The upcoming proposal by Citibank/McClutchy for the rescue of the POKO project “Wall Street Place – Phase 1” leaves a lot to be desired from the perspective of Norwalk’s citizens.
It doubles down on the complexity of the previous deal with even more complex financing arrangements, puts an out-of-character and oversized anchor in a charming and historic downtown, and does little beyond adding more people to the area (without the associated property taxes). And it leaves most of Isaacs Street with a blank wall. (Granted it will have some architectural elements to break it up, but essentially it will be a long blank wall.)
It omits solutions for several “stranded” elements that have evolved as a result of the previous developer’s failure to perform under the LDA, such as the loss of the Isaacs Street lot (under litigation), and the inverse condemnation of the Dias property (also under litigation). Despite the fact that one of the main problems with implementing Phase 1 is the parking requirements, we are paradoxically allowing the new developer to “buy out” of some of it.
So, let’s grab our creative pencils and see what else might be considered, shall we?
Idea Number One: Let’s put more “active” uses into the building for starters. As long as we are moving the parking off-site to where the Garden Cinema is, add another story (or half-story) to the parking structure, move some of the parking out of the building to the parking structure and put the Garden Cinema into the ground floor, facing Isaacs to activate the side street, and create an anchor for more “arts district” activity.
Idea Number Two: Make use of a true “smart growth” architectural solution to add what the Wall St area really needs–small and affordable retail spaces and other uses designed to encourage people to spend time walking around. The developer should use a “” instead of the blank wall. This can result in a lot of small business operations, or even artist workspaces and small office rentals that will be attractive to the community, and yield revenue for the developer. Again, more jiggering of parking will be necessary, but we’re doing that anyway. In a Central Business District that is considering micro-units for residential, why not do the same for businesses?
In either case, Isaacs has to be made two-way by removing more of the street parking. Purchase the Dias property, as originally threatened, since this is how Norwalk settles most land disputes anyway.
I’m sure there are more good ideas out there. What’s yours?