NORWALK, Conn. – If General Growth Properties (GGP) is allowed to build a mall in South Norwalk, that mall, in its third year, would deliver more than $2.8 million in tax revenue to Norwalk, according to a third-party projection – and that projection does not include the hotel proposed for the property, GGP Senior Director of Development and Municipal Analysis Doug Adams said.
The paperwork shuffling has begun for the mall project, with the Dec. 8 submission to the Redevelopment Agency and the city of the proposed amendment to the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) for the property, which comprises Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Area parcels 1, 2, and 4. The requested amendments include said hotel and the approval to put a mini-electric generation plant on the property.
It also includes 2,500 to 7,500 square feet of education space, which Adams said GGP will build whether or not Norwalk Community College (NCC) is on board as a partner.
The mall itself would be 975,000 square feet, with 700,000 of that devoted to retail, and the balance for back-of-the-house use, loading and common areas, Adams said. The hotel would be 80,000 to 175,000 square feet, according to the amendment request, which specifies 100 to 200 rooms, although Adams is talking 150 rooms.
The LDA amendment must be agreed to by both the Redevelopment Agency and the Common Council, with the Council’s Planning Committee doing the nitty-gritty work before the full Council gets to vote. Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said the current work being done is by RDA Chairman Felix Serrano and Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), who are trying to work out a schedule for both bodies to consider the proposal simultaneously, thereby expediting approval.
GGP is waiving a big carrot with its deep-pocketed proposal to build the mall ASAP. Because the mall is in an existing Enterprise Zone, its real estate taxes are abated for the first two years. In its third year that abatement would be cut in half, and GGP would pay 50 percent of its tax assessment. It would pay 10 percent more every year after that, so it would pay 60 percent of its assessment in year four, 70 percent in year five, and so on, until it’s paying its entire obligation in year eight.
Not like the tax boost won’t be significant when the mall is an infant. In its first year, it would pay $740,000 in personal property tax, for which there is no abatement, according to the projection done by HR&A Advisors. That’s for things like cash registers and light fixtures, Adams said. For the vacant land, the tax would be $158,172, according to the projection.
In the third year, the personal property tax would be $770,000, in addition to the first property tax bill – $2.1 million. By year eight, the total tax revenue would be $5.48 million, according to the projection.
The Enterprise Zone is doing what it should be doing, Adams said, asserting that it has encouraged development in SoNo. And, “If the site had to actually turn into something else and that took another two years, well, you’ve used the two years of the abatement anyway,” he said.
That projected tax revenue boost does not include a hotel.
Adams expressed confidence that the hotel would be built.
“We have gone out and talked to the people in the industry and have been pleased with the people’s feedback on the location and what we are planning, because they have to like what we are planning,” Adams said.
That optimism is supported by a study commissioned by the RDA, he said, although the study did not include the possibility of an extended stay hotel being built by FD Rich Co. on South Main Street, next to the Norwalk Police headquarters. That proposal was recently approved by the Zoning Commission, but Adams said it doesn’t matter.
“We are not trying to compete with him. To an extent, hotels are like restaurants. You get a little more and some variety, it creates a place and it benefits everybody,” Adams said. “… We would love to see his built. We think there is room for two different (hotels).”
GGP could potentially build the hotel itself, he said. A lease to an operator would be for “decades, not years,” he said.
The lobby for the hotel, essentially just a place to check in, is designed to be on the ground floor, accessible directly from Pine Street and the parking garage entrance there. The hotel’s 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of meeting spaces as well as its gym and other amenities would be on the same floors as the mall. The rooms would tower over the mall in a structure that is a maximum of 12 stories, or 175 feet tall.
Some guests would get a view of Long Island Sound and others would see the Norwalk River. You might not think there’s much in the other directions, but Adams said he had looked from the roof of an 8-story condominium complex in the area and had come to a different conclusion.
“The views toward the hospital are nicer than I thought. Because you are looking up West Avenue toward Waypointe – it’s an urban view – you’re looking over Oyster Shell Park and Matthews Park,” Adams said.
Another carrot for Norwalk: space for the Norwalk Museum and NCC to exhibit parts of their collections, Adams said. The beach and the oyster industry would also be spotlighted in the mall as part of the branding of Norwalk, he said.
There also would be cultural performance spaces. GGP tries to have at least 18 performances a year in its malls, Adams said. “We’re not going to just show movies,” he said.
There might be a small skating rink, because GGP has done that in some of its other malls, he said.
The education space might be in the back of the mall, along the railroad tracks, or adjacent to the parking garage, he said. He’s talking 5,000 square feet.
“We’re not building a satellite (NCC) campus here as was reported (elsewhere),” he said. “… We’ve had some preliminary discussions with Norwalk Community College. We found them very encouraging. They like the idea of having a presence on the urban core but they have an extremely successful, very nice campus in West Norwalk. So we are not trying to do anything to alter the existing campus. The discussions we have been having is opening a small satellite space for classrooms. It could also be for their book store and some programs.”
He mentioned NCC’s architectural programs, 3-D modeling classes and catering school.
“Or maybe it’s just digital classrooms that connect to the main campus so that people can come here and take a class just like they were in the room,” Adams said. “Those are things we are exploring with them now and we think they’d be a great partner… but it’s not about trying to create this second or new portion. It’s about ‘we think that education use is great here. We think Norwalk Community College in particular would be a perfect partner for this.’ We are just trying to see if there are specifics. But regardless, we are committed to put it in the project.”
“We can offer the location, the transportation, the parking and the facility,” Adams said.
The current LDA calls for the redeveloper to spend $600,000 on connectivity. “We remain committed to that investment,” Adams said. “The feedback we received from the community and leaders is that GGP should focus on working with the Transit District to create a sustainable circulator for South Norwalk and all of West Avenue; as well as bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to surrounding assets including Oyster Shell Park, Maritime Aquarium, SoNo Historic Restaurant District, and Matthews Park and its museums.
The proposed electric generation plant would provide power for the mall only, according to the LDA amendment request. It might be continuously interconnected with the outside power grid; transportation terminals would be designed as an integral part of the structure.
Adams said GGP strives for sustainability. The company will study potentially using solar, wind or geothermal energy, he said. The lighting would be LED and the company has a habit of composting its garbage, he said. Rain water would be collected and used on the landscaping, as would the compost, he said.
GGP would like to use the now-abandoned Crescent Street for delivery trucks and emergency vehicles, he said. Although GGP thinks the road would be a private street because of right of way issues, the company would like it to be open to the public, he said. But that’s up to the Department of Public Works, he said.
“We would like as much circulation as we can get,” Adams said. “We think it’s a positive thing.”
The proposed LDA amendment, attached below, refers to Phase I and Phase II of construction.
“We will build the retail and the education uses at the same time in the first phase,” Adams said. “While we prefer to build the hotel at the same time, the LDA would provide the flexibility for the hotel to follow as a second phase should market conditions require. Those are the terms under the existing LDA which anticipate multiple phases.”