GGP makes mall pitch to South Norwalk

State Rep. Bruce Morris
From left, State Rep. Bruce Morris, Attorney Larry Cafero, Spinnaker Real Estate Partners CEO Clay Fowler and Doug Adams of General Growth Properties (GGP) listen to a question Monday in Calvary Baptist Church.

NORWALK, Conn. – The mixed use aspect of a mall that would go on the 95/7 property was pitched Monday to South Norwalk residents at a District B Democratic Town Committee meeting, where General Growth Properties (GGP) representatives answered questions about that ranged from jobs to property values and took suggestions to heart.

No, there would be no housing and no office space on the long-vacant site at the intersection of I-95 and West Avenue, but when you look at the district as a whole, the mixed use element is there, said state Rep. Larry Cafero (R-142), GGP’s attorney.

“The real issue is what is there now? Nothing. What has been there for 20 years? Nothing,” Cafero said in response to a question from Diane Lauricalla. “This is a project, unlike anyone else that is being developed right now, this is a project that if they apply during calendar year 2014 they can get approvals in 2015 — 24 months from that approval you could be cutting a ribbon and walking into a retail center. That hasn’t happened in two decades.”

Lauricella asked if GGP could meet the public halfway and put a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s on the property, as the public had expressed a desire for mixed use. She stressed that people could contact their council members to express opinions if they didn’t like what GGP is planning.

The presentation by Doug Adams of GGP had stressed that West Avenue has a large dead spot between the retail of SoNo and the area north of the Route 7 interchange. Putting a hustling, bustling mall with pedestrian plazas and storefronts would connect the areas, he said.

Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners LLC, the former owner of the property, said the original mixed use plan of the area called for more retail in Waypointe, further up West Avenue, than has developed. If Head of the Harbor is built on Wall Street it will have less retail than expected. “Retail square footage total does not vary a lot from what would have been if both of those districts had been developed as originally planned,” he said.

“You can’t get more diverse than it currently is,” Cafero said. In fact, the developers who have poured money into housing would not appreciate the competition, he said. And while Fowler got approval for office space on the property, there is no market for office space now, he said, as 27 percent of what is available locally is vacant.

Lauricella was echoing a recent comment from Mayor Harry Rilling, who said he had seen a mixed-use Whole Foods while on tour in Dallas with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Adams told Lauricella he was open to talking about a Whole Foods or an incubator for the site.

The project would include job training for locals, Adams said. Cafero said there’s a practical reason for that: Given the traffic in the area, it is obviously preferable that the jobs go to people who don’t need to go far because it’s less likely they’ll be late to work. Job training for locals doesn’t come out of the kindness of GGP’s heart; it’s a promise to its tenants, Cafero said.

NAACP President Darnell Crosland asked if the expansive roof shown in the concept drawing of the mall might include some greenery, and maybe a place for people to have a drink or enjoy tapas.

Adams indicated openness to the idea.

“Those are things we can do because it’s not the roof of a private building,” Adams said. “It’s by nature a public building, which is why we hire a security company. They’re not police, but they help manage the building and work with the police because it’s open to the public pretty much from early morning until late at night.”

Crosland also wanted to know if there was an estimated number of years for the mall to make a profit, and if it was possible the mall would be built and then become vacant.

Adams said there is no hard and fast rule.

“It’s about getting it up and what we’ll call stabilized, where it has a certain cash flow that comes out of it,” Adams said. “That’s part of the reason when you see a lot of these types of property owned by companies like ours, because they require substantial investment and staying power which a public company like ours has so that we will continue to work on the property, tweak it, every year, every five years, every eight years, to make sure it stays current.”

Ernie Dumas asked what the mall might do to property values.

Cafero said he is not an expert. “I’m a citizen of Norwalk and I’ve got to tell you that, in my opinion, this piece of property that has been vacant for 20 years, that has separated and ripped apart these two areas of the city, once joined together is going to increase the value of all properties, in my humble opinion. That’s just opinion, but that has been my experience,” he said.

“Would you be willing to basically maybe reserve two or three storefronts for people in the community so maybe there would be like a contest?” Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) asked.

Adams said it’s a good idea that GGP has been hearing.

“We have in other areas also looked at programs, whether it’s incubators or systems to help with management for people that create businesses, to be entrepreneurship. So as part of, maybe an adjunct to the job training, maybe there is a program or entrepreneur training,” Adams said.

Bowman also asked if GGP could build housing elsewhere, as the current Land Disposition Agreement for the property includes housing.

“We’re not housing developers,” Adams said. “What we see as our place in this district is – I understand there was an approval for housing, we need the entire site to make the program work – is that our main role is to provide a lot of job opportunity and a large tax impact without a lot of services required relative to that impact. We help the housing that is already happening and more housing can occur along the corridor from other developers.”

“I’ll do some housing,” Fowler said.

Councilman Travis Simms (D-District B) asked about pedestrian safety if the mall is built.

“The traffic is a prime consideration,” Adams said. “Often with office developments you’ve got to get to your job, but ours is often a choice, so we are very concerned about traffic. We’re going to work very hard to make sure the traffic works and works correctly.”

Cafero used an analogy to illustrate that the mall would not be a fortress such as the malls in Stamford and Trumbull.

“If you think about a mug of coffee and you think about a glass of water,” Cafero said. “The mug of coffee and the glass of water might contain the same amount of liquid but they’re very different because the liquid on the inside of a mug of coffee cannot see out nor could anyone see in. It is an island unto itself. Everything that goes on in that mug of coffee goes on in that mug of coffee. A glass of water is a different animal. A glass of water is clear, it is clean, it looks outward and allows people to look inward. It takes in the community that is around it and that is the concept behind this mall.”


9 responses to “GGP makes mall pitch to South Norwalk”

  1. Kevin Di Mauro

    I could not attend the meeting, but the image shown in this article reveals potential for fabulous views of Long Island Sound, Norwalk harbor, SONO, etc.
    It doesn’t sound like GGP does hotels, however a very upscale hotel in the center and about 10 stories above the rest of the complex could attract long term shoppers, and tourists rather than just the on-and-off I-95 crowd.
    Also, in my opinion, it was the “jewel box”/Rodeo Drive concept that separates this project from a typical “mall”. Adding a chain food outlet such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s would dilute the entire project. Same with a local boutique or bodega. These types of businesses would also be in competition with existing similar local businesses, and that doesn’t seem to be the intention of the developer.

  2. Al Raymond

    I will say this, I`am happy to see something in the whole in the ground but I don`t like the look of this very modern building. It just does not fit in Norwalk there is too much glass to much blink.I would like to see a building that is a little more low keyed more fitting to New England town something that says (home,New England,safe,quiet). Not so in your face but can still catch peoples eye that they want to stop & do some shopping.Good luck & I hope to see shovels in the ground by the end of the year.

  3. spanner

    there is no market for office space now?

    Core markets are at that point in the real estate cycle where new properties can be delivered at lower cost per square foot and higher yields than where existing older properties are trading spurring the most development by real estate investment trusts in at least a decade.(is GGP a REIT?)

    Office buildings in top U.S. markets are getting so expensive that landlords are choosing to build rather than buy, spurring the most development by real estate investment trusts in at least a decade.(maybe thats why Norwalk has so much empty space as much as what 23 percent Larry said somewhere.Over a milion square feet?)This would be nice to clarify for argument purposes of course.

    Bloomberg REIT Index shows one interest Vornado, which has been selling assets and is spinning off its shopping-center division to focus on its core office and retail projects, has $3.1 billion in developments planned.Those are mainly retail and residential projects.

    Cafero said he is not an expert Norwalk can only hope he was hired by one.

    Norwalk may not be in a core market so maybe it should settle for anything at this point.Sloppy seconds like some of our elected officials seems to best describe Norwalks foremat right now.

    The GGP Norwalk travel map idea showing what Norwalk has should come with white out,before the ink is dry on this great idea a couple more store fronts will be empty.Its odd Norwalk was to have an expert in local travel map concepts did they move?

    This map idea is brilant for anyone visiting Norwalk,the one I’d like to see is a crime map that would be more effective after this site is developed for those visiting the city.Safe walking distance with merchandice in hand is about 100 feet to your car nowadays from malls which could be standard someday.I’m not sure walking to the train station would be a great idea given some of the actors we have on Norwalk streets.

    The real issue is Norwalk and its taxpayers,a windfall of 5 million dollars is great but spending more money to accommadate a mall will come from whom?Hasn’t it been mentioned that more work on infrastructure now that these plans have been suggested may have to be done?If not why has it been mentioned?

    Hey Al parking meters on the hill? Better watch out the Norwalk parking people may be eyeing some new real estate if parking becomes an issue 2200 jobs and 3,000 spaces makes me wonder whats next.

  4. Suzanne

    These meetings are designed to listen, yes, but to constantly shift the image of what is being proposed. I find it interesting that nothing has been really published of these plans except for the distant views captured by NON.
    “The project would include job training for locals, Adams said. Cafero said there’s a practical reason for that: Given the traffic in the area, it is obviously preferable that the jobs go to people who don’t need to go far because it’s less likely they’ll be late to work. Job training for locals doesn’t come out of the kindness of GGP’s heart; it’s a promise to its tenants, Cafero said.”
    Would these be the same jobs that were earlier described as, on average or maybe at a minimum $26,000 per year? How does that meet the needs of personal expenses for the average Norwalk citizen who might desire a job at this center?
    The Stamford Town Center has a 108,000 square foot plaza that allows for outdoor dining and pedestrian access to the mall and parking. I would not call that a “coffee mug”. I would call it a “glass.”
    In addition, Stamford Town Center claims 139 stores appealing to most income brackets. Is this going to the same thing? Why?
    I agree with Mr. Raymond above. This building simply reads as a big box with glass – why can’t the architecture be more a destination with more New England appropriate style? People can find Malls, albeit a distant view of one from these various articles, in Anytown, USA.

  5. Bill

    There is a huge office vacancy, why don’t the economically ignorant people understand this fact? We need to fill this hole, and fill it quick. I say heck yes to this mall…anything is better than nothing for another 20 years.

  6. Don’t Panic


    Still not hearing what the proposed plan B is if this mall does not meet projections for foot traffic and occupancy rates.
    Will the developer, having taken our tax abatements, then flip the property to yet another owner who will offer us another “take it or leave it” boondoggle? Will we again be told that we can’t tell the owner what to do with the property?

  7. Al Raymond

    I`am not sure & if I`am wrong someone jump in & say so but we the people can`t tell someone what they can or can`t do with there property we can only suggest. I think zoning has a lot to say & redevelopment also has something to say. So as residents of Norwalk we need to ask a lot of questions,hold our common council & our Mayor accountable to do what there constitutes want & not what they would like to see. I hope that GGP is really listening to the people & this is not just a show.The first & foremost think that GGP needs to do is be completely honest & tell everything up front cause if they don`t the people will never trust them on anything.

  8. spanner

    “Norwalk has by 20 million square feet of commercial real estate space and the average age is in excess of 30 or 40 years.”

    Just found this fact in case some think Norwalk has most of everything it needs in new construction and needs when it comes to this mall.Maybe Larry was right on how much vacant property is out there and then again maybe not.

  9. iain

    I attended the recent GGP presentation at the stepping stones museum. What was not mentioned at all was any impact on traffic. When questioned about daily car volume Mr Adams said around 3,000 cars per day. When this was questioned, IE: 250,000 per week does not make 3,000 per day, he said they did have a preliminary traffic study but it would not be released and he would check into the vehicle count projections. I’m not sure what happened re: that, but there is some available data (sources below) to make some simple calculations.

    Annual visitors: 12,000,000
    Average Daily Car Visits:
    Friday (16%) – 22,282
    Saturday (22%) – 30,637

    December Daily Car Visits:
    Friday – 30,749
    Saturday – 42,280

    Length of cars if parked end to end:
    Average Friday – 80.2 MILES
    December Saturday – 152.1 MILES

    What would happen every Friday, a workday, when between 20,000 & 30,000 additional cars are squeezed into the existing bottleneck?? What about Christmas when 40,000 or more cars are added to the mix on a Saturday??

    When/if there is a bottleneck at the mall, how long will it take to get from sono to Wall St.?

    Yes, something needs to be done with the site, however, i-95 is pretty awful as it is and I can’t imagine how a mall would not add to the problem. I could be proved wrong and would be interested in any info from the city, state or GGP re traffic. Its important.

    Interesting quote:
    Larry Cafero
    “Given the traffic in the area, it is obviously preferable that the jobs go to people who don’t need to go far because it’s less likely they’ll be late to work. “

    Data provided by:
    Larry Cafero & Doug Adams of GGP: (monthly visit volume)
    GGP website: (monthly/weekly breakdown)
    Vehicle Occupancy: “Average Vehicle Occupancy by Purpose of Travel, NHTS 2009”
    Car length = DOT standard parking space (and Norwalk minimum length)
    Boat show data: Norwalk hour

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