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GGP’s mall pitch falls on hardened Norwalk ears

General Growth Properties (GGP) Senior Development Director Charles Tapia, center, and GGP attorney Larry Cafero, right, listen as Diane Cece of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) asks about traffic Monday in City Hall.
General Growth Properties (GGP) Senior Development Director Charles Tapia, center, and GGP attorney Larry Cafero, right, listen as Diane Cece of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) asks about traffic Monday in City Hall.

Updated, 5:30 p.m. meeting dates.

NORWALK, Conn. – Proponents of a mall for South Norwalk faced a tough audience Monday when they made their sales pitch to the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA).

“We have heard this. The same words — connectivity, from South Norwalk to Norwalk — we’ve heard it, it hasn’t happened,” said Bob Wagman of the West Norwalk Association, midway through more than two hours of discussion with General Growth Properties (GGP) Senior Development Director Charles Tapia and GGP attorney Larry Cafero. “… We have been hearing this for now well over 10 years, starting with Waypointe back in the early ’90’s, POKO, Head of the Harbor. the words are the same; they kind of lose their impact.”

Tapia and Cafero did the same PowerPoint presentation they have done for others, hitting the highlights of the proposed trolley-like bus to transport customers on a loop from the South Norwalk train station to the nearby attractions, the estimated million visitors a month, the desire to help SoNo, not hurt it. They got questions on similar themes: the look of the place, the traffic.

Diane Cece, who led the meeting, said she could bring a laugh to the room, and then delivered with a guess about what will happen when GGP presents an application to the Zoning Commission, with testimony from a traffic engineer.

“They are going to say one sentence: ‘This will have no impact,’” she said, getting the promised chuckle. “And there we go. We all sit through it and we all chuckle in the audience because there has never been a project in the city of Norwalk that hasn’t had a negative impact on traffic. I am sure you hear this in other places. Of course they have an impact on traffic. it’s crazy to say it doesn’t.”

Tapia said traffic is important to GGP as well. “If there is lots of traffic, people are not going to come back,” he said.

One man said he didn’t think the look of the mall fit in with Norwalk. People driving on I-95 see trees, he said. They see smaller buildings. If the mall is built they will see glass and glitz.

“A dump is what defined Norwalk,” Cafero said, before lauding Oyster Shell Park, which was built on the notorious riverfront landfill and is on the other side of the railroad tracks from the would-be mall. Oyster Shell Park is beautiful, he said, and the mall would not hide it, it would augment it, he said.

Duplicating Washington Street would not be a good idea, he said.

“If you were to try to duplicate it, I don’t know, according to our architects and designers, you’re trying to force the beautiful, naturally historic South Norwalk,” Cafero said. “Now you’re sort of manufacturing the thing in a shopping center. So what they tried to do is use some of the brick to tie it in, make the scale to some of that size but also make it different.”

“Don’t be confused by the rendering and the choice of materials,” Tapia said. “That’s why we haven’t submitted yet, we want to hear what everyone’s comments are and then we can fix them and modify and change materials possibly to something that is appropriate.”

Someone asked why the mall would not just blow SoNo merchants out of the water.

“The stores in here are more fashion oriented,” Cafero said. “They are not competing with the boutique stores, they are not competing with the restaurants.”

Tapia said that, ordinarily, GGP would put a movie theater in its mall. That isn’t planned because it would compete with the neighborhood, he said. That is an example of the approach to the area, he said.

Another concern raised: South Norwalk churches need parking. Cafero volunteered that a deal might be made to allow church-goers free parking on Sundays. “That is part of this listening tour, if you will.”

Skepticism was expressed about the trolley-bus – who would go to the mall and then visit SoNo? Tapia said it would be unrealistic to think that everyone would leave the mall to visit SoNo, but imagine if one percent did.

Julie Burton had a positive reaction.

“I like to go to dinner in SoNo but the parking is a hassle,” she said. “So – I don’t really like to shop but hey, I can kill two birds with one stone: Go to the Gap and then go to dinner. I park at the mall, take the little circulator thing, and have a really nice outing rather than making two trips. I can see it.”

“I hope so,” Tapia said, drawing a laugh.

The next steps in the “listening tour” include two meetings for SoNo merchants in early July at the South Norwalk Library, Cafero said, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to allow everyone to get there. Those are on July 8 at 6:30 p.m. and July 14 at 3 p.m., Doug Adams of GGP said in a Wednesday email to NoN.

There is an effort to set up meetings with individual neighborhood associations, Cafero said. Because the previous owner of thee site, Spinnaker Realty, had gotten a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) to build a mixed-use development, GGP will have to convince city officials to permit major changes to allow the mall project to move ahead.

The goal is to submit an application in November or December, Cafero said. The proposal will have to go through the Common Council, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and Planning and Zoning, he said.

Cece said another thing that gets a laugh from CNNA members is a public hearing in August.

“It won’t be in August, I can guarantee that,” Cafero said.

Afterward, Al Raymond said he hadn’t been swayed.

“Basically what I am concerned with is how it looks,” Raymond said. “I definitely want something there. We have been looking at a hole in the ground for 15 years now. I definitely want to see something go there but it’s got to fit in with Norwalk. I mean, in my opinion, that, what you are looking at is all glass and glitzy and it doesn’t fit into Norwalk.”

Something replicating Westport’s downtown would be better, he said. Plus, people from Darien and New Canaan will figure out routes to the mall that would not include the Route 7 connector – it would include his neighborhood, he said.

“They always say no,” he said, referring to traffic engineers and their predictions of a lack of impact outside the immediate area of whatever they are paid to support.

Corine Weston of the SoNo Alliance was similarly unimpressed.

“I just don’t want a mall. I didn’t want one there before, I don’t want one now,” she said. “That’s the only problem. I would like the mixed use, but that’s not their job.”

The Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) meets Monday in City Hall to hear a presentation from General Growth Properties (GGP) about the concept for a mall at the 95/7 site.
The Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) meets Monday in City Hall to hear a presentation from General Growth Properties (GGP) about the concept for a mall at the 95/7 site.

Comments

18 responses to “GGP’s mall pitch falls on hardened Norwalk ears”

  1. Julie

    Looks like they were expecting a huge crowd with 20 seats at the ready. “Million visitors a month,” lol, or 33,000 a day, lmao, with 1,000 a day going to shop or eat in SoNo, rotflmao. Yeah ok, and we have an old steel bridge to sell ya. Look its fair to come to the community and lay your cards on the table, however, its not fair to just make stuff up that goes far beyond fudging the numbers but sounds good. Or is it fair to just out right lie. Just dangling that check on the carrot stick to the local yokels may not be an appropriate strategy to win heats and minds, no less wallets of the townsfolk here. We have been duped again and again and we have learned from our errors, haven’t we?

  2. Debora

    There were a number of individuals who could not stay for the whole meeting due to conflicts and left before this picture was taken.

  3. srb

    Would the city have agreed to the Mall years ago when Spinnaker introduced the project? I doubt it. So what’s the difference now other than a recession that has led to an empty space? The land in question is extraordinarily valuable. The infrastructure improvements provided by the government have significantly improved the value. The city has the right and duty to make sure this project fits the city’s needs. GCP took a risk by buying the property w/out it subject to their project, if they can’t do it and they feel like they need to sell it – that’s life, caveat emptor, someone else will buy it and a plan will eventually come about that is in the interest of all parties.

  4. JoeC

    For those who didn’t attend, it would be nice if NoN could publish or link to some of the graphics GCP presented.

  5. M. Murray’s

    Anyone know the number who go to Stamford, trumbull, or danbury malls?

  6. Bill

    If the land were so valuable, why would we have a hole in the ground for 15 years?

    The dimwits against this plan should be responsible for the hole in the ground for the next 15 years if we don’t get this mall and the lost $5,000,000 tax revenue for the city.

  7. piethein

    ” AMAZON ” is the new Mall. It is a folly to believe that this late in the retail game yet another Mall is the answer for 95/7 or similar locations.

  8. Tim D

    Mr Cafero carefully navigated the political game for many years and it would seem that he would have the sense to listen to what the citizens of Norwalk are saying: most do not support this idea as the best use for this swath of land.


    This has disaster written all over it.

  9. LWitherspoon

    Ms. Cece’s opinion of new development in Norwalk is well-characterized by the following video:
    .
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHash5takWU&feature=kp

  10. piberman

    If the developers really thought they have a “winner” they’d make a fully developed written proposal available to the public and not proceed to give “dog and pony” shows to drum support nor hire notable politicos to advance their cause. Norwalkers have trouble electing officials who can do their sums correctly. But they seem to recognize a major boondoggle when they see one. Maybe there is hope for Norwalk’s future yet.

    Best comment to date was as follows: “We do have a mall in Norwalk – the internet aka Amazon”. Why its as big as the whole world !

  11. Debora

    The attack on Diane Cece is uncalled for.

  12. Tim D

    @LWitherspoon – Funny!

    @Debora – who calls for attacks? People casually step into them. And this is not offensive.

  13. The Norwalker

    Has anyone mentioned that the I-95 exit and entry ramps in the area are some of the most busy in the area? The I-95/Super 7 connection backs up regularly. The area does not need more traffic problems.

  14. Suzanne

    No hurries and no worries: 95/7 has been a hole in the ground for a long time. But, that does not necessitate putting a completely inappropriate development in to fill it.
    *
    Is anyone thinking thirty years from now and what this mall will look like? Malls are retreating into irrelevancy, as so well pointed out above, by the Internet.
    *
    The earlier statistics mentioning the profitability of Malls did not include competing Malls which this one will have and did not include the demographics of the communities in which these Malls are so profitable (I believe the high end number was two percent profit.)
    *
    “…the estimated million visitors a month”. I still can’t believe this statement. It would mean that Norwalk’s Mall would be on par with Epcot Center. Really? http://www.orlandoinformer.com/2013/2012-theme-park-attendance-figures-released-universal-orlando-up/
    *
    “Now you’re sort of manufacturing the thing in a shopping center. So what they tried to do is use some of the brick to tie it in, make the scale to some of that size but also make it different.”
    *
    What architects have they consulted? If the initial concept is true (and piBerman’s statement above is absolutely true – why aren’t they showing us what they are really up to except by dog and pony?), they haven’t been thinking outside of the box nor talking with the right architects.
    *
    There are plenty of post-SONO era developments around the country that have not resorted to this leviathan (First one that comes to mind: the small, modern but village like shops of Mystic.) This is a big box with glass on steroids. Oh, yeah. And a little brick as a “tie in” to the existing community’s architecture.
    *
    “That’s why we haven’t submitted yet, we want to hear what everyone’s comments are and then we can fix them and modify and change materials possibly to something that is appropriate.”
    *
    Notice the choice: changing materials to make the development appropriate. Not actually adjust the Mall design to meet the needs of Norwalk, a far more appropriate approach that is sustainable.
    *
    “The stores in here are more fashion oriented,” Cafero said. “They are not competing with the boutique stores, they are not competing with the restaurants.”
    *
    Just what Norwalk needs: a cat walk for the residents of Greenwich, New Canaan, Westport, Stamford and, it is going to be SO fabulous, New Yorkers.
    *
    What are these people taking? None of this even begins to address Norwalk as a community. Promises of thriving adjacent businesses which we have seen NOT happen with Home Depot, for example, and money. Five million a year is a pittance compared to the overall budget Norwalk carries.
    *
    This Mall is what we want to sell our resources and the heart of the community for?

  15. M. Murray’s

    Site development in norwalk should focus on projects that increase the tax base while minimizing the use of services. Development in housing should focus on higher income brackets, who tend to use less services, along with higher end apartments for the elderly who can afford nicer amenities, yet would not add to the cost of our school system.

  16. New Era

    the mall will truly bring Norwalk back to the top again.

  17. Missy Conrad

    I was present for the whole presentation of the proposed mall by General Growth Properties and found it thorough & creative. Of course, office space at its 27% present vacancy rate is not feasible to build. However, when my husband & I moved to Norwalk in 1971, the present 95/7 site was a neighborhood of big homes with porches on both the first & second floors. Many African-Americans lived in that neighborhood. The Waypoint development also took the homes & rooming houses of many minority residents. When I asked how many people were living in that neighborhood, there was no answer but, “You wouldn’t want to have lived there-” As a Quaker and as a US American, I expect more of a commitment to Community, to a certain Equality that is not weighed by one’s money. The people who were pushed out of the 95/7 site deserve to be remembered. Lest we forget our responsibility, some money must be allotted to subsidized housing, either at that site or elsewhere. Rents have gone up six times in relation to stagnating wages, and the few new affordable units have not matched those taken or the population growth.

  18. Chevy Vega

    Try the POKO Projects on Wall St. Just a hop skip and a jump away from 95/7.

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