To the Editor:
Monday night (6/23/14), the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) invited citizens of Norwalk to City Hall to hear from General Growth Properties Inc. (GGP) all about the new mall they are proposing for the perpetually unoccupied 95/7 property. Approximately 25 citizens of Norwalk attended.
Larry Cafero, the lawyer of record for GGP on this project, together with a representative of GGP, a real estate investment trust headquartered in Chicago, Ill., gave the pitch.
As you may remember from his days as a politician, Mr. Cafero is one heck of a salesman. He beguiled us with a blue-skies vision of a 2½-mile long string of jewels (my word) that stretch from Wall Street down to the Norwalk Railroad station, the “jewels” being the civic buildings (did he mean the post office?), the library, shops (the shoe repair place?), residences, churches, restaurants, attractions that now line that thoroughfare. It’s all there, spread out, unlike most small cities that have a “center.” The only thing that has kept it from working better is that route I-95 has split “historic Norwalk” from the rest of the city, and there is a gap that needs filling in order to sort of pull us back together again.
That filler would be the GGP mall.
The proposed mall was presented with architect’s renderings and conceptual plans that feature a massive central core with attached, glittery, glass “jewel boxes” (their words) that, in essence are retail modules that hang on the central body of the complex, making the entire assembly look more like an over-dressed Grande Dame wearing too much jewelry — not your typical Norwalk lady.
He beguiled us with an estimated vision of one million visitors per year to this monolith, mesmerized into spending many hours in the mall and then leisurely touristing up and down the avenue to visit the Maritime Aquarium, the Learning Center, dine at one of our many interesting restaurants (the mall will not compete with existing eateries) and enjoy all the cultural hot spots that are already there.
He points out that shopping is more than buying stuff. “It’s an event!” These millions will be able to come to Norwalk either by car (lots of parking acreage provided) from Darien, New Canaan, Weston or by train from New York, Greenwich, Fairfield and beyond so they can “stroll” from the South Norwalk Station to nearby 95/7. On the other hand, one of those bicycle-loan systems might make it possible for them to cycle over to the attractions or a river taxi system could be provided with stops on both sides of the river that parallels our avenue of culture and could be fun during warm months. There may be a circular bus service to move them around if they are not up to strolling or biking. Mr. Cafero paints an imaginative landscape painting of what could be (perhaps in another time and place).
On the practical side is the bottom line of this entire enterprise: General Growth Properties owns the property. The company specializes in the development and management of malls all over America. It is what they do. It is all they do. They do not build multiple use and they do not build offices. They do not build affordable housing. They build malls.
The question arises: are we on the verge of acquiring a mall because the owner of the property wants it or because Norwalk needs it? The project is very controversial, as shown in questions by concerned citizens raised at the meeting and by a barrage of letters and commentaries in the press in recent weeks, many in opposition. Mr. Cafero’s response is that GGP’s proposal has to go through a series of “approvals” by city agencies.
In view of notable citizen resistance to the project, what happens if the concept is not approved? The answer seems to be, GGP will find another buyer for what has been characterized correctly by our mayor and others as, “arguably the best development site in Fairfield County, Conn.”
Back to square one.