NORWALK, Conn. — It’s 91 days till Christmas, 17 days until Nordstrom opens in Norwalk and untold days until The SoNo Collection considers itself fully “open.”
Nordstrom will open Oct. 11 along with “a select group of retailers” providing “the full SoNo experience” – public realm space and parking for “customers to come and enjoy,” mall General Manager Matt Seebeck said Tuesday. Then, a “rolling opening” will continue with Bloomingdale’s opening in November and more stores opening as the weeks go by “into the first quarter of 2020.”
The SoNo Collection is 90% leased, Seebeck said during a tour for journalists through what was described as a “fully operational construction site.” Workers buzzed everywhere, and much of the carpeting was covered by carboard. Fire alarm sirens were continually blaring and a woman’s voice warning of danger; Lindsay Kahn, Senior Manager of Public Relations & Marketing Retail at Brookfield Properties, said this was part of an ongoing inspection process.
Some stores appeared partially complete and others hadn’t begun to be worked on. A set of Stop Orders posted on the fence outside showed that some contractors had been held up from their fit-up work by a need to get the proper insurance.
Again, Nordstrom and a “select group of retailers” are expected to open in 17 days.
“I have to say I arrived yesterday morning from Chicago and I’ve already seen great progress,” Kahn said.
Seebeck’s tour began with the parking garage, where he said customers will be guided to open spaces by green lights and warned away from taken spots by red lights. There will also be a valet available.
Brookfield Properties Director of Design Paul Madden, who has been with The SoNo Collection since its inception in 2014, explained to newbies as they looked up at one of three atriums that they were actually standing over North Water Street. The overhang, providing a main architectural feature of the mall, was won in an intense negotiation with the City for an easement to allow the use of “air rights.”
One of the key design elements it the sight line, Madden said, explaining that the abundant glass was part of putting the project together, giving tenants a connection with customers.
“Ask yourself if you’ve seen a mall like this when you were a kid because this is something that I think is quite spectacular,” Seebeck said.
“We’re bringing outside elements in,” Seebeck said. “This is really key.”
“We’ve taken all of our experience from 170 retail centers across the U.S. and really tried to deploy it and think forward about the future of retail, and how our design influences that,” Seebeck said. “So one of the biggest things that we’ve done here in this shopping centers, we’ve added 86,000 square feet of public realm space. So those public room spaces are gathering places.”
The City demanded that General Growth Properties (GGP), original owner of the mall, include public realm space in the property. This was a key point of negotiation.
“As a company, we’re really focused on making sure that our space is a gathering space,” Seebeck said, explaining that there’s a “magnificent room on the second floor,” a two-story tall sculpture garden with windows facing Interstate 95, a plaza outside on the ground level and the SoNo Garden on the roof.
“There are three distinct spaces that are opportunities for the community to come in and activate,” Seebeck said. “It’s a great place for you to do some co-working and even if you were to nonprofit that could have an activity in some of these spaces.”
There might be movies on the roof, where the public will have access to a “absolutely gorgeous” view of Long Island Sound, Norwalk Harbor and the barrier islands, he said.
The mall will also feature artwork curated at a “national, regional and local” level “to make sure that we get a nice cross section of our common space,” he said.
So, what about the death of retail?
“I think the best way to frame it is our CEO says, ‘Bazaar was here in 600 B.C. It will be here in 6000 A.D.,’” Seebeck said.
“We found the best real estate in Southwestern Connecticut,” he said. “We found a market hole. We have the most in demand tenants in Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, and we’re really excited to offer all of those to the community, 90% leased, great community spaces, a new shopping center for the 21st century.”
November will be “an excellent month for The SoNo Collection, and for we believe for Southwestern Connecticut,” with both anchors open and “first” for Brookfield’s portfolio of 130 American shopping centers, a holiday experience with a “whispering grove” and a “bell set,” Seebeck said.
“They’re actually opportunities for young people and children of all ages to interact with some trees and whisper their holiday wishes out to the North Pole,” Seebeck explained. “We will have Santa, but we’re not going to have a traditional shopping center, Santa…Santa will actually walk through the shopping center and engage with guests. And you’ll be able to take photos with Santa throughout the center at no charge.”
UNTUCKit joins list of store tenants
NancyOnNorwalk’s research of applications to the Norwalk Planning and Zoning Department jives with Seebeck’s claim of “90% leased.”
In July, when we last checked, one calculation showed 89.9% of the mall was rented out. That’s obtained by adding up retail square footage and subtracting 180,000 square feet as concourse/public realm space from the total 717,000 square feet.
On Tuesday, there were three additional applications:
- Café Oui, a kiosk
- Pokelicious, a kiosk
- UNTUCKit, a 2,253 square foot store
You are probably aware from a persistent advertising campaign that UNTUCKit sells men’s shirts. There’s an UNTUCKit in White Plains at The Westchester.
The updated list of stores is:
Abercrombie & Fitch
- Abercrombie Kids
- Altar’d State
Bath & Body Works
- Barry’s Bootcamp
- Café Oui
- J. Jill
- Made in China
- Tutti Nails
- Victoria’s Secret
White House Black Market
- Yong Kang Street
- Yard House
- ZARA USA Inc
Because it’s a “smaller shopping center” at 700,000 square feet, “we’ve been able to be a little bit more selective and focus on what the customer here wants,” Seebeck said. “So one of the biggest things is we’re 20% home-driven. Housewares is a market that we particularly identified in southwestern Connecticut as the way people shop. So were responding to that.”
This article was amended at 2:12 p.m. to correct quote attributions.