NORWALK, Conn. — The debate continued Tuesday, with three GGP supporters giving one point of view to the Common Council, and a persistent critic offering rebuttals.
“It’s boggles my mind that we have to have more of these meetings,” mall supporter Wini Mola said, at the first public hearing on GGP’s request to modify the existing agreements yet again to allow the company to proceed with building The SoNo Collection as just a mall, no mixed-use component included.
The meeting ended with just a little bit of forward movement, a promise of more documentation into the value of GGP’s project.
GGP will be paying Norwalk $8 million by the end of the year if construction proceeds, GGP attorney Larry Cafero said, announcing that he “bristles” at the suggestion that GGP has been dishonest.
“These are the things they would have paid anyway for the project,” Deb Goldstein said. “They do not belong on the scale between ‘mixed use, removal of mixed use, how much is this worth?’”
The $3.5 million that GGP would pay Norwalk if the plan is approved does not factor in the jobs lost, she said, going on to assert that by redefining Class A anchor as requested by GGP, “You are opening the door for non-retail commercial activity that will compete with all the strip malls elsewhere in the city. You cannot know what the impact of that is going to be.”
GGP spent 100s of thousands of dollars to develop plans for the hotel, Cafero said.
“In fact, we went as far to negotiate the hotel in the lease we have with one of the anchors, Nordstrom,” Cafero said. “…I personally, and on behalf of my client, would sometimes bristle at the suggestion that this was a move that was fast and loose, it was a bait and switch, it was a clever maneuver on the part of GGP to, quote, ‘pull one over on the part of the city.’ I am very proud to say that my client, in fact on a personal level, we insisted on transparency, honesty and openness from the very beginning of this project. Nothing, nothing, that we have done or suggested to do changes any of that.”
GGP has paid the city the $1,022,500 it was obligated to pay for the easement over North Water Street, Cafero said. It will pay $348,000 on Wednesday for a foundation permit, he said.
“There is no doubt in our minds that Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s will be the anchors of the mall now and for years to come,” Cafero said, defending the request to change the definition of Class A anchor.
“Stuff happens,” he said. “Who would have ever thought that Lehman Brothers would be out of business and no longer exist? Who would think that Sears would be on the verge of going belly up? So, what happens in 10-15-20 years if God forbid one of our anchors is no longer an anchor of quality itself?”
It would be a huge mistake not to move ahead with the mall, former Common Council member Patsy Brescia said, while Mola said Connecticut lost GE because it wasn’t willing to negotiate.
The SoNo Collection will bring jobs and raise property values, in addition to bringing in tax revenue, she said.
“We are in dire need in Connecticut. We need something like this. This will bring a vibrancy back to our community,” Mola said.
Goldstein used words uttered by CEO Sandeep Mathrani in a recent conference call as part of her argument.
Mathrani said GGP is going to get $700 a square foot in retail sales but the city’s Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) is holding them to $425 a square foot, Goldstein said, advocating for the city to hold out for more money.
Goldstein said that she’d been informed by GGP Vice President Doug Adams told her that there is no economic impact to the project from the removal of the hotel.
“How can the project be just as valuable before and after the removal of the hotel and yet somehow the economic value of the hotel itself is so important that it has to come out? If it was in and it was value and it was out and it’s equally valuable how is that profitability metric being worked out? You should be asking those questions,” she said.
Council member Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) went on to ask if there are valuations of The SoNo Collection, with and without the hotel, as mentioned in the last meeting on this topic.
The Tax Assessor’s office does not have a valuation, Attorney Eric Bernheim, who has been hired just to represent Norwalk with this project, said.
“This is a complex property,” Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola said. “It would be probably impossible for our assessor to, in short order, issue a value of the mall or the hotel property. The answer is no, the assessor hasn’t put together a valuation.”
GGP has an analysis and while it’s normal to be skeptical, perhaps Norwalk tax assessors could review it and see if there are any obvious mistakes, Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) said. Coppola said he’d ask Assistant Tax Assessor William O’Brien, who is “very capable on valuation side,” to review it by May 15.