Darien finalizes Great Island purchase; price drops from $103M to $85M

DARIEN — The price for Great Island — a 60-plus acre parcel of land — has dropped from the initial $103 million agreement to an amended purchase price of $85 million, Darien officials said.

The town announced the finalized agreement Tuesday with a closing date of May 5 following a multi-month due diligence period.

The town was supposed to take ownership back in September; however, the 75-day due diligence timeline was extended based on environmental and access reviews. 

“Great Island is a pristine landscape with approximately one and a half miles of coastline in an environmentally sensitive cove on Long Island Sound," Darien First Selectman Monica McNally said. "With this purchase, we have prioritized the conservation of this magnificent property, saving it forever from intensive development. We have added significant open space for Darien, which is needed more and more as our town enters a new development phase.”

Board of Finance chairman Jim Palen, who worked closely with McNally on the financial side of the negotiations, described them as "a very amicable and collaborative discussion" with the sellers.

"In connection with the diligence over the past seven months, the team looked at overall economic environment, the changing interest rate levels as well as any potential investments that might need to be made to ensure efficient access to the island for other environmental or structural costs and entered into negotiations over the purchase price with the seller and ultimately, over the past couple months, arrived at the new purchase price of $85 million," Palen said.

Once the town takes ownership on May 5, there will be restricted access until critical updates are completed, such as widening roads, creating parking areas, and addressing some safety, accessibility, and environmental issues. 

The town has not yet finalized how the property will be used, though officials have floated several possibilities including an ice rink, museum, ecological learning and outdoor festivals.

While the price tag has dropped, the final cost of Great Island is unknown given the loss of property taxes as well as costs for maintenance and any additional structures the town may add.

Palen said with the 17 percent price drop, he anticipated the town's debt service associated with Great Island to drop by a similar rate, though the exact cost will likely not be known until late March or early April.

"I think the price drop will provide savings to our budget," he said. "I would stress that while this purchase is one of the largest that Darien has made, I don’t expect that it will have any affect on our (Moody's) AAA rating and will not have any affect on the towns ability to invest in other important services and capital projects."

Great Island was one of two properties off of Long Neck Road built by baking soda magnate William Ziegler in the early 1900s and owned by his descendents, the Steinkraus family.

The adjacent property to Great Island, the 52-acre Ziegler Farm, is still on the market for $85 million, though Darien officials previously said there were no plans to purchase the property at this time.

“Our family has cherished Great Island for over 120 years," Ned Steinkraus, said in a press release. "It is a magical place and we are saddened to see it go, however, we are also excited to pass the torch to the town. We are confident they will be top-notch stewards of the land and preserve it for all to enjoy.” 

“The success of this purchase is due to the efforts of many individuals,” McNally said. “It takes a town to make a project like this a reality.”