NORWALK, Conn. – Skepticism prevails in SoNo toward the possibility of a mall on the former 95/7 site, former Mayor Bill Collins said recently.
Collins, the chairman of the SoNo Task Force, issued a generally optimistic forecast of SoNo’s fortunes but said the reaction among SoNo merchants to the mall concept being shopped around by General Growth Properties (GGP), the owners of the long vacant lot at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 7, is tepid.
“I think they don’t know what to think,” Collins said. “They are always hopeful that a new retail place like that would bring activity but looking at the malls around the country it’s not an upgrade. In most places the malls are struggling, they’re struggling everywhere. One thing we don’t need around here – some of the merchants don’t want to have something go in there, big thing, and then have it look sort of half-baked after a few years. Because it’s not a multi-purpose building. It’s not like an office building or mixed use, you can alter it; a mall – not much you can do to alter that.”
Doug Adams of GGP said outreach for the mall is currently in a lull.
“We are continuing. but it is mostly one-on-one and small gatherings during August since most groups don’t meet. We expect to be back at it in September and October when neighborhood meetings resume,” Adams said.
“I keep asking Doug Adams, ‘What does Plan B look like if you don’t get to build a mall?’” Collins said. “They don’t even admit to even looking to a Plan B, which maybe is good politics, I don’t know, but to be realistic you’ve got to be ready.”
Collins rhetorically asked what would happen if GGP lost a main tenant?
“Stamford Mall is not looking too spiffy these days. Malls everywhere are suffering from Internet purchases. So do we want to be in on the downhill slope of the mall era?” Collins asked.
SoNo has more people in it with the completion of Ironworks SoNo, Collins said. He suspects it will gradually get better, and then be more appealing to people looking for small office space.
Mike Oz, the new owner of 50 Washington St., is banking on that, he said.
“The idea is that SoNo is on the upsurge and that he can draw tenants here by upscaling the building, and I think he’s right. Probably the best future is a lot of office and a lot of retail on the ground level and, of course, a lot of parking,” Collins said.
The SoNo Task Force is quiet but busy, he said. He had been out with the task force garbage committee chairman Tuesday morning, he said, looking at the trash on the street and in the parking lots. There is a meeting this week with Mayor Harry Rilling and the Redevelopment Agency to discuss plans to upgrade the street lighting in the area, he said. Task force members are looking at the corridor on South Main Street to Monroe Street and over to the railroad station to see how they can make it an enticing place to walk, he said.