Updated 8 p.m.: Minor edits.
NORWALK, Conn. – The SoNo Collection has officially been christened.
“People should appreciate that you may not see another mall get built in America for the next decade,” GGP CEO Sandeep Mathrani said Wednesday, as he and Norwalk officials lead a groundbreaking, standing where the mall’s restaurants are expected to be built, close to West Avenue.
“As you can tell our contractor has gotten a lot of work done since this morning,” GGP Vice President Doug Adams quipped, a joke to recognize that the ground broke long before the ceremonial dirt tossing.
Between 100-150 construction workers toiled on the property. Officials said pilings have been driven as much as 180 feet down to hit bedrock; it’s a dry site, and workers haven’t struck water except in two elevator shafts. Tiebacks are being installed to reinforce the existing retaining wall (bulkhead) for the elevated Danbury Branch where it passes through rear of the construction site.
The foundation walls evident on the property are for the below-grade parking garage, Adams said. The land where officials stood will be raised five or six feet, and 100,000 cubic yards of concrete are expected to be poured.
As a comparison, Turner Construction claims it used 57,000 cubic yards of concrete in the construction of Yankee Stadium.
Mathrani said he didn’t know where contaminated soil has been taken.
“I don’t know the specifics,” he said. “A lot of the dirt has already left the site and a lot of what you see here will be backfilled into the foundation.”
As part of his remarks, he acknowledged the risk GGP took in buying the property without approvals and estimated that the company is investing $525 million. The mall is about 65 percent leased, “which is also very unusual so early in the game,” he said.
GGP has paid about $5 million in permit fees to Norwalk; there will be $18.5 million personal income tax paid during construction, $15.8 million sales and use tax and $23.3 million in sales tax yearly once the center opens, he said.
The project will provide 2,200 fulltime equivalent jobs during construction, with 2,500 permanent fulltime equivalent jobs once the mall is open, he said, commenting, “Almost every person’s first job is in some sort of retail.”
Adams said he didn’t have a report yet on how many Norwalk residents will work on the site.
“We’re just getting that feedback from our contractors. We are absolutely committed to the provisions LDA (Land Disposition Agreement) and we want to have as many local and minority businesses on the project as possible,” Adams said.
Adams had promised community activists a report by July 31; Common Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) said after the ribbon cutting that she didn’t know if it had been released yet.
“I think if they do fall short in hiring minorities or locals we should fix that,” Bowman said. “I don’t think that we will have a problem working to fix that. They have been working in the community and then they also have, going forward on the project, the retail piece that is going to definitely train and then allow more local residents to be hired. So, I think if the report does say that there is some type of issue I am sure we will work to come up with some type of solution.”
Local grocer Stew Leonard attended the groundbreaking, amusedly asking Mayor Harry Rilling during the proceedings if any local supermarkets might be involved.
“I hear we are in discussion with a local food provider to see how he or they might fit in,” Rilling said.
The mall is a good thing for Norwalk, Rilling said during the ceremony, commenting, “Overwhelmingly, the community does support this mall, they are looking forward to it.