NORWALK, Conn. – The pounding in SoNo has moved down the block, with a consensus from those on the street: Development has brought new energy to the struggling district.
Norwalk leaders marked the opening of Ironworks Sono Tuesday with a ribbon cutting meant to thank those involved, they said. Neighbors of the development agreed there’s been a little energy shift, which is great, they said, even if they’re struggling with the beginning stages of the construction of next big thing, the coming apartment building known as The Pearl.
“I know it feels a little painful right now, but we’re moving so quickly, we’re going to have the foundation poured in the next couple of weeks,” said Stephanie Pelletier of SoNo Design District, in describing the construction of The Pearl at 99 Washington St. “We’ll be out of the ground; you’ll see an actual building taking shape here. It’s always part of the process of change, kind of like growing out a haircut. You don’t see anything happening, but then you know six months later you have a whole new hairstyle.”
The “new hairstyle” is abundantly obvious on the corner of Washington and North Water, where political leaders and developers met next to the fountain at Ironworks SoNo to cut a ribbon.
It was just a “quick gathering to thank those who are here,” said Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, LLC.
That included architect Bruce Beinfield, Norwalk Senior Planner Dori Wilson, Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Santo, Zoning Commissioner Nate Sumpter, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord, Fire Chief Denis McCarthy, Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce President Ed Musante, SoNo Task Force member Eric Rains and Task Force chairman and former Mayor Bill Collins.
“This is how things happen in Norwalk, by everybody pulling together to make sure that not only do we make Norwalk the best it can be, but we do it in the right way. It’s everybody’s effort that helps make this happen,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.
Beinfield showed off the interior of the building he designed, including the materials recycled from the old Norwalk Compressor building, which formerly occupied the space. On the lobby walls were photographs of the graffiti that had been on the old building — true art, he said.
“They have leased over 80 out of 108 units, so the building is way above expectations in terms of filling up,” Beinfield said. “It is, in fact, changing the energy in the neighborhood, which had definitely been trailing down over the last six months prior to this trend. With this and a couple of other restaurants, now the energy in the neighborhood is much more positive again.”
Two women who work at Beadworks, just in front of Ironworks, said that was true.
“Even this morning when I was walking here there seemed to be more people,” Lola Richards said.
“The thing is they said they were going to bring more retail, and so far it is just restaurants,” Ashley Soltes said.
“We would really like to see some more retail, a more eclectic mix of businesses,” Richard said.
Beinfield said that The Juice Stand is moving from Wall Street to Ironworks. A yoga store is expected. Rilling mentioned a possible hair salon.
Soltes said that, two years ago, before construction began, she was worried about blasting. Those fears came true, she said.
“Now it’s fine, but when they were building it, just every day it was like ‘I feel the building crumbling down on top of me.’ It was a little scary for a little while, but now we don’t really feel anything because I think it is just down the block,” Soltes said, referring to the work at The Pearl.
Another merchant echoed those thoughts.
The energy on the street has changed “a little bit,” Dora Oppedisano of Salon Halo said. It’s a more sophisticated crowd, and slightly more people, she said. “It’s the 30 and up rather than the 21 and under, she said. “I think that’s great, that’s what I want to see.”
But the banging at The Pearl was “horrendous” on Saturday and Sunday.
Pelletier said The Pearl should be leasing out its 66 apartments next June, which is really fast, she said. While Soltes was mourning the loss of three trees, Pelletier said those Bradford Pear trees were used up.
“We love trees, are you kidding? That’s how we make a great urban neighborhood, with trees and plantings. It’s going to look fantastic when the project is finished. Then the trees will be phased out and then the new plantings will come in,” Pelletier said.
Another SoNo frequent flier praised the change brought by Ironworks SoNo. Frank Polito is not a merchant but regularly sits on a Washington Street bench. “I think it’s a positive vibe. I think it radiates vitality. I think they basically used a lot of the same brick and murals and the interior design. I think that, while I’m not an engineer, they were preservationists now,” Polito said.
“There are tangibly more people here,” Fowler said. “That is what is going to make this community stronger.”
Video by Harold Cobin: