Updated, 11:59 p.m: Public comment invited; 7:46 p.m., comment from Doug Hempstead; 5:40 p.m.: Common Council Planning Committee plans to meet next week.
NORWALK, Conn. — Construction on The SoNo Collection is expected to start soon, but the project will be simply a mall, no hotel included.
Norwalk will receive a $3.5 million payment from mall developer GGP as compensation for the change in plans, a press release from the city said.
GGP resisted having a hotel as part of its mall design, but needed to get the Land Disposition Agreement for the property, part of the Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Plan, changed to accommodate its use. City leaders insisted that a mixed use component remain as part of the LDA, and GGP officials expressed optimism about attracting a vendor for a boutique mall. As an option, the space could be used for residential or office use.
Construction was initially promised to begin early this year.
The press release from the city said:
“The City of Norwalk (City) and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency (Agency) have reached an agreement with GGP, the developer of The SoNo Collection, to move forward towards the start of construction. The agreement removes the requirement for the hotel component of the project as well as the requirement to replace the hotel with an office or residential tower of equal scale. In its place, GGP has agreed to contribute $3.5 million to the City with the intention that the funds be used to benefit the community. The City is exploring how the $3.5 million contribution may be properly received and structured to provide the greatest benefit to Norwalk residents. The $3.5 million is in addition to the $550,000 circulator payment which was received by the City last week and the $1,022,500 payment for City easements necessary to receive a building permit.
“GGP requested that the hotel requirement be removed because it is economically infeasible. Upon further review of economic and market data, it was determined that the alternative office and residential uses in a tower format on top of The SoNo Collection were also infeasible. Mayor Harry Rilling, Common Council leadership, the Agency and GGP worked together and determined that a contribution to the City would be an appropriate replacement. ‘We are excited that the project is moving forward and are looking forward to determining how we may apply GGP’s contribution to benefit our residents,’ said Mayor Rilling. Also, South Norwalk will still get a hotel as developer F.D. Rich Co. recently broke ground on the construction of a Marriott Residence Inn on South Main Street.
“The SoNo Collection is a mixed-use project that calls for 728,000 square feet of retail space, including anchor stores Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, as well as 80 to 100 smaller retailers and public realm space on a 12-acre site off of West Avenue and Interstate I-95. Though primarily a high end retail centers, the SoNo Collection will include public plazas, institutional space, public common areas, restaurants, and unique programing year-round. ‘GGP remains committed to creating a project that benefits all of Norwalk,’ said Douglas Adams, a Senior Director at GGP. ‘The SoNo Collection is not designed to compete with existing businesses, but will complement them by creating a regional destination that connects to the community.’
“The project will support 2,000 construction jobs for 36 months, and create 2,500 Full Time permanent jobs in retail and hotel operations with an average salary of $41,000. Located within an Enterprise Zone, the center will bring $2.5 million in new real estate tax revenue to the City of Norwalk for 7 years, and over $5 million a year in revenue per year thereafter.”
Mayor Harry Rilling and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King have said recently that they were meeting regularly with GGP, but had no news to release yet.
The Council Planning Committee will have a special meeting Monday to move along GGP’s new plan, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said. Planning Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) provided an agenda, which shows public comment as the first thing on the agenda.
The Council will have a regular meeting the following week.
RDA Commissioners are being polled to see when they can meet to approve the changes, Sheehan said.
Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) did not know about the deal before being approached by NancyOnNorwalk before Tuesday’s Council meeting. He’s “not been privy to any meetings,” he said.
“All I know is what I read, as long as they put something else inside the hotel then I don’t know why it’s not public anymore. All these negotiations at this point should be public,” Hempstead said.
Told that there will be no tower, no residential space or office space, Hempstead said, “They get what they wanted in the first place. So, the city’s claim that they wanted a mixed-use development, working with them, to limit them to it, obviously is circum. ‘We only build malls.’ I am sure there will be some pieces of silver on the table.”