. “You need to develop trust, you need to develop, relationships… in order to get business done.”
Redevelopment Is Also Hot
The laggard among commercial market segments is surely leased office space.
A review of available spaces revealed tens of thousands of square feet of office space currently available for lease in Wilton. This includes corporate offices along Danbury Rd. as well as several locations in Wilton Center.
The seismic shift to a work-from-home workforce has been a key factor in the over-supply of office space.
That’s why property owners like Kimco are considering redeveloping their commercial properties into residential. Kimco currently lists over 66,000 square feet of space in the 11-15 River Rd. complex in Wilton Center, plus thousands more square feet of space in the Wilton River Park complex (anchored by Stop ‘n Shop.)
“The corporate office space market is horrible,” said Vanderslice. “That’s what’s being redeveloped into residential. [Some properties are] being sold so quickly because the developers want them for residential.”
That can edge out a smaller business competing to buy.
“If you are a business looking for a smaller building, you’re competing with developers who are going to convert it to multi-family, and they may be able to pay a higher price,” Vanderslice said.
Wrinn agreed. “There is pressure on those properties to go to something else that’s a higher use,” he said.
One example of that would be 19 Cannon Rd, where a developer is proposing a 70-unit apartment complex on the site which currently has a single-family home that dates to the 1800s. The proposal falls under the 8-30(g) affordable housing statute.
Vanderslice hinted there could be more projects like that in the pipeline.
“People shouldn’t be surprised if there’s more 8-30(g) [proposals].”
Interested in supporting Wilton’s economic development efforts? The Town relies on volunteers with related experience to serve on the Economic Development Commission. Look for details on the Town website under the “How Do I” tab.