Letter: Mall plan’s chilly reception means city should look elsewhere

To the Editors:

It seems pretty clear which way the tide is moving regarding the fate of the 95/7 development. The good citizens of Norwalk are beginning to take notice of the misdirected proposal — under serious consideration — that a “high end” mall to fill the big mud hole is what is needed.

The question has come up, “If not a mall, then what?” It is a perplexing question. The suggestion seems to be that we can only sit around patiently and passively waiting for someone from somewhere to come knocking at our doors with a better proposal to fill that perennially and embarrassingly empty lot, a prime piece of real estate.

Instead of listening only to the carpet-bagger builders who come with their ideas, why is it we cannot put together a team made up of several civic employees (who know our situation best of all) to form a sales team to go out and SELL the wonderful opportunity we have to help us install a real “anchor facility” for the city of Norwalk? This would take some degree of volunteering, though actually paying these “volunteer salesmen” is not unimaginable rather than having to hire the kinds of city planners who might have helped in the development of Norwalk years ago.

One possibilities that come to mind immediately:  a first-rate, year-round tennis facility with roofed courts and all the trimmings for 12-month use, perhaps accompanied by an Olympic-size pool covered with a bubble for 12-month use (as per the Wilton YMCA pool). To my knowledge there is no such facility in Fairfield County (except for one tennis facility in Trumbull that did not make it). A center of this kind would almost certainly draw visitors from all surrounding communities (most especially from the affluent ones) just as our excellent marina facilities do. This would require some perseverance and salesmanship to the right sports providers, including some traveling to the prospects rather than waiting for manna to fall from the sky.

Admittedly, such a facility would not increase employment in Norwalk by much (how many tennis pros and life guards could it employ?), but it would almost certainly bring in the attention and the dollars as well as regular, repetitive visitations from the users.

Is it asking too much of our harried civic government to create a sales team to pitch the opportunities our prime 95/7 acreage presents to the right enterprise?

Rod Lopez-Fabrega




18 responses to “Letter: Mall plan’s chilly reception means city should look elsewhere”

  1. anon

    What a ridiculous proposal. Let’s buy that bridge in Arizona instead.

  2. WOW!

    Why not throw in an indoor golf driving range while we’re at it… NOT! lol

  3. Suzanne

    This is one idea among, I hope, many that the constituency can imagine. Thank you for starting the conversation, Mr. Lopez-Fabrega.
    What I realized yesterday in reading yet another article with accompanying letters is that citizens seem to be in a quandary and the expectations by the City and the developer seems to be this: the developer knows better, is the prime mover because they own the property, the City waits for the developer leavings and says, “Oh, they are the developer. There is really nothing we can do about it if zoning rules are met” and the taxpayer waits. “Oh, shucks, if the City says it and the Mayor says it, well, we don’t like it but it must be true. That’s just the way things are. That’s the ways it’s gotta be.”
    I guess I am at the point where I would like a definitive answer instead of this mind numbing conversation over and over: just what influence does the taxpayer have over what does or does not get built at 95/7? Is the developer’s ideas sacrosanct? Just what can the City do to influence the outcome? There is “what is on the books” and there is everything else.
    Sometimes, it feels like the will of the developer, because of ownership, holds sway over taxpayers and a City that just seems desperate for increased taxes (which doesn’t apply under the abatement structure) while ignoring what is best for the City. *
    The entire exercise seems like a “right now”, somewhat greedy vision rather than a historical or contextual or comprehensive consideration. So what is it? Do the taxpayers have any say?

  4. Chelsea Piers……(Stamford, not NYC)

  5. To propose something like this is ridiculous – because there are plenty facilities that already exist in Westport, Norwalk and Stamford…
    This comment has been edited to comply with our policy against racist comments, overt or “thinly veiled”

  6. MTP

    Here come the naysayers. just as I said they would. A tennis facility and pool? are you kidding me? how is that going to drive business and commerce? it wont. it will be an empty lot again in a few years. That shopping mall is a terrific idea and one that has private money behind it that will make sure it flies. Its time to stop throwing roadblocks in the way of every proposal that comes along. When it was first raised there were so many positive comments about it because people want it and don’t want to look at that eye sore anymore. Build the mall! You have to wonder if some of these naysayers are secretly working for the Stamford mall to thwart the project.

  7. MTP

    and where is it “pretty clear” that the tide is moving against it? in that writers head? “The good citizens of Norwalk are beginning to take notice…..” who are these people? where are they? EVERYONE I talk to loves the idea of the mall. I haven’t heard ANYONE against it until now. Just what we need “civic employees” after all they “know best” what we need and whats good for us. We’re just a bunch of dummies. Good Grief.

  8. To suggest such a facility is ridiculous because it would end up being another “upscale” ymca for south norwalk only to be supported by the taxpayers from the rest of the city.
    I hope I worded that “less veiled” and “less” harsh than what was said before…..

  9. Suzanne

    Lily Deacon, I, too, wondered about the suggestion of a Chelsea Piers type development. There is a huge difference here though – CP was designed using existing urban structures as a conversion project (at least to my knowledge.) This would be a new structure from the ground up.
    Yay! I love the knee jerk reactive response. There is no one I have talked to that wants the Mall in its present form. But, that would seem to be irrelevant since our “polls” are very limited to those who we know or run into. The City of Norwalk has yet to speak.
    At least on these threads, MTP, you are the second person to avidly seek this Mall as a solution to the 95/7 land. That does not make it wrong, of course, but it does sort of outweigh what I have been reading here, admittedly a selective audience.
    Every constituent has a right to their opinion. That they have one does not make them “dummies.”
    To say that civic minded people are telling others they know best is really not true – that they differ from your opinion is what it is and part of the process.

  10. Moved away due to Main Ave

    Everything in moderation. I suggest mixed use. It’s a large enough site, with great visibility and access to I-95. Office, residential and street retail. Residential to support local retail/restaurants eve/weekends, office to support same during weekdays. Ever drive thru SoNo during the week? Not enough office or residential foot traffic, hence persistent retail/restaurant turnover. Similar could be said for “uptown” although Avalon has helped and maybe Poko deal may one day help there. Ha…maybe throw BJ’s in the mix at 95/7? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  11. @Suzanne,
    Okay, so developing the structure is different from Chelsea Piers but the end result???
    Not different at all and not so huge.
    In the end, this type of “business” will only end up the burden to 3/4 taxpayers of norwalk benefiting, again, only those 1/4 section of norwalk.

  12. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    OK, so a sports facility doesn’t fly for some people.

    Does anyone disagree that we need some aggressive salesmanship to go after what will be best for Norwalk? Or is that a contradiction in terms? Would you prefer to sit around and wait for the heavenly manna?

    I’m afraid it sounds as though “the good citizens” of Norwalk may never agree as to what is best for Norwalk. If it comes to that, it will be up to special interests and the persuasiveness of outside developers to decide what is best for the city.

  13. Don’t Panic

    The irony of this is the public defense of the project can be summed up as “they own the property, they can do whatever they want”.
    And this is against the backdrop of a city that is busy settling the mosque lawsuit, the state seizing three properties by eminent domain, has restricted homeowners from parking in their own property setbacks and is busily passing one punitive ordinance after another against homeowners which will lead to at least some of them losing their homes

  14. TLaw

    The tennis court & pool thing just doesn’t seem to carry enough weight but the idea of putting together a team to try and sell this opportunity is a great idea and it’s nice to see that the conversation has started somewhat on what to do with this tract of prime real estate.

  15. Suzanne

    LD, I don’t disagree at all. I think it would end up being an Oak Hills like playground. Having one element, more family oriented perhaps, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
    I, for one, have always voted for mixed use similar to “Moved away” above as being the most efficacious use based on community need, both activity wise and tax base wise. I think a grocery might be considered as well because it would be useful to all of the new and old apartment dwellers down there. *
    RLF and Don’t Panic, I ask again, how much sway does the community have over what ends up being there? I am all for the team member concept and would participate but I don’t want to end up being told that since the developer owns the land, we have no say in the process. It is still unclear just how much.

  16. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Suzanne: Thanks for your measured and considered comments. As to how much sway does the community have over such decisions, probably not much other than to state our opinions as we are doing here and let the politicians ignore them at their peril.

    Re: the idea of a sports center–yes it might be thought of as an upscale “Y”. I had in mind something like the Wilton
    “Y” (which I’ve mentioned several times because of how admirable an operation it is). It has become a true town center in many ways with pre-school Mom’s lining up mornings to leave the kiddies, and a place that has something for every age in the town, including AARP members, exercising Mom’s, swimming Dads of all ages, a nationally competitive swim team for the youngsters, and much much more–and all pay membership fees and special fees for special programs, etc.

    However, as you point out, this is just one suggestion and I’m not wedded to it.

    I’ve seen how Colleges and Universities go after funding when they want to add a new facility. They put together two or three of their good salesmen as a team and go for it. Why can’t a city do the same?

  17. Suzanne

    RLF, I am wondering if you are referring to “City” as in government or “City” as the constituency or both?
    Either way, I believe public participation has had a huge impact on at least two recent issues that I can think of: BJ’s and Oak Hills driving range. Now, any of the players in these transactions might deny this but the fact is, both projects applied to do something in the town and people effectively objected to it.
    I could not reason out the finance part of such a deal as large as the Mall but I am imagining some taxpayer could. Meantime, I think a design charette is due the taxpayers where everyone who wants to could have their input, the projected financials of such ideas estimated (and they could not be more ridiculous than those put forth by the developer – one million customers a month, anyone?), potential traffic impacts and so forth.
    Then, at least there could be a united, material front to protests against the Mall as it now stands. Maybe this Mall concept was just “floated” to see what the response would be but the fact the developer is even reasoning along these lines is alarming.
    I do recommend taking a look at their WEB site – Malls are what this deep pocket developer does. However, some of the designs are much better than others and would be more suited in scale and, at least, architecture to Norwalk. Right now, I feel as though they are trying to get Norwalk development on the cheap.

  18. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Suzanne and TLaw and anyone else interested in this subject, you may wish to attend the following. I received a mail notification of this:

    CNNA meets Monday June 23rd, 2014

    The monthly meeting of the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Associations (CNNA) is this Monday, June 23rd at 7:00pm at Norwalk City Hall Room 101.

    Please join our guests, representatives of General Growth Properties, Inc. (GGP), who will present drawings and an overview of the proposed 700,000 square foot mall development for parcel 95/7, followed by a Q&A period. Individual Neighborhood Association meetings will also be planned with the developer and will be announced in upcoming CNNA communications.

    The CNNA seeks to provide a common voice on larger Norwalk issues by providing information to members on important issues, meetings & events and to solicit fair and equal participation of neighborhood association and residents.

    Member associations are encouraged to attend, and all Norwalk residents are always welcomed.
    For more information visit us at http://www.norwalkneighborhoods.com.

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