Letter: Mall idea no jewel box for Norwalk

To the Editors:

Our city of Norwalk is in danger of becoming the “boutique” capital of Fairfield County.

Does that sound like an exaggeration for our modest, middle-income community? Well, consider this: An alarming number of our physicians are turning to “boutique medicine” (a.k.a. “concierge medicine”).

If you haven’t been keeping up, for subscribers this means that every adult in your family will pay an additional $4,000 to $5,000 per annum for the kind of care you thought you had been getting for years anyhow. They include such amenities that (back in the old days)  were part of “family doctoring,” but, in recent years, you’ve learned to do without such as: direct telephone contact with a live voice, a nicer reception room, short waits (presumably with current magazines), home visits (“if necessary”), hospital visits by your physician, and more.  However, this service will no longer accept Medicare or HMO insurance or the cost of those specialists to whom they refer you for special attention or procedures they no longer wish to handle themselves.

And now, we are promised the possibility of a “boutique mall” the builder, General Growth Properties (GGP) describes as a “small” mall of 700,000 square feet, as contrasted to the 800,000 square feet of the Stamford Town Center. It will include two or three anchors, defined by GGP as “fashion department stores,” and will feature “jewel box” pods that actually are attached shops with floor to ceiling glass windows visible from the street. Additionally, it will have 75 to 100 small shops and restaurants, all of which GGP is predicting will draw 600,000 “shoppers out to explore” from Norwalk and the surrounding areas.

As we all know, the success of any mall, wherever it is located, depends on the drawing star power of its anchor stores – a Bloomingdale’s, a Lord and Taylor, even a Macy’s – but GGP cannot at this time confirm that it has such commitments from the “biggies.”

What is more, you may have noted that right next door to Norwalk, Westport’s short Main Street now offers (or has in the past, with mixed success) to those 600,000 exploring shoppers such enticements as: Talbot’s, The GAP, J. Crew, William Sonoma, Crabtree Evelyn, Occitane, Banana Republic and more. Ask any one of them if they’ve seen the 600,000 in recent years. So, we are to expect more of the same in Norwalk? If you believe that will happen with economic conditions such as they are, I have a bridge to sell you.

As for restaurants, do I need to tell you that they are one thing Norwalk has in abundance? We have an exceptional and creative selection of eateries that range from world class steak houses to European-style pubs to a mind-bending number of exotic and ethnic choices for the “exploring diner” popping up in unexpected corners and, distressingly, some disappearing just as quickly for lack of sufficient patronage to fill them all. Now, GGP promises more of the same?

We can only hope that those who are charged by Norwalk voters to make the decisions to spend our taxpayer dollars will make note that such a shopping extravaganza with all its “jewel box” appendages is entirely inappropriate for our middle-income, melting pot city that still lacks affordable housing for the corporate drones and lawn mower pushers who make up a goodly portion of our citizenry.

We cannot do much about the growing threat of concierge medicine, but we can still look before we jump with entirely misdirected enthusiasm into another builder over-reach of jewel box shopping.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega


14 responses to “Letter: Mall idea no jewel box for Norwalk”

  1. anon

    @Fabrega, Concierge medicine = Obamacare, which is making it tough to be a doctor or a patient.

  2. John Hamlin

    In an ideal world, we would see something other than a mall being built on that site — something like what was originally proposed so many years ago before all the protest and delays and the financial crisis. But what options does the city have now? Either this mall or . . . What? The property owner wants to build a mall. What alternative options does the city have? I think most people are at a loss to figure out how to make something else happen but everyone is sick of seeing a huge mud hole there. What else is actually viable — without wishing in vain for someone else to pour money down the drain?

  3. Don’t Panic

    Here’s an idea. How about a state of the art regional jobs training and recruitment center? There will jobs for people with teaching skills and jobs for people with selling skills, and it’s bound to draw hundreds of thousands of job seekers to the area who need employment. Add a small business “incubator” for individuals seeking a streamlined process for starting a new business in Norwalk and give THOSE business owners the tax credits that would have gone to this project so they could disperse their job-creating talents throughout the city.

  4. Windmills on Norwalk

    Too bad we can’t get a hotel, a 4 year college, or a Ferris Wheel in that space. Maybe we can transplant Playland to that mudhole, or at least one windmill.

  5. Charger

    Live in the past, build a big donut shop and call it the ‘hole in the donut’.

  6. LWitherspoon

    I would like 95/7 to be occupied by an airfield suitable for blimp traffic. Blimps fell out of favor some years back but I have a feeling they’re about to have a moment.

  7. EastNorwalkChick

    LWitherspoon, I was thinking more along the lines of turning it into a Demolition Derby arena, or one of those X-Games motor cross courses….we’ve got the mud for it! Friday nights at the races, yee ha!

  8. Suzanne

    I don’t mind a mall but this model of one just doesn’t cut it. I understood that it would be contextual to Norwalk, not a cookie cutter sampling of all of the other GGP products they have in their portfolio. What happened to the low-scale, appropriate architecture, mixed-use model that was being touted? Great! Let Norwalk be like everywhere else and then let’s see – after the 1 million per month visitor estimate does not materialize, what will happen to this glassed-in hulk destined to be the White Elephant of Norwalk and not the prosperous concierge shopping style elucidated by this letter.

  9. Adam Blank

    I would prefer the site to be used solely for time travel

  10. Same old Same old

    I always find it comical how certain individuals seem to believe that every development is wrong for Norwalk. I have yet to see these individuals support anything but unused bike lanes and sidewalks.
    These individuals post as if they have some qualifications for opinions. It would be best to ignore these individuals as if they are given any credibility, Norwalk will continue to be known for the holes in the ground.

  11. Suzanne

    No, the hole in the ground would be Stamford. Just because a development has been proposed does not mean it is what is best for our community. As proposed above, a giant donut shop, a Blimp landing site, time travel, these are all jokes, of course, but it doesn’t make them appropriate for the site. Neither does this mall.

  12. piberman

    Kudos to Mr Fabrega for a thoughtful letter. Hundreds and hundreds of local small business owners protested the initial Big Box development before a seemingly confused P&Z Committee decades ago. We know the results – horrendous traffic, devalued nearby properties, low wage jobs and the virtual destruction of the City’s once vibrant small business sector.

    Why expect better results from a downtown mall ? Our City desperately needs opportunities for new small business and good paying jobs. A mall creates neither. A mall will destroy any chance of revitalizing SoNo and Wall Street and will further reinforce Norwalk’s reputation as a failing city fit only for traffic and retail shopping.

    The mall so favored by our Mayor may well become known as “”Rilling’s Folly”. Had the Mayor hired a redevelopment professional we’d have large firms with good paying jobs looking at Norwalk. Instead we have the Mayor extolling the virtues of the most preposterous proposal to hit the streets in decades. Surely he must know better. Just ask taxpayers.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ PI Berman

      Fact check re “so favored” and “extolling virutes”: Rilling quote from our story…

      “I was, during the campaign, very much against a mall because I was not convinced that that was the highest and best use for that piece of property,” Rilling said. “We need to be extremely diligent and careful in what we put there because it’s going to be there for generations to come. That’s a very, very desirable piece of property.

      “Now,having said that, I was against the mall and I’m still not totally convinced that that’s what should be there,” he said, “but I will say that GGP has been very responsive to everything that I have asked for and talked about. They understand my concerns and they understand the concerns of other elected officials and appointed officials. They are doing everything they can to make this move forward in a way that is a proper fit for Norwalk. We still have a ways to go.”

      Rilling sounded a note of caution, saying the city’s fragile commercial centers, undergoing their own revivals, must be protected.

      “My main concern is the South Norwalk and Wall Street areas. I want to make sure that we don’t have a stand-alone retail outlet in the middle of two inner city areas that are struggling for survival and for an identity, and have a situation where people drive onto 95, get off, do their shopping, get a bite to eat (in the mall) and get back onto 95 and drive home.”

      No local official, city or state, has come out in favor of this proposal as of yet, save for one: State Rep. Larry Cafero, the group’s local attorney and the attorney/legislator who helped bring us the soon-to-arrive big box Lowe’s.

  13. anon

    @Berman, Not a prediction, a fact-Stamford offices facing I95 have large ‘For Lease’ signs, vacant. Looking for more apartments?

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