Fairfield developer who built Merritt 7 in Norwalk dies


The developer of Merritt 7 Corporate Park in Norwalk and Fairfield Shopping Center has passed away, leaving behind a lasting legacy of commercial ventures in Fairfield and Westchester counties.

At one time, Albert “Bert” D. Phelps, Jr. was one of the largest landowners in the area, developing and managing millions of square feet of commercial space. He died at his Florida home on Jan. 2, just two weeks after his 98th birthday, according to his obituary. He had spent his summers in Redding.

“Sir. Phelps was an entrepreneur, a visionary and generous to the limit,” said Steven Warren, president of Albert D. Phelps Inc. in Fairfield.

Albert D. Phelps Inc. still has offices in the Fairfield Mall, which Phelps built in 1955.

His “trophy property” however was Merritt 7, according to his obituary.

Merritt 7 is a 1.4 million square foot six-building office park that its website says is the largest business park in Fairfield County. It houses the headquarters of Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

Phelps began work on the project in the 1960s and the first of six buildings was completed in 1980. His company, ADPhelps Inc., took care of the management and rental of the complex until 2011, when to which he sold his stake to Clarion Partners.

Clarion Partners had a 15-year partnership with Albert D. Phelps on Merritt 7 starting in the mid-90s.

“Bert had the insight to bring the office market to the workforce and designed Merritt 7 in the middle of Connecticut’s Gold Coast, between the traditional CBD of Fairfield Stamford County and the housing units to the north,” said Margaret Egan, Senior Vice President at Clarion Partners. “Until many years ago, Bert understood the concerns about traffic to and from Stamford and the importance of public transportation. “

She said he worked to increase public transportation and chose a location where Route 7 and Merritt Drive met.

“Bert was not only a visionary in terms of the location, but also the product, and built a highly serviced asset that was one of the largest and best office buildings in the region,” said Egan. “From its inception until today, Merritt 7 has attracted large, blue-chip tenants, confirming this idea.”

She called it a pioneer in the region, which led to the emergence of many other businesses where “there was virtually nothing 50 years ago”. Egan said they were proud of the fact that Merritt 7 would continue to improve his vision.

“Merritt 7 Corporate Park really put Norwalk on the map,” said Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling. “As the first and largest developed office space for the city, it paved the way for the future growth and expansion of our business community. I didn’t know Mr. Phelps personally, but his vision and entrepreneurial spirit certainly left a lasting impact on our community.

That part of Norwalk was certainly very different from what it is now thanks to the project. At the time, Route 7 was a two-lane highway, the Route 7 connector did not exist, and Armstrong Tire owned the land that is now home to Merritt 7 Corporate Park. A man-made lake was on the property the tire company was using for cooling, according to an earlier report by The Hour on the park.

Phelps drained the lake, moved utilities underground, widened Highway 7 and even diverted the Norwalk River as part of the project, according to the article.

It was also a big factor in employment in the area, Warren said at the time, referring not only to people directly employed by Phelps, but also to those who worked at Merritt 7 and the hotels and businesses that opened up around it. .

“Bert had a lot of vision,” said Mike DiScala of DiScala Fairfield, the influential broker for attracting business to Merritt 7, in the 2011 article. “There was nothing on Route 7 at the time. . Nothing to eat, no place to shop, nothing. He was isolated. He had a lot of vision and a lot of courage.

Phelps also developed one of the first regional shopping centers, now the Cortlandt Town Center in Peekskill, NY.

He also gave back to the community outside of development. The Albert D. Phelps, Jr. Charitable Foundation is still active and has been donating to organizations for decades.

Phelps established the Merritt 7 Corporate Park Scholarship for the University of Fairfield, where he was also a former administrator.

“Fairfield University offers our sincere condolences to the family of former university administrator Albert D. Phelps Jr.,” the university said in a statement. “Through the generous philanthropy of Mr. Phelps, the scholarship funded by his company has provided financial assistance to many students at Fairfield University. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time. “

Phelps also donated a number of his boats to AM Kids, a struggling youth charity in Florida.

His first love was sailing and he was a life member of the New York Yacht Club. He won many prestigious races during his career and even built his 91ft racing schooner “Sonny” in 2018 at the age of 95.

Phelps was born in the Bronx in 1923. He served in the military in Europe during World War II. He graduated from Babson College after the war.

He is survived by his wife Mona and a stepson, Ben Gershel, and will be buried in his family lot at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

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