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The time is now for 95/7

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To the Editor:

It has been called “The Field of Flowers,” “The big dirt patch on West Avenue,” and “The land of missed opportunities.”

We are referring to the 12-acre parcel on West Avenue, officially known as Parcels 1, 2 & 4 of the Reed Putnam District or 95/7. Millions of state and local taxpayer dollars have gone into improving the infrastructure in and around the site, but, despite the best efforts of previous developers, nothing has been built there for over 20 years.

We have all waited patiently for this critical piece to be developed so we can link our historic SoNo district with the Wall Street area and developments to the north. The two-mile stretch of West Avenue has a void right smack in the middle of it, and if we hope to link these developments and complete our downtown corridor, the development of 95/7 can’t come soon enough.

General Growth Properties (GGP) purchased the site, which is located in an Enterprise Zone, in November 2013 for $35 million. After over a year of meetings with neighborhood groups, area business owners, and community leaders, GGP officially submitted its development to the city in December. It is a mixed use plan with upscale retail and national restaurants, a boutique hotel and plenty of civic uses such as performing arts space, public gathering space, plazas and activated sidewalks and even satellite classrooms and educational uses potentially for Norwalk Community College. These uses complement rather than compete with the existing businesses and restaurants in the area.

The city’s own consultant has stated that this development will be a great success and a boom to the surrounding businesses. The benefits to taxpayers are extraordinary. Over $5 million in permit fees alone, and, after full phase-in of real estate taxes, over $5 million dollars each and every year thereafter.

The most immediate benefit will be jobs. Lots and lots of jobs. Thousands of jobs during the construction phase alone, not to mention the over 2,800 ongoing jobs that will be there for the long haul. GGP has indicated that in both cases, over 80 percent of these jobs will be in Norwalk. GGP has also pledged a five-year commitment for job training of local residents, right in South Norwalk. The improvements proposed by GGP to our city’s transportation system (circulator trolley), as well as upgrades to our bike paths, sidewalks, streetscapes, and parks, is a win, win proposition.

We believe the time for this development is now. We wholeheartedly support GGP’s application and encourage all city agencies involved to expedite the approval process as quickly as practicable. As part of the approval process, GGP will need to submit various reports that will be reviewed by professionals at the city and state levels to insure that the project runs smoothly, is designed appropriately and maximizes the benefits to the residents and businesses in the community. Norwalk can’t afford to miss another opportunity to develop this critical piece which will take our city to new heights.

Sen. Bob Duff

Rep. Bruce Morris

Rep. Chris Perone

Rep. Fred Wilms

29 comments

Kevin Di Mauro February 9, 2015 at 4:55 pm

I suggest naming it “The Large Glass of Norwalk” which refers to the masterpiece created by artist Marcel Duchamp.

Big Tex February 9, 2015 at 5:27 pm

It should be no surprise that Governor Malloy has not endorsed this now that his hometown mall and Stamford’s retail foothold is being threatened by more redundant retail from a friendly neighbor. What is the point of doubling down on more retail. Clearly this strategy has failed – insanity defined.

Also, can any of the studies or analysis be shared with the public? Five million a year sounds like a drop in the bucket compared to all the city services required to support this let alone wear and tear, traffic and congestion. . . etc.

Jason White February 9, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Gentlemen – what is the plan to link the various parts of the city to all the new developments? We have discussed the possibility of a trolley similar to the one in Stamford that would link the Merritt7 station to the sono station via route 7/wall street on this blog. Is this a possibility? I believe that the one in Stamford was partially funded by a grant with corporate sponsorship. Any thoughts?

Thanks to the 4 of you for your dedication to public service; it’s not an easy job and is often a thankless one.

Suzanne February 9, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Here we go again – please define “mixed use” in reference to this property. Hint: It does not mean restaurants in direct competition with SoNo nor hotels.

Just how much classroom space is Norwalk Community College realizing when compared to the retail use of available space? Please define the area of the performing arts space, as described in earlier articles. Reference this in proportion to retail space.

Public gathering spaces where? Plaza spaces (of dubious size) where? I am guessing you are counting the “gathering space” used by shoppers to walk from one redundant store to another.

What kinds of jobs paying how much? We can all look forward to residents of Norwalk getting to know their neighbors: in Stratford, Derby, etc.

Why expedite the process quickly if this is such a great idea? This just rushes through adequate analysis of the impacts of this mall on the surrounding community, traffic, etc.

Please describe how you believe this enclosed to the outside world structure will “link” the Wall Street and SoNo communities. Describe this phenomenon in detail.

Please do not easily denigrate the criticism of this project: there are plenty of questions unanswered to the public who has a right to know.

Suzanne February 9, 2015 at 6:19 pm

One more thing: as recommended by the consultant, please describe how a police substation represents community space and does not further the impression that Norwalk shoppers are innately unlawful.

Amanda February 9, 2015 at 6:35 pm

If retail is to be the destiny of 95/7, then please listen to the tax payers re the aesthetic design of the building. Those of us advocating against the big glass box have offered suggestions. Let’s call this project what it is: a mall. It’s not mixed use. The hotel is a “maybe”, the educational space of 5,000 sq ft is part of the smoke and mirrors of “mixed use”. The performing arts space will be the center of the mall where special events like Santa coming to visit will happen once a year. Why doesn’t GGP, or better yet – the COUNCIL – hold a concert hall meeting to really get an understanding of how the residents feel? These special interest groups you’ve met with are bologna and not a representation of the city as a whole.

Amanda February 9, 2015 at 6:44 pm

I’ll also mention this for the 50th time on this discussion – GGP has said this MALL won’t be high end retail. And who really wants a Cheesecake Factory, anyway? We have fabulous restos in Sono already hurting due to poor parking in the neighborhood.

WOW just WOW February 9, 2015 at 10:13 pm

Without question this is the right move for the site and for Norwalk . Lets stop talking and start building.

Suzanne February 9, 2015 at 11:05 pm

WJW, Without whose questions? I would invite you take a look at the excellent points being made by those against the development. If you can answer half of them in a reasonably cognizant way, I would be surprised. Quite a lot of citizens in Norwalk are wondering what is going on outside the development machine and the political arena writing this letter. Oh, that’s right. We are supposed to trust their statements, very generalized, without sufficient data to inform us, the citizens of Norwalk who will be affected. Especially the jobs claims – as mentioned, say hello to neighbors who live in other communities who will be able to afford them and take a look at the terrific tax advantages: five million for 12 acres of prime Norwalk land, a sell-out. These advantages certainly do not outweigh concerns, especially with the numbers of potential buyers being tossed about by GGP which will impact traffic beyond the scope of the development.

srb February 9, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Tbe question here isn’t about 20 years but about the areas best use including the surround area. For years the area was still being cleaned up and under an eminent domain lawsuit cloud. Just as it was ripe for development in 2008 the country was hit with the worst economic downturn in 75 years. Perhaps the mall is the project to help revitalize the area but it shouldn’t be evaluated on the basis that it’s a lousy piece of land and this’ll get things going. In reality this is an incredibly valuable piece of land that could be the linchpin of all kinds of economic activity. The choice isn’t mall today or nothing forever

piberman February 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

Has anyone noticed that with Sen. Duff now supporting the mall both parties now support the mall and there is no effective opposition. The views of both Mayor Rilling and the Common Council are now immaterial and public hearings a mere formality.

One would have hoped that Sen. Duff would have at least waited until the Common Council and Mayor Rilling expressed their views on the mall – the City’s most important decision in decades. Sen. Duff was elected to represent the City in Hartford. Not rally City Democrats on the mall.

WOW just WOW February 10, 2015 at 12:58 am

Suzanne
You have been against every development in town. You seem to think that you know more than the professionals..News Alert you don’t. You remind me of the boy that cried wolf. No credibility. Let the construction begin.

piberman February 10, 2015 at 3:52 am

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those elected to represent us in Hartford, especially Sen. Duff and Rep. Wilms, had enough faith in our Common Council and Mayor to let those elected to govern our City make the mall decision. It’s understandable why Rep. Wilms is in a rush to support former Rep. Cafero, a paid developer’s “pitchman” and former Mayor Moccia. But why is Sen. Duff (a real estate agent) now leading the charge for Democrats ? Is Sen. Duff concerned that Norwalk’s elected Democrats are asking questions about the mall ? Lets suggest that Sen. Duff as Majority Leader devote his time to resolving the State’s budget rather than convincing Norwalk residents to vote for an obvious boondoggle.

Caution; Con Alert February 10, 2015 at 4:07 am

The bait is jobs, jobs, jobs and more jobs. Will Norwalk bite and take the bait? Yes, indeed lots of tricks being played out. Just look at the players involved, kinda smells like your award winning sewage treatment plant over yonder. Dont get conned yet again Norwalk, try taking the carpetbaggers to the cleaners for once, just ONCE. Dont underbid your worth and the value of your prime sweet spot location.

John Hamlin February 10, 2015 at 6:29 am

I hope the mall works out for the city and that all those opposed to it are wrong. But the politicians who support the mall and those who will vote to support it should be judged by this decision in years to come. We tend to have short memories. For example, who supported and enabled all of the big box building on Connecticut Avenue? They should all be banished from public service. But there are no political consequences to such actions — just the imposition on the public and community of a collective bad decision.

EveT February 10, 2015 at 10:40 am

If building the mall is a foregone conclusion, I’d like to see (1) space for the Norwalk Museum as part of the mix, and (2) a building design that echoes New England traditions, not a glass cube resembling Southern California’s Crystal Cathedral.

Bill February 10, 2015 at 4:44 pm

For once we have a chance to create jobs and grow the tax base, lets get this done and all the people who prefer to pay higher property taxes and have a hole in the ground can go to….

Michael McGuire February 10, 2015 at 6:16 pm

I support our elected officials on this issue and I appreciate their interest in making Norwalk a better place. I am a 30 year commercial real estate analyst and have been involved with the valuation and projects like this for the past two decades if not longer.

Everything here points to the highest and best use of the 95/7 site as an intensive retail development.

Office development won’t work here at least not until CT becomes a RED state, lowers taxes and rolls back a lot of the entitlements. Since that’s not likely to happen I won’t expect an office development to happen here either (unless its heavily subsidies by the CT Government). I could go into the details as to why but I’ve covered those in earlier mall posts.

Piberman, Suzanne, RLF and other Norwalk Naysayers continue to knock this vital project. However, they can not support another intelligent use of the site that provides anything close to the benefits this project brings Norwalk. The tax revenue alone for this project is huge. Yes the site is in an Enterprise Zone but all that means is that whatever is built here will see a tax break for a few years.

The Naysayers main plank is that this mall, like others in the US, will fail. But they don’t understand the key reasons malls fail – declining demographics and reduced demand by retailers in those specific areas (there is no deviation from this). I agree that malls are failing, but only in areas that have those negative trends. We don’t have that here.

They cite the internet as the demise of shopping. But the internet is only another channel to sell, a glorified catalogue. In fact to many retailers it augments the brick and mortar stores.

They site redundant retail. All markets work on supply and demand. Consider that retail demand is so high that rents are being driven to historic highs right here in Norwalk as well as throughout the region. This means there is excess demand for retail and market efficiencies are at work.

Finally, when you have economic development like this it transforms an area. Great examples are White Plains and Danbury. The areas around those recent malls have seen a significant upswing in value and use. This all leads to more valuable real estate therefore a higher grand list, increased commercial tax revenue vs. residential tax revenue, and better opportunity.

The naysayers also belittle the 2,100 jobs that are going to be created. They seem to forget that every business has a job pyramid – a few high paying jobs, moderate mid level jobs and the bulk of lower level jobs. And the bigger the company the bigger the pyramid. I certainly appreciated my first job that got me started, it was the first step on the ladder, not the only step on the ladder.

Finally, don’t be fooled by calls for high priced consulting firms to come here and tell the City what will work. We can do that right here and now. The options are simple – office, retail, hospitality, multifamily, or industrial. Drop office and industrial right from the start for obvious reasons. Multi-family – to much competition and why build homes next to a freeway plus they burden the schools and don’t create jobs. That leaves retail and hospitality – there we just saved months of delay and $25,000 in fees.

I’m thankful that sometimes common sense does prevail. With any luck it will on this issue.

Amanda February 10, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Mr. Mcguire, I ask strictly out of curiosity – I know you pay taxes as a building owner in Norwalk, but you live in Stamford. How often do you shop at Stamford Mall? Do you eat at the chain restaurants in the mall, or do you prefer the local fare in town? Again, this is not meant to be malicious. Just curious.

John Hamlin February 10, 2015 at 7:19 pm

@MichaelMcGuire — sounds sensible, and I am hoping for all our sakes that you are right on target. Bottom line — this is a done deal — so let’s get it built and operational.

Big Tex February 10, 2015 at 7:50 pm

How has the big box/retail development bonanza fared to city taxpayers and property values? I think we know the answer. The only argument that can be made is leaving this space empty for now would be less punitive to taxpayers than building more redundant retail in the form of a passé shopping mall. Five million in tax revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the support apparatus required to sustain this development. Bet your bottom dollar that the city coffers will bleed in excess of this amount annually. Any claim to the contrary is baseless, on a whim and shooting from the hip as zero analysis has been performed from independent/credible sources.

Here are some interesting things to note (source: Business Insider):
“A failing mall in a non-affluent market “most likely will just stay there and get worse and worse over the next 20 years . . . if a mall is hit by two or more anchor closures at once, it’s harder to stay afloat. That’s typically the beginning of a downward spiral leading to ultimate extinction, Lachance said.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/shopping-malls-are-going-extinct-2014-1#ixzz3ROOMsXq8

I would also wager the house that this development will prove to be an abject failure should it move ahead in present form. Common sense dictates that when a plethora of redundant retail already exists in the city and area, adding any more will be the proverbial breaking point to the existing retail base, small business community, city roads, city infrastructure . . . etc. Further, low paying/non-living wage jobs notorious in the retail sector will equate to more entitlements as well.

Norwalk deserves better and let’s not be fooled again with the false promises of a modern day horse and buggy.

Inquiring mind February 10, 2015 at 9:29 pm

@ big tex

Interesting points, can you support any of your claims with actual facts? Why will the support provided by the city for this mall cost more than $5 million per year? Seems like u might be a bit off the mark, no?

And why are you comparing this property to a failing mall in a non affluent market? Seems a waste of time since that’s nothing like we have.

With such high demand for retail that is driving up retail rents why would this fail? What is your support for our being over retailed?

If u could provide any meaningful support data for this site specifically regarding your claims u might not come across as unbelievable.

Big Tex February 11, 2015 at 8:12 am

@Inquiring mind

A healthy skepticism is warranted or perhaps in your case, a blind faith on this. In most cases, it falls upon the municipality and developer to substantiate claims of greatness – none of this has been done as you are probably aware. Wouldn’t this make sense given this proposed development is the largest in the city’s history?

I would also encourage you to read up. Here is a good starter for you.

http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/bbtk-factsheet-publiccosts.pdf

Could you also shed light on what other retail would be needed in the city generating new demand without cannibalizing existing businesses? More Walmarts, Kohls, Best Buys, . . . .etc. I’d really like to understand.

Michael McGuire February 11, 2015 at 4:59 pm

@ Big Tex,

Sounds like your dodging IM’s questions. And they are good questions. Can you provide any support for your argument at all?

Big Tex February 11, 2015 at 7:39 pm

@Mike

The more important question is where’s the support for GGP’s claims? I think you are going down a slippery slope advocating no qualified studies or impact analysis. Also, you as a self-proclaimed specialist may know that impact analyses are generally charged to the developer so I’m not sure why you are professing, “. . . don’t be fooled by calls for high priced consulting firms to come here and tell the City what will work. We can do that right here and now.” Why would you advocate turning down an independent study at the developer’s not taxpayer’s dime?

Also, RLF (thank you) from a prior comment pulled some salient points on a link I posted earlier (in case you haven’t read).

“#1 =Impact of Big-Box Stores on Taxes and Public Costs

http://www.ilsr.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/bbtk-factsheet-publiccosts.pdf

“Although many cities assume that the development
of shopping centers and big-box stores
will yield a financial windfall, the tax benefits
often prove to be a mirage.

“When evaluating a retail development proposal,
developers and municipal officials often focus
on only one side of the equation: the amount of
new tax revenue that the project will generate.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that retail development
also creates new costs and often leads
to a decline in tax revenue from existing commercial
districts.

“In the case of big-box stores and strip malls,
these costs and revenue losses can be so high
that they reduce the overall tax benefit of the
development to a negligible trickle or even result
in a net loss for the city.”

#2 – A GUIDE TO RETAIL IMPACT STUDIES

http://localfirstspringfield.com/Resources/Documents/Maine%20Guide%20Final%20080214%5B1%5D.pdf

“States and municipalities have long evaluated the impact that large retail development projects may have on such things as traffic and the environment. Some are now adopting policies that require that the economic and fiscal impact of these developments be considered as well. These policies typically have two key components: They require that an independent study of the economic and fiscal impact of the retail development be conducted by a qualified analyst selected by the municipality and paid for by a fee assessed to the developer. They establish a standard that the project must meet in order to be approved.

“The policy may say, for example, that the planning board (or city council or other permitting authority) may approve the development only if it concludes, based on the data provided by the study and other evidence submitted, that the project will not have an undue adverse impact on the community or that the benefits of the development will outweigh the costs.

“A growing number of cities and towns are incorporating these types of policies into their zoning codes. At the state level, Vermont has long required a review of the fiscal impact (i.e., the effect on local government revenue and costs) of large development projects through its Act 250, which became law in 1970. More recently, Maine adopted the Informed Growth Act, which requires a comprehensive economic impact study for proposed retail stores of 75,000 square feet or larger, and stipulates that such a development may be approved only if the town concludes that it would not have an undue adverse impact.”

It’s fairly evident that Norwalk should consider due diligence at this time and not rely on the whim and intuition of state politicians, commentators or profit driven developers who are ill equipped to render an informative opinion as to what is best for Norwalk. As you can see, from the second link, the studies are quite extensive.

The Harsh Reality February 12, 2015 at 9:50 am

@Big Tex

This is an excellent read! Great stuff! It’s mysterious why a modern day city has not taken it upon itself not to adhere to modern day planning. The “Vegas” style ad hoc approach to development as advocated by the proponents of the mall is obviously flawed.

Maritime Yards Condo Owner February 16, 2015 at 11:05 am

It concerns me that we are accepting GGPs offer with such open arms, without any negotiations. so their first attempt is perfect? We need more specifics, we need more mixed use (again sports complex or some other draw incorporated – we should require a piece to become housing and we are in need of a grocery store in sono). The models presented do not make sense from a top-level…the assumptions seem drastic. Yes, I am in favor of development and yes, if it is GGP then we will have a mall/heavy retail, but no we do not have to accept their first offer. We can be more creative…

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