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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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 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.”