Letter: Cafero & Co. pitch jewels and jewel boxes

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.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega


9 responses to “Letter: Cafero & Co. pitch jewels and jewel boxes”

  1. Casey Smith

    @ Rod Lopez-Fabrega-
    I think if you look at past minutes and presentations of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, you’ll find that the “jewels” idea was originally introduced by them, with both East Avenue and West Avenue acting as the main corridors.

  2. Suzanne

    I regret I could not attend that meeting last night BUT I am still not buying it. Their attendance estimates far exceed anything that could or should be expected even if nearby towns were to shop there. I cannot believe that passersby on I-95 would make up the difference. New York City dwellers do not need to come to Norwalk to access a Mall. There are plenty of choices right in Manhattan. It is highly doubtful Norwalk would be an NYC destination – for what? Another chain store?
    I am assuming that the one million number attaches itself in some way to profitability. What if they build it and no one comes?
    Barring that as an argument, what is represented in this letter is just not the vision nor scale of what Norwalk needs. A mall is a mall is a mall – great for anywhere USA and great if businesses included here (again, GGP’s list of favorites is on their WEB site but includes notables like Victoria’s Secret, The Gap, Panera, Bertucci’s, etc., all chain stores that can be accessed at nearby venues) are what Norwalk sees in thirty years as profitable enterprises. Many, many malls in the country have not.
    The Redevelopment Agency, based upon minutes from the meeting last November 3, 2013 and provided by a previous contributor, has made a big mistake. This land DOES need to go on the market again if this Mall is the ONLY choice GGP is providing Norwalk.
    Does Norwalk really need more opportunities to shop? More big boxes dressed up like a “Grande Dame” with too much jewelry? What makes shopping an event is a fifties style vision of what makes up a community. There are many other past times to engage. And a lot of those malls don’t exist anymore for a reason.
    Predictably there will be the whining and moaning about the empty spot on Norwalk’s downtown horizon. It’s been empty for a long time. I think building a Mall there is shortchanging the most “valuable piece of real estate” in Southwest Fairfield County.
    Wouldn’t it be great if people thought “out side of the box”, removed those “jewels” and contributed something maybe more complicated but much better in keeping with Norwalk’s needs?
    What’s so wrong with mixed use anyway?

  3. EveT

    When they say it won’t be an enclosed (“fortress”) mall, do they mean you have to go outside every time you step from one store to another? That works in California where it rarely rains. It’s great to fantasize about “outdoor living,” but the reality around here is we have some nice weather and a lot of inclement weather, including months when snow and ice is a hazard on every sidewalk.

  4. Julie

    “According to CBS, no new indoor mall has been built in America since 2006 and at least one expert predicts that half of all existing malls will close within the next 10 years.” Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Thus; Seph Lawless “Black Friday” The collapse of America’s Malls.

  5. M. Murray’s

    Seems like Stamford, trumbull, and danbury malls all are at or near capacity and have been very successful

  6. Bill

    If all the bozos against this mall get their way, please only raise their property taxes to make up for the $5,000,000 in extra tax money we would have received from this property.

  7. sofaman

    @ Bill: fair enough, but a better question might be, for all the tremendous growth Norwalk has seen in the last 30 years, in terms of retail space, how much has this allowed the average tax burden of a Norwalk citizen to go down? I’d be very interested in seeing that chart.

    These properties don’t just arrive without a cost to the city.

  8. Bill

    @sofaman, what growth are you talking about? We have had this hole in the ground for 15 years, that is not growth my friend.

  9. Don’t Panic

    More pictures of mall failures:
    @Bill, just where is the $5mm tax revenue figure coming from when the mall is getting a few tax free years?

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