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Walk Bridge update: IMAX transition, changing SoNo landscape

A potenial Walk Bridge design, as presented by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to the Norwalk Design Advisory Committee.

NORWALK, Conn. – Plans are being made to build a new IMAX Theater, on the other side of the Maritime Aquarium.

So said Norwalk Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker last week, after giving an update to the Redevelopment Agency on developments with the state’s planned reconstruction of the Walk Bridge, the antiquated railroad bridge over the Norwalk River.

Stocker told the Redevelopment Agency that:

  • The Maritime Aquarium IMAX Theater will be demolished
  • A very visible upgrade is planned for the Lockwood Mathews Mansion Museum
  • An “issue” with the Pine Island Cemetery: any burial remains need to be handled “carefully”
  • The aesthetics consensus is: 2-story towers on the bridge
  • Both the Danbury Dockyard and “CP-243” projects have been moved back to the fall

 

IMAX

It’s been decided to demolish the Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX Theater, Stocker and other officials said.

A new IMAX Theater will be constructed near the Maritime Aquarium main entrance, where the employee parking lot is now, Stocker told NoN after the meeting.

This will be the location of the new Maritime Aquarium IMAX Theater, Norwalk Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker said.

Sources said in September that a new IMAX would be a gift to Norwalk, paid for by the state. The IMAX theater was built in 1988 and renovated in 2012, and cannot offer 3-D movies. The new theater would feature modern technology, with 3-D movies.

Just within the last two weeks, the state approved money to fund an architect for the new IMAX theater, Stocker said Tuesday, adding that she thinks Maritime officials have already interviewed an architect.

“They need to have that new theater built before the other one comes down, or before the (Walk Bridge) project. That is the plan, so they are moving pretty rapidly,” Stocker said.

“We intend to create a new theater experience as soon as possible, and that we continue to have productive discussions with all involved,” Aquarium spokesman Dave Sigworth said Saturday. “However, nothing has been finalized about who, what, where and how much. We hope to have more details to announce soon.”

 

A process underway

Stocker told the Redevelopment Agency that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) is still at 30 percent design for its project, planning a pair of parallel lift bridges with two tracks each, a total of four tracks.

While that’s still in the Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Evaluation (EA/EIE) process, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), there’s been a ruling that the Danbury Dockyard project and the CP-243 project, a series of railroad switches, are exempt from that public review.

The dockyard and the switches were planned to begin next month but have been pushed back until fall, she said. And expect a public meeting to kick off the work in September – although the projects are excluded from NEPA, the mayor’s office requested another opportunity for the public, Stocker said.

ConnDOT is still hoping for a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in the EA/EIE legal process, which it hope will conclude this summer, Stocker said.

Norwalk in December promised to collaborate with ConnDOT so that a FONSI would allow the project to move forward, expressing a desire to have input on the design and mitigation measures.

 

Historical mitigation

ConnDOT’s dockyard project has a complication: “They have agreed to be careful of any kind of burial remains that are there,” Stocker said.

Norwalk Historical Commission Chairman David Westmoreland on Friday explained that the issue is possible unmarked graves, where ConnDOT plans to rebuild the Danbury dockyard, adjacent to the Pine Island Cemetery.

GGP, the developer working to build a mall on West Avenue, paid for a ground penetrating radar study last year and an archaeologist identified unmarked graves under Crescent Street, between the railroad tracks and the cemetery.

“Because the Danbury Dockyard project of the Walk Bridge runs by Pine Island, the DOT did additional research and found documentation that we believe strongly indicates that there are two to three more rows of unmarked graves that extend further to the south under Crescent St and likely under the Danbury train tracks itself,” Westmoreland said in an email. “Because of this, we insisted and the DOT agreed, to do additional archeological investigations prior to doing any work, to ensure no remains are disturbed by construction.  If they find remains the DOT is currently planning to change their plans to avoid disturbing any remains, but we will have to see what they actually find.”

Stocker, on Tuesday, said that ConnDOT needs to execute Memorandums of Understanding for its dockyard and the CP-243. It plans to reuse the catenary structure and agreements are necessary because it’s an historical resource.

“They are going to to put in a new gate at Mathews (Park),” Stocker said. “From my discussions with David Westmoreland it’s a pretty significant gate.”

“They are going to fund the restoration of the original fencing and gates to the Mansion which are stored in the basement of the Mansion, along with funding for a couple of exhibits,” Westmoreland said Friday. “ … The DOT wanted to fund something that was visible to the community.  LeGrand Lockwood built the Danbury line and made his fortune in railroads, so the exhibit on the history of the railroad in Norwalk and the Walk Bridge will likely be hosted at the Mansion.  The Switchtower Museum doesn’t have the space.  The Maritime Aquarium will also host exhibits and education programs related to the Walk Bridge. Some of the archaeological work that is being done for the project will be incorporated into exhibits currently being planned for Mill Hill.”

Stocker on Tuesday mentioned the planned historical exhibits.

“I have been pushing toward them doing something now so we can celebrate the fact that the bridge is going to be here for just another two years,” Stocker said. “We can welcome people to Norwalk to come and see it, visit our community, eat in our restaurants, do those kind of things now.”

 

Aesthetics consensus

The Design Advisory Committee met during the week of June 5 to review designs for the “top of the bridge, that holds the mechanical equipment,” Stocker said.

A ConnDOT memo describes this as machinery rooms located at the top of each tower.

“A common response made by DAC members related to the base 30% design has been that the machinery room’s appearance is too large in comparison with the rest of the tower,” the memo states. “The basic machinery room layout has been evaluated by the Walk design team and it has been determined that the position of the electrical room within the top of tower machinery room can vary. Layout options have been identified to offer flexibility in determining the final lift span tower height and overall appearance of the lift span towers.”

Walk Bridge 20170606 DAC Meeting Material

“I believe, they are in a survey of the Committee, which I am not participating in because I think that process is a little funny. It’s not visionary,” Stocker said. “They are probably going to pick a design based on the feedback.”

“I think a better process would be to have an architect help create a vision for the bridge design rather than a design by consensus,” Stocker said in a follow-up email to NancyOnNorwalk.

ConnDOT’s memo describes three options:

  • “The single story option, where the electrical room is at the rear of the machinery room as shown in the base 30% design.
  • “The mid-level option, where the electrical room is elevated behind the machinery room.
  • “The two-story option, where the electrical room is elevated above the machinery room.”

Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan and Stocker agreed during Tuesday’s meeting that the committee was leaning toward a two-story design. Norwalk is losing its iconic bridge towers and the two-story option would give the bridge some presence, Sheehan said.

Then the issue is what type of design will be on top of the towers, they said. Other topics include “what material it’s skinned with” and what color that material will be.

Nevertheless, there will still be public input, with a design presented as approved by a Committee and then debated openly.

The approaches to the bridge are a topic; the absence of the IMAX theater will make the railroad overpass all that more important visually – and the overpass is getting bigger, Stocker and Sheehan said.

The existing North Water Street railroad overpass.

The west abutment is “right at the road” and will go back 60 feet, Stocker said, with Sheehan describing it as “going way back into the Spinnaker site.”

“That even makes the situation even more disconcerting because the sense of it being a quick underpass that you are just quickly getting in and out (goes away),” Sheehan said. “It becomes more of an expansive area on the other side, too. So you have expanse on the east, expanse on the west. Both of those are very visual spots that we have to be concerned about, with activities going on there.”

The city doesn’t want ConnDOT to use its space under the overpass for storage or parking, Stocker said.

“We all know this is the main pedestrian corridor between Washington Street and the aquarium,” Sheehan said. “No matter who you are, if you have to walk under an underpass that is dark and a bit intimidating, that’s not a desirable pedestrian experience. … We have been very forceful about the issue.”

“We keep bringing it up every time even though it’s not on their agenda. We haven’t been shy about it,” Stocker said.

ConnDOT has had meetings with the Aquarium and with Spinnaker, owner of the newly constructed Ironworks apartments on the corner of North Water Street, across the street from the Aquarium and in close proximity to the railroad tracks, Stocker said.

That’s to explain the construction, such as where cranes and platforms will go, she said.

“It’s getting to be a lot more understandable in terms of the way that the progression of the project will occur,” Stocker said. “I have a better understanding myself on the construction project, as it’s gotten to this site now.”

20 comments

Isabelle Hargrove June 19, 2017 at 8:43 am

This is where you truly see the devastating impact of our lack of leadership from the major’s office and common council. How can we let the State destroy our town’s skyline like this?

It’s heartbreaking and utterly unnecessary. DOT engineers are using our town to create a resume-building ego-boosting project. Once again, we are squandering an opportunity to make Norwalk a prosperous 21st-century city. Close the bridge, relocate the few business, transform the area into a residential and leisurely activity hub. Have a vision for god’s sake!!

Sono Spirit June 19, 2017 at 9:37 am

I agree. It is the ugliest bridge I have seen, yet there is no
reason it needs to be. If there must be a new bridge that opens,
the Design Advisory Committee or whomever is responsible should
hold a 6-month design competition which lays out the physical
requirements the bridge must meet and allows for creative
aesthetics that will attract pedestrians and drivers to the city,
not drive them away. Part of the design should be the overpass
over North Water Street, including its underside. The look and
functionality of that area will help determine how people view the
entire public Sono area, so let’s get it right and not allow a team
of functional experts to ignore the need for attractiveness as a key
part of the requirements.

The Norwalker June 19, 2017 at 11:07 am

Most Mayors have no leverage against a State DOT and Federal Railroad Administration. On top of that you have interests in both the NYC and Boston Metro Areas that to see better Train service between the two major Cities.

Michael McGuire June 19, 2017 at 2:11 pm

This would be an ideal time for Redevelopment to step up and spearhead the re-activation of the Wall Street Train Station by leveraging the Dockyard project.

For a NYC in-bound train after a train “reverses” direction at the dockyard, it could back up to the Wall Street station and pick up passengers. Or do the opposite for an outbound train.

This would bypass the diesel train issue at Wall Street and greatly increase the number of trains serving Wall Street. Side note – did you know that Downtown Norwalk is the largest CBD in Fairfield County without rail service.

The economic benefits to Norwalk and CT overall are significant relative to the small cost to do this project. In these days of tight budgets Norwalk needs all the help it can get. Isn’t that what the Redevelopment Agency is for?

Contact your Common Council rep. and request/insist they make the Wall Street Train Station a priority.

Don’t let Downtown Norwalk flounder any longer – be proactive and be part of the solution.

Isabelle Hargrove June 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm

@TheNorwalker. Do-nothing elected officials benefit greatly by the mindset of people who profess their lack of power against nefarious agencies supposedly accountable to no one. If true, let’s fire them all and keep our tax $! But, I disagree, mayors and, let’s not forget, senate majority leaders, have power, especially when backed by vocal residents determined to save their town. But, it appears that ours seldom chose to use it until constituents demand they do.

When will Norwalkers have the audacity to dream of electing people to these positions with a vision. People who will never hesitate to do battle for Norwalk and be our Knights in shining armor instead of paper figures…

McKeen Shanogg June 19, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Well to my eyes the bridge in the picture looks just fine. I don’t see what is so awful about it.
Before you say I have no taste, be aware my significant other says I have excellent taste — I chose her, didn’t I?

Donna June 20, 2017 at 11:04 am

Perfect example of design by committee. It makes a statement. And that statement is “SoNo–Where Good Dreams Come to Die”.

Debora Goldstein June 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm

It is amazing to me. No matter how impactful a major construction project is to the City, our decision-making on behalf of the taxpayers of the city quickly devolves to conversations about aesthetics. Homes taken by eminent domain? Businesses pushed to other parts of the City? Quick, form an entire committee dedicated to aesthetics discussing how engine rooms look and what COLORS the bricks will be.

Yet not a peep about the decision to ask taxpayers to pay for the same asset THREE times!!!!

You, the city taxpayer, paid to have the Maritime built–including the IMAX theater. That happened when we forgave the loan to the Maritime Authority for the bond that built it. Now the state will have to compensate the Authority for the right to demolish the building and use the land for the Walk Bridge needs. You, the state taxpayer will be picking up that tab. Then, you will be asked to pay for building it again, as a state taxpayer.

I hope that the State has been told, in no uncertain terms, by people elected to run this City, that the rebuilding of the IMAX theater and all of the connective infrastructure WILL NOT COUNT towards the compensatory benefits we are due for the complete destruction of our historically listed sway bridge.

Instead, we should be accorded the ability to negotiate more rail services for the City of Norwalk (more trains at East Norwalk station, Rowayton station, Metro station, SONO station, and even possibly the additional station proposed by Mr. McGuire.

At present, without a single member representing CT on the MTA board, we, especially Norwalk, are suffering all of the pain for the improvements to rail service, the loss of a historic structure, etc and are gaining very little compensatory in return.

Patrick Cooper June 20, 2017 at 3:52 pm

@Bob Welsh, designs that were “deemed less attractive” than THAT choice?

I can only image that version is build from broken dreams and perished love ones. It is 100% carcinogenic, deteriorates in the rain and is highly susceptible to corrosion by salt mist, dances like Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld) when the wind blows 5 mph, and smells like the 20-year-old coffee-stained visitor chairs at central office. Lost by 1 vote.

Donna June 20, 2017 at 9:44 pm

@Debora, thanks for supplying the backstory. Makes the ugliness of the bridge worse when we know what it cost us.

Michael McGuire June 21, 2017 at 10:36 am

@Debora – total agree.

I’m just back from a trip which included stays in Austin TX, Houston TX, New Orleans, LA and Atlanta, GA. Those areas are all booming because they are business friendly.

CT needs to be business friendly. However, our individual ability to make that happen is limited. BUT, we can have a positive impact here in Norwalk to get the ball rolling.

I agree with Debora Goldstein on this. I want to encourage everyone to contact your Council Rep and stress the need to represent Norwalk in a bold fashion. Seek compensation that will result in a marked benefit to the City that will grow our businesses.

A nice gate a Mathews Park and money for a harbor trail, while nice, are not business enhancements.

Rail access via more trains and more train stops are the single most effective means for a governmental agency to ramp up business interest besides tax cuts (which we all no won’t happen here).

Its very clear that with few exceptions business thrives around train stations. Business don’t thrive around bus stops. Why? Because a train station is a tangible expression of long-term investment while a bus stop is an intangible, contract-based stop gap measure.

Be part of the solution – contact your Common Council Rep and insist they fight for Norwalk by giving Norwalk better access to the rail system.

Gordon Tully June 21, 2017 at 10:39 am

The picture is of the existing bridge, not the proposed design. I suspect the underside of the new bridge will not be as close to the road is the present one.

The issue is the new open spaces proposed on the right and left sides, where bad people can lurk. Right now you walk right next to walls on both sides, so you don’t have to worry about someone hidden around the corner. Also the new approach bridges will be wider, so you are under it for a longer period.

It would be nice if people intent on trashing the administration read the article before reacting.

Debora Goldstein June 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Gordon,

People are referring to the first picture, with the silver towers, nor the street level pic.

Deb

Debora Goldstein June 21, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Wow. Mr. McGuire and i are in agreement. A rare and unpredictable orccurrence to be sure. 😉

You know what is not rare or unpredictable? Municipal elections. This is the year you get to hold people accountable for these decisions.

Do you know how all 15 members feel about this design? The triple-play on the Maritime costs? Do you know how many showed up at the rally to try to save Penna from being dislocated? Do you know whether our fifteen councilmembers know which businesses and residents are still in line to be dislocated? Do they know if the plan still requires the people in the new apt bldgs on Washington St to move out while the new stucture is craned into place?

When did elevators get added to the east ave bridge renovation and at what cost? That’s part of the billion dollar bridge plan, but we are only getting input on brick colors.

We MUST understand that we can rebuild every rail bridge in the city and clad them in gold, but they will add NO VALUE to Norwalk if the trains aren’t stopping here. If we want people to get out of their cars and off 95, then they must have more than one train an hour to get somewhere that is 20 minutes away. Connectivity is more than a buzzword.

Norwalk will be suffering catastrophic disruption, massive reconfiguration of its infrastructure, the destruction of its historically listed Walk Bridge and permanent reductions in some tax revenues.

We should be looking at maximizing the value of our compensatory measures. More rail service at our stations would serve multiple goals required of the states STP. Our electeds should be in every nook and cranny of this thing. If they aren’t, November will be here before you know it.

Larry Rufus July 1, 2017 at 3:09 pm

I realize many federal (and other) agencies have prevented sanity from settling in on the design (and funding) of the Walk Bridge. I have yet to read/hear a convincing reason why this has to be an opening bridge. Yes, a few, very few, businesses would have to adjust. Perhaps money could be set aside to compensate/bribe? these businesses? Please, for G*D’s sake, consider the overall disruption, construction time, hundreds of millions of $ to be saved, the hideous appearance, long term cost to operate and maintain this opening versus a fixed bridge. I tried.

Isabelle Hargrove July 1, 2017 at 8:04 pm

@Larry Rufus, I agree with you and so does a growing number of Norwalkers. I wonder what elected officials or candidates might be interested in getting seriously involved? Maybe it’s time that Norwalkers start demanding that politicians running for office or holding office have a point of view and a strategy for getting Norwalk what it deserves!

Echo July 3, 2017 at 4:42 pm

I’m at a loss for anyone investing any money in Norwalk. I don’t get it. Four guys from Greenwich invested millions of their own money and the states in The Waypointe District and it’s been a huge failure. Now they’re building this ugly IMAX? I’m not from Norwalk and that’s probably most of my problem. This town is largely disgusting, no charm whatsoever, and an infrastructure that is so outdated that it can’t even sustain more people or more traffic.

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