DALLAS, Texas. – Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday evening that the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting he is attending in Dallas is “remarkable,” with a strong focus on redevelopment – an issue on Norwalk’s front burner.
“One thing I’ve learned here is cities all over the country have the same problem, he said. “It’s just that the bigger cities have bigger staffs to deal with them.
“There’s one project that was struggling, and the city of Dallas put in $10 million dollars,” but the project stalled anyway, he said. “The bank foreclosed on it. It makes you realize you have to come up with creative ways to make things happen.”
He said that applies to some of the languishing properties in Norwalk.
“We’re trying to work with Ken Olsen (POKO partners-Wall Street Place), work with GGP (mall proposal), work with DiScala and Company on Head of the Harbor,” he said. “We need to find ways to facilitate moving forward with those projects.”
The mayor got an up-close look at a mixed-use project under way in the nation’s ninth-largest city.
“They took us on economic development tour,” Rilling said. “Whole Foods is building a store – four stories with the store on the first floor and offices and residences above it. They are rethinking how things are done. They are creating their own consumer base.”
Mixed use was in the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) approved for the 95/7 property. The project originally approved for Spinnaker Realty was described on the company’s website:
District 95/7 is arguably the best development site in Fairfield County, CT. As one of the last major parcels to be developed on Interstate 95 (Connecticut Turnpike), it occupies a large 12.6-acre site at the intersection of I-95 and Route 7 in the heart of Norwalk, CT. This mixed-use project will serve as the new gateway entrance to Norwalk and will include approximately 600,000 square feet of Class A office space, 125,000 square feet of retail space, 300 residential units, and a 150-room hotel.
General Growth Properties (GGP) wants to go in a different direction, though, and it is a topic on Rilling’s mind even as he takes part in the Texas conference.
“GGP is bound by the LDA. If they want to change (the type of development), they have to submit a new LDA. Right now, we’ve authorized only the previous LDA.”
Rilling admitted he doesn’t have much control over the situation. “We’re having discussions, the pros and cons, working with Redevelopment, the Planning Commission, and the Common Council,” he said. Those are the bodies that will ultimately decide on the LDA. “I will use the ability of the mayor’s office – use whatever political capital I have to come up with something we deem appropriate. We’re going to have to have an open and honest dialog and come to terms with what is most appropriate” for the erstwhile 97/7 property.
GGP is still making the rounds, speaking to city groups and officials, and the jury is still out on public opinion. Public opposition may have played a part in BJ’s Wholesale Club pulling back from its proposed store on Main Avenue, Rilling said.
“It’s hard to say. I think public opinion played a part in the BJ’s situation,” he said. “You know, I’m not even convinced that BJ’s is gone. I’m not convinced of that. Just because they haven’t come back with any further proposals and any further applications, doesn’t mean they are gone. … I know that they did come back to me (informally) and tell me that they have downsized their original plan and I still told them I could not support it.”
The GGP situation is different, Rilling said.
“It’s a $35 million investment,” he said. “GGP does build malls. It was sold to GGP. Now, they have to get changes to the LDA. That’s going to be an uphill battle.”