Norwalk council gearing up for GGP’s expected mall proposal

An artists rendering of the approved design for the 95-7 site, top. .
An artists rendering of the approved design for the 95-7 site, top. The artists rendering that General Growth Partners (GGP) is showing as its proposal, bottom.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members have a check list to study as they consider – to mall or not to mall?

“Take that checklist and start to cross off what you want and what you don’t want,” Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said to six Council members last week after Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan briefed committee members on the ins and outs of the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) that governs the site bought by General Growth Properties (GGP), the former 95/7 site.

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he felt uncomfortable after the briefing – which actually began in September and was spread over two meetings – because the “proposal for a mall with a lot of glass” is not at all in line with what the LDA calls for.

Broadly, the LDA specifies mixed use. It specifies 124,500 square feet of retail, 600,000 square feet of office space, 274,000 square feet of residential space and 80,000 square feet of hotel.

“We have some tough decisions here eventually,” Kimmel said. “Let’s say we like the design guidelines. What happens? Do we say no to a mall because we like the design guidelines? This is radical departure of where we have been, OK? I am just having a little trouble because I go back and forth in my mind about a mall. Then I look at this and I try to envision the whole area, the design guidelines. Let me put it out there – It is almost as if this has been –  please don’t take this wrong – it’s almost as if we’re preparing the way to say no to a mall. I get this feeling. I apologize if wrong. But I get the feeling that we’re being immersed in something that is behind us and the more we are immersed in it, the more we think about it, the less likely we will be to approve a mall.”

“The issue is that if you want to keep the design guidelines the way they are,” Sheehan replied. “I’m not necessarily saying you should or you shouldn’t. The issue might be maybe you want to go back and look at the design guidelines and look at them a little differently than where we were 5 to 10 years ago. But assuming that you want to keep them, the challenge that you then have is to work with the developer to make what they have as a concept in terms of their use conform more in line with what you have as general design guideline principals for your district.”

The Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Plan dates back to 1983, Sheehan said. While parcels 1, 2 and 4, which comprise the 95/7 site, are highly visible in their desolation, the rest of the Reed Putnam are has been built out, he said.

Completed development efforts include the Maritime Aquarium, The Lock Building, Maritime Garage, Maritime Yards, SoNo Lofts, The West Avenue Townhouses and offices, Pine Street condominiums, Pine Street Commercial Office and O’Neill’s Pub, commercial offices and residences.

“Despite that fact, this site is the focus – and it should be; it’s the last piece of the puzzle,” Sheehan said.

While some people feel the Redevelopment Agency should not have approved Spinnaker’s sale of the property to GGP a year ago, Sheehan basically said there was no choice.

“The parameters by which the agency has jurisdiction to measure the capacity of the developer within the LDA is very narrowly defined,” Sheehan said. “It would have been a significant – I would say it would have been infeasible for the agency to not approve the transfer based on the criteria that was put forward in the LDA that both the city and the agency and the developer agreed to.”

GGP is expected to bring a concrete proposal to the city by the end of the year, Sheehan said. In the meantime, GGP has been engaged in community outreach, shopping around a concept for a mall and pitching the economic benefits.

“I have my own opinion of the route they have taken,” Hempstead said. “They have decided to take an outside route rather than take an inside route. This (the LDA) is what is. This is what is by contract. This is what is by guidelines. So it’s not just one thing that would have to be changed, its several things that have to be changed by multiple city agencies to bring it back.”

Sometimes a developer buys a piece of land and sits on it so a competitor cannot get it, he said.

“That’s expensive,” Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said.

“Not for GGP,” Sheehan said.

GGP bought the property without an out clause, he said.

“I spent a lot of time taking to GGP people about the LDA; they were fully cognizant of everything that was associated with the public’s powers with this property. They felt the value was in the property and made a business decision of their own to purchase it,” Sheehan said.

“What we are seeing is not even close,” Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) said.

“Sometimes as business people you might want to start the process with everything you want and then move back,” Sheehan said.

Kimmel asked if GGP might walk away if the city tries to modify its plans. Sheehan said that has never happened.

“The closest that we came to that was really the Maritime at Jefferson. That was a difficult design process but the project went through,” Sheehan said.

Bonenfant said, “If people want something, we have to use some of the bargaining chips that we have. A yes or no answer is one of the bargaining chips you have. We have to use that accordingly and maximize whatever we are going to get back out of this project one way or the other. I guess, if they are going to build something like this what are we going to do, rip up the roads we already built?”

Sheehan reminded them that the city has only seen development concept renderings, that an actual plan would include specifics. “Quite frankly in terms of design review, it’s more than looking at a rendering. GGP would agree that it’s not set in stone,” Sheehan said.

He said there’s a conversation that’s been had over and over again through the recession – “There is no way public parties can force a private developer to build something that is economically infeasible,” Sheehan said.

Council Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D), who is not on the committee, sat through the meeting.

“Whether you want to call it a modification or a new LDA, Redevelopment and the city have power to change whatever we have down there,” Petrini said. “Whatever we see fit as the sitting Council, not to ignore what past Councils worked so hard for, but to quote from one of my favorite movies, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore.’ That means this is not 2007.”

If you try to force a developer into something they don’t want to do “you’re going to be looking at an empty piece of property for a long time,” he said.

“I’m just asking all of us to keep an open mind and try to work on something,” Petrini said. “Not everybody is going to be happy, he probably won’t be and we won’t be, but the only person who is happy there now is the dust mites.”

Hempstead said there are elements to good urban planning and reminded everyone to look at the list of things that came to fruition because of the guidelines laid out in the Reed Putnam Urban Renewal Plan.

He urged everyone to ask questions of Sheehan if they need to.

“I agree, the last process took way too long because we got too nitpicky,” Hempstead said. “We moved a hotel around before, but take that checklist and start to cross off what you want and what you don’t want.”

Later, asked for his opinion on the mood of the Council toward GGP’s project, Hempstead cautioned that there has been no plan submitted. But, he said, “What’s been floating out there is just not acceptable in my book.”

Giandurco agreed. “I have a lot of questions and concerns as it is presented in these renderings that we have seen. It doesn’t seem to fit what would best serve South Norwalk, as it stands today,” she said.

Hempstead good urban planning has called for mixed use on the property. The LDA is “all based on bringing in professional urban planners and saying the checklist is all good. Now it’s a question of taking what is on there, taking a pencil through it and saying, OK, what do you want to take out? And where do you stop?” he said.

“I don’t know at the end of the day what they are proposing. I just want to make sure the committee has been informed of what is there, what is legally there,” Hempstead said. “That is the controlling factor… Tim did a good job of explaining here are the buildings that has been built under these guidelines. Anybody unhappy with them? Anybody think it is a bad idea? No.”


48 responses to “Norwalk council gearing up for GGP’s expected mall proposal”

  1. Suzanne

    The density in the top photo is incredible – what does this picture exactly represent? (Side note: if I had wanted to live in Stamford, I would have moved there.)

  2. EDR

    I suspect the first photo is what was planned for 95/7 in the original LDA and the second is what is envisioned by GGP.

  3. Maritime Yards Condo Owner

    This needs to be a compromise. Anyone who really understands urban planning and how it should apply to South Norwalk knows that a mall is a bad idea. I also believe that the old plan, while attractive in theory, would no longer be successful in the current and medium term economic environment (i.e., a large amount of office space). We should be more creative. Take the mall concept as the core (think Westchester’s Ridge Hill – open air), but add in some mixed-use such as a high-end grocer (think whole foods), even a boutique hotel and incorporate the water (waterfront kayak shop, dining, make it Norwalk maritime themed with our history of oysters, etc.). Other ideas to diversify would be a sporting complex or something similar. The anchor stores need to be something different than a Macy’s – either ultra high-end (not offered) or creative with a company that has destination-stores (think Cabela’s although probably not within the Cabela’s business-model). Get creative so that the developer’s needs are met, the development is successful for Norwalk and ensure that it is an economically viable option. Also, the idea of a water taxi is compelling. We should have asks from the developer – like infrastructure or transportation improvements that are real truly connect existing modes of transportation and infrastructure. Specific marketing dollars that are set aside to advertise exisiting attractions such as the Maritime Aquarium and Stepping Stones museum. I am not saying that a hotel or grocer are the exact concepts that would correctly diversify the mix, but there should be a strong element of creative, non-retail/restaurant diversification in the plans – simply a mall with chain restaurants should not be approved.

  4. Bill

    Hole in the ground for bother 10+ years or $5 million for schools and a pretty mall. Seems pretty simple.

  5. Nora King

    We need progress. People need to start thinking outside of the box. This design is fresh and the city of Norwalk should look at this as progress. These types of structures do make money for a city and can revitalize, bring jobs and bring new opportunities to our city. I am so tired of people wanting status quo and mediocrity.

  6. Gordon Tully

    I realize the rendering of the proposed design is conceptual, but as an architect I am appalled by its gaudy irrelevance to the rest of the architecture in SoNo. It belongs in Times Square.

    And I as I have said elsewhere, building a shopping center in this location is a disaster. We need apartments in this location.

    I never much liked the original scheme, but compared with this insensitive design, it looks like a masterpiece.

  7. Nancy

    Yesterday I spoke with a psychiatrist about having some of his business associates locate in Norwalk. He mentioned that despite the high price of rents in Westport and Darien, they shy away from moving into Norwalk, saying that at one time, they thought SONO was going to be a viable location. Now they notice the vacant spaces lining Washington and Wall Streets. Despite all the excitement about Norwalk’s future they are careful not to make any decision to locate in the city given the council’s reputation for squashing development and leaving burned out buildings and vacant holes to fester like untreated wounds.

    Currently, our city is known for its big box retail anchors, Costco, Walmart, Lowes and Home Depot, long-term sleepy unionized politicians, arrogant zoning officials, and Bridgeport residents slipping their kids into the free lunch programs in the elementary schools; not a place for professional businesses or thriving young families who want to put down long term roots. The council can demand that the Reed/Putnam site be developed with more unusable office space and additional housing or even worse, force another developer to sit on the site for another ten years while they argue over the number of paid parking spaces; or they can finally hear the voices of its residents and business owners, and make a decision that will, at last, give Norwalk the boost it needs to live up to its beautiful waterfront, gold coast potential.

    Norwalk needs an anchor. Mixed use developments are lovely. They serve the local population. But Norwalk does not need another mixed use development to compete with Washington Street and Wall Street. Indeed, Norwalk needs an anchor – – to drive economic growth, a higher tax base, better schools, increased job options, more entrepreneurial opportunities, and an overall better quality of life for its residents.

  8. anon

    Ditto to @Nancy and @Nora

  9. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Ghastly ! The jewel boxes are beginning to look like the lesser evil.

  10. EastNorwalkChick

    What I would like to see is an open air outlet mall, similar to Clinton Crossing or Westbrook. There is nothing like that in Fairfield County and I believe it would be very successful, draw tons of people to Norwalk.

    But alas GGP’s business model seems to be building glass behemoths filled with stores that only 2% of the population can afford to shop there….

  11. EveT

    20 years ago there was an outlet mall in the building adjacent to the East Norwalk train station. It soon closed.
    The “open air” idea sounds great until you realize how many days of the year our weather is inclement or cold. Yes, open air malls work great in California where it rarely rains and rarely gets below freezing.
    I don’t know the answer, but I agree with those who would prefer a building design more in keeping with the other red brick edifices already in SoNo.

  12. Adam Blank

    @EastNorwalkChick – An open air outlet mall, located in the right spot in Norwalk, would be wonderful. I know developers have looked into it for Norwalk and my understanding is that all of the stores at Woodbury Commons are prohibited from opening another outlet within 60 or so miles of Woodbury Commons – whatever the precise distance is, it encompasses Norwalk. This has been a large stumbling block.

  13. Mike Mushak

    Great comments from the Common Council members. It is a good time to maintain a healthy skepticism, especially towards what the state might do for us in return for the estimated $18-20 million a year in sales tax revenue this project could potentially generate. In terms of whether mixed-use should be on this property, I generally support smart mixed-use projects in Norwalk on both small and large urban parcels. However, in this particular case we should take a holistic view of the surrounding area, with thousands of residential units being proposed or already built within a quarter mile, or a 5 to 10 minute walk. Do we really need more residential here as well? Taken as a whole, this area is already heavily mixed-use, and this could possibly be a mostly retail magnet (maybe with a boutique hotel with conference center perhaps if market studies show a need for that?) surrounded by dense residential projects.

    The big footprint office market in our area is stagnant at best, so holding out for another huge corporation to show up like AIG (who was a potential tenant for the large office building in the original 95/7 proposal at the top of the article just before the crash of 08) seems futile.

    It will simply be very hard to not support a well-designed high end retail magnet that brings hundreds of new jobs to Norwalk, spins off millions in new property tax every year to stabilize our own property taxes, and draws a regional crowd (without driving through neighborhoods because of the highway ramps close by) in this particular location that is no Main Avenue. On that note, there is no comparison of this project to to BJ’s on Main Ave., which was going to bring up to 700 cars an hour to one of the most dangerous and crowded road in southwest CT according to a SWRPA study (just imagine the famous Dunkin Donuts corner with an extra 700 cars per hour!). We also had a zone change for Main Ave. recommended by expert planners and our own Master Plan that were ignored for years, including data from national transportation planners calling for a need for road widening of Main Ave. with a retail explosion there (at taxpayer expense of course which is happening on CT Ave now to the tune of $80 million). Yet we were told that simply retiming the traffic signals would miraculously make traffic flow smoothly through that area! Yeah right, and I have a bridge I can sell you in Brooklyn, which was why I was highly skeptical of the BJ’s project last year (but never officially opposed it on or off the record while I was on the ZC, mind you, which some found amusing).

    As they say in real estate “location, location, location”, and this appears to be the right location for intensive retail, with perhaps some mixed use, if it is done right. I just hope our troubled planning process can handle it, and our Common Council doesn’t make any bizarre decisions that history tells us is always a possibility.

    Sadly, we will never bring back the historic neighborhood that was razed here in another era of so-called “urban renewal”, (or urban “removal” as I like to call it), but finally filling 95/7 with a vibrant use can help build a healthier and more sustainable economy now, that will help all of our residents with jobs and help stabilize struggling neighborhoods nearby where more affordable housing and historic preservation can happen as a result. I also think our existing retail stroips liek Washington Street may benefit from an infusion of national marketing for a mall touting Norwalk as one of the best retail markets in the country, which it is even though empty storefronts in our downtowns don’t reflect that fact (from years of poor planning and parking decisions basically, which can be fixed.)

    In urban planning, we have to learn from our mistakes, and at this point, this may be the highest and best use we will ever see for this site. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have input in the final design, or negotiate incentives from the state (which owes us big time after screwing us on ECS for decades), but we also should not throw out the baby with the bathwater because of irrational fears or misinformation about the inevitable death of “bricks and mortar retail” which is just not happening. Shopping with friends and loved ones or by yourself is big entertainment and innately human (its in our DNA), and always will be just as it is around the world in almost every culture. I personally am not a big shopper as I am quite happy in ten year old Old Navy rags, but I still need nice things now and then like everyone does.

    Internet shopping is cool and convenient especially shopping for gifts around the holidays, but is still a lonely experience which will never replace the need to try on clothes or sit on furniture or touch and feel something before you buy it or interact with real salespeople, which is why the smart folks at GGP haven’t all quit their jobs and moved into other professions, and why retail is stronger then ever in well-planned urban environments around the country. Yes, some suburban malls are dying, but that hermetically sealed fortress surrounded by acres of boring parking lots was never a model of sustainable design in our culture that now craves city living and more authentic experiences. Times are changing for sure, but retail is not dying.

    This is the time for smart planning and smart decisions in Norwalk, and for cooler heads to prevail. (“Keep Calm and Think” signs should be posted all over City Hall.) There is optimism here that we might just be able to fill that long-vacant bombsite at 95/7 with a vibrant and productive use that benefits the entire city, which is the true essence of what smart redevelopment should be.

  14. EastNorwalkChick

    Eve, even on the coldest days, with 2 ft. of snow on the ground last year, there’s a line of cars that backs up onto the Parkway waiting to get into Clinton Crossing and Westbrook Outlet mall on the weekends.

    Neither wind, nor rain, nor 2ft of snow in blizzard conditions will stop the die hard bargain hunter…in fact I think it motivates them even more to over come any obstacle in their way of a good deal! 🙂

  15. Amanda

    @Nora King, I respectfully disagree with your thinking that this is a fresh idea and progress. It’s not. I said in another post – indoor malls are a drive in-drive out scenario. They don’t encourage people to wander around this pretty area of Sono or try out our fabulous local restaurants since there will be chain restaurants right in the mall. Our restaurants are already struggling due to rent hikes and lack of parking. Maratime Condo Owner offers some thoughtful ideas, sort of similar to how Westport revamped the Saugatuck neighborhood. I also agree with the need for a high end grocer (WF, Fairway). Look at what BLT has done for the South End in Stamford. There are better options than a mall.

  16. Amanda

    @Eve & East Norwalk Chick…even Westport’s Main St, which has essentially become an open air mall, does just fine in the winter.

  17. EastNorwalkChick

    @Adam Blank, Woodbury Commons is 62.3 miles and Clinton Crossing is 53 miles from West Ave., maybe the developers should revisit this issue again…I say this for selfish reasons, tired of having to drive over 50 miles to shop at Clinton and Westbrook Outlets.

  18. Kevin Di Mauro

    Both of the renderings have one thing in common. They both show the potential for fantastic views of what makes Norwalk special: the Norwalk River, Long Island Sound, SONO, the bridges, etc. Whatever is built on that property should capitalize on this potential. I don’t think a mall would do it.

  19. Michael McGuire

    Ditto – @ Nora King; Nancy; Mike Mushak. This needs to be an intensive retail focused development. And yes it needs to link into SoNo and the Wall/West corridor in a fashion that allows for a sense of outdoor circulation plus a connector to SoNo and West/Wall/Main, with a great tenant mix etc.

    However, to the extent that 95/7 is made “mixed use” will be to the extent it holds back reinvigorating SoNo and stifling West/Wall/Main.

    SoNo and the West/Wall/Main areas are our mixed use areas. All seeing significant residential development. We need to encourage greater local retail and professional businesses to locate here. Norwalk need an anchor to pull in the other retailers/professional business etc to keep SoNo vibrant in the face of increasing competition as well as finally giving purpose (via destination retailing) to West/Wall/Main.

    My biggest fear is that our common council will create another mixed use area that directly competes with SoNo and Wall/Main. That will effectively smother SoNo and kill off any chance of a Wall/Main revival – pretty much in keeping with past decisions if history is any judge.

    So to the common council I would encourage you to not get out your checklist until you fully understand the economic impact of each of your check marks. The LDA is an antique that is unfeasible in today’s market. This is the only area of Norwalk where we have a decent advisor in the RDA – use them, ask lots of questions and keep us posted.

  20. ScopeonNorwalk

    The top photo, I think is what was approved, is huge and awkward. And we do not need Office Space, although there might be a need for the housing.

  21. Suzanne

    What COULD be at the 95/7 Site instead of the ghastly conceptual drawings above:
    Thank you to Old Timer from a previous thread who has been to this “Mall” that is highly successful in winter snowbound Omaha as well as other seasons of the year. It has stacked corporate anchor space and high-end apartments, yes, but it also has free concerts, yoga days, dancing and theater and films on its open lawn area as well as a weekly Farmer’s Market. A high end grocery, gym and pedestrian spaces anchor the concept. Parking is integrated into the architecture (brick and glass, BTW.) I can’t believe Norwalk and GGP can’t do better than what is above. Why can’t there be a mix of retail, maybe even a post office, grocery, gyms, outdoor activities bordered by an expanse of lawn with opportunities that EVERYONE can enjoy? I do not think it is of service to all of Norwalk’s citizens to put in high end shopping in this valuable spot. If we want a community, let’s make one. The arrogance of high end shopping when Norwalk’s demographics don’t begin to meet this concept is very, very hard to swallow.

  22. Nora King

    @ Mike McGuire. I am so in agreement with you. I also have a fear of this constant push for mixed use at the expense of letting a great development pass us by. We have done enough of this in the city of Norwalk.This model that are proposing has been very successful in other areas. We need to demonstrate that we are a city that can get things done and embrace change instead of one where there is a mentality of “we have always done it this way” or being fearful.

  23. Michael McGuire

    @ Suzanne – I disagree, why build more apartments (which is the main focus of the Omaha development), with an number of restaurants in the 1st floor (sure Whole Foods is nice but we have one already and another close by). A project like this would directly compete with SoNo and Waypoint and not create any anchor draw to the area – who’s going to put on the free concerts and Yoga days, don’t we have parks for that now? You have to consider the long-term impact of each use type on the whole of Norwalk.

    I just completed an analysis of the retail market in Omaha for a large retail project in West Omaha. The market there is very different from what we have here. To equate the two is like apples to oranges.

    Yes it’s a nice project but the needs it meets are very different from the needs we have to revitalize Norwalk’s commercial base. Shopping is a universal past-time that brings all people together and when last I checked our (Norwalk’s) demographics span the income brackets.

    I don’t know why you want to insist we travel to Stamford, Trumbull or Danbury to shop for anything other than the big-box offerings on CT Ave. Norwalk’s retail environment is pretty lame by being completely auto focused – we have no communal space, no focal point. If you want community create a place where we can all come together.

  24. Amanda

    Yes, let’s build a mall and fill it with the same crappy stores killing off malls around the country. In fact, MAYBE it will have a Macy’s that’s just as awful as the one in the Stamford Mall…! Or another Forever 21! (sarcasm)

    From Non: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/07/ggps-mall-pitch-reaches-one-sono-businessman-enthusiastic-retiree/
    “The entry point for shoppers would be fashion, Adams said. The stores would not be super luxury, but they wouldn’t be discount either, he said. It doesn’t need to have a lot of food or entertainment because the area around it has that, Adams said. There would be a fee for parking, which would complement the surrounding area, he said.”

    Essentially, they’re proposing to build the Stamford & Trumbull malls with a shinier new face. Can’t we do better than this? The mentality of most folks now is to sit behind their computers and shop at their leisure. The stores filling GGP’s portfolio are nothing special. They’re the same recycled stores seen everywhere else.

    This area begs for a grocery store. And I’m all for retail in the lot, open air retail. Creative retail. Something that can anchor our city. Something that is not a mall.

  25. Don’t Panic

    Midtown Crossing is an interesting concept. Notable is the 3 FREE hours of parking, and the stores are not the same listing of stores found in every mall coast to coast. With a little tweaking, it looks like something that could actually work for Norwalk!

  26. Nora King

    @ Amanda. You really need to do your homework. First off – it wouldn’t be a “crappy” mall. That is not the intent. You should really do your research before making comments. Malls or shopping centers can provide great growth for cities if they are done right. Do a little research about commercial properties and valuations. This will help Norwalk and help make it a destination and support places like the Maritime Center, the local restaurants in SoNo.


  27. Amanda

    @Nora, my point is – you want an anchor for our city. I wholeheartedly agree. But if you really want to anchor the city, then do something UNIQUE. There is nothing unique about a shopping mall. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I think Norwalk can do better.

  28. Independent Voice

    I would urge Mayor Rilling to review conflicts of interest policies between city government employees and GGP/other corporate developers. I am a bit surprised by the enthusiasm for what looks to be a proposal with outsized deficiencies by municipal employees. I am not making any accusations here but given the magnitude of this project, any entertainment outings, dinners, meetings or any dollars shelled out by GGP on Norwalk City government should be logged and centrally monitored by an ethics advisory official.

  29. iain

    I attended the recent GGP presentation at the stepping stones museum. What was not mentioned at all was any impact on traffic. When questioned about daily car volume Mr Adams said around 3,000 cars per day. When this was questioned, IE: 250,000 people per week does not make 3,000 cars per day, he said they did have a preliminary traffic study but it would not be released and he would check into the vehicle count projections. I’m not sure what happened re: that, but there is some available data (sources below) to make some simple calculations.

    Annual visitors: 12,000,000

    Average Daily Car Visits:
    Friday (16%) – 22,282
    Saturday (22%) – 30,637

    December Daily Car Visits:
    Friday – 30,749
    Saturday – 42,280

    Length of cars if parked end to end:
    Average Friday – 80.2 MILES
    December Saturday – 152.1 MILES

    What would happen every Friday, a workday, when between 20,000 & 30,000 additional cars are squeezed into the existing bottleneck?? What about Christmas when 40,000 or more cars are added to the mix on a Saturday??

    When/if there is a bottleneck at the mall, how long will it take to get from sono to Wall St.?

    Yes, something needs to be done with the site, however, i-95 is pretty awful as it is and I can’t imagine how a mall would not add to the problem. I could be proved wrong and would be interested in any info from the city, state or GGP re traffic. Its important.

    Interesting quote:
    Larry Cafero
    “Given the traffic in the area, it is obviously preferable that the jobs go to people who don’t need to go far because it’s less likely they’ll be late to work. “

    Data provided by:
    Larry Cafero & Doug Adams of GGP: (monthly visit volume)
    GGP website: (monthly/weekly breakdown)
    Vehicle Occupancy: “Average Vehicle Occupancy by Purpose of Travel, NHTS 2009”
    Car length = DOT standard parking space (and Norwalk minimum length)

  30. Don’t Panic

    From the link provided by Nora King (from a trade pub):

    “ The struggling malls are getting all the attention, but the vast majority of malls are stable investments.”

    It should be noted that stable investments refers to the developers…not the communities. The article refers to sales tax revenue, but Norwalk does not have a local sales tax.
    Also from the article:

    “But that doesn’t mean the shopping mall is going away. Kenney says he anticipates that many will undergo redevelopment into new retail formats. And a lot of that redevelopment involves malls becoming open-air town centers as opposed to enclosed shopping centers or moving from the popular outlet-type format of the late 1980s and early ’90s into more traditional malls featuring anchor stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy.”

    This underscores that the design/retail mixture envisioned here is NOT what is likely to be successful. And I really doubt Norwalk is going to benefit from a “Big Box full of Big Box stores”.

    We can do better.

  31. Hello I Must Be Going

    So this is going to create “jobs”? Yes–retail jobs. The kind of jobs that don’t pay enough for an employee to actually live in Norwalk. As usual, employees will have to live in Bridgeport, Stratford, etc. Meaning they’re going to have to commute. Meaning more strain on I-95 and our already-congested roadways. All for a “high-end mall” that our wealthy Fairfield County neighbors are NOT going to patronize the moment Norwalk’s growing gang population stages its first police blotter “incident” at said mall.

    And all of these efforts will be expended in an era where the brick and mortar store is becoming extinct thanks to the internet. And, as a previous poster mentioned, even if people DO go to the mall, it’ll be a “drive-in, drive out” proposition, just like Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. It’s not going to help any of the existing SoNo small businesses one single iota.

    The ONLY thing this project has going for it is the fact that it’s better than a big hole in the ground. Yet another city planning disaster unfolds…

  32. piberman

    Let’s encourage our Common Council members to hire recognized major league real estate consultants and professional traffic consultants to assist In making thoughtful decisions that benefit Norwalk. No place for “gifted amateurs” here or the misinformed. No matter what decisions are made the increased traffic consequences will be awesome in one of the already most heavily congested corridors in the nation. That alone ought give pause.

  33. Suzanne

    Mr. McGuire, I shared the link to the Mall in Omaha as an EXAMPLE of what a successful mall could look like. The exact composition, as I made clear, would not necessarily fit Norwalk’s needs.

    Once again, those traffic statistics provide a source of entertainment as do the projections of visitor numbers. Theme Park Insider indicates that this Mall, as projected by GGP, will be attracting more visitors per year than Epcot Center, a national destination of considerably more interest than the Mall described by GGP.

    The example I gave was to show a choice: open space, pedestrian oriented, diverse activities, retail and professional uses in addition to a hotel (which has been suggested previously as an element for the project.) A grocery store does not anchor the entire space as you suggest. Rather, it is part of the variety of choices and wide expanse of green that includes everyone, including those that aren’t in the 2 percent of the population that won’t be able to shop in the GGP Mall.

    Retail jobs at this Mall are hardly attractive: the average 28,000 per year is hardly a living wage for Fairfield County. The entry above that describes people coming from afar to take advantage of those jobs is born out by asking any employee at those big box stores on CT1 where they live – very rarely does anyone answer “Norwalk.” I am sure you understand that is because the rate of pay does not meet the expense of living here.

    Your vision of creating a “communal space” is far different than mine, then. Insane traffic, the same stores (as included in some of our wealthier communities’ main streets which I am sure will feel the competition and leave more than one boarded window) no amenities for grocery shopping, exercise, outdoor activities and entertainment. This is what brings people together.

    The Mall concept that gathers a community together to shop is from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and is failing across America. Why would Norwalk want to put in a failing concept with a generation’s lifecycle, to leave for our children to pick up the failed pieces?

    As Amanda states above, if we must have a Mall in Norwalk, at least make it something unique. Thus, the example from Omaha, again, not to be literally interpreted but to suggest that GGP can do so much better than this.

  34. Maritime Yards Condo Owner

    I do not have the detail, but I am extremely skeptical of the model GGP has presented. Some of the high-level numbers do not jive with each other. Does anyone know if they have released their detailed assumptions – if they want buy-in they should…Interested to see what they propose, but if it is simply a mall – we can do better. I think we are asking for modified mixed-use…we need a grocery store, we need something other than retail/restaurants to draw people (again that could include a sports complex or some other attraction). Yes – I would like to see more residential, but that is not what GGP does and I do not think it is absolutely necessary. What is necessary is some sort of modified mixed-use; it can be heavy on retail.

  35. Amanda

    This is the last thing I’m going to say on this…for now…but I take issue with Nora telling me to do my research. Sorry, Nora, I’m not a zoning commissioner. I don’t know the ins and outs of our urban renewal plan. I’m just a regular tax paying homeowner of Norwalk since 2006 and an observer of life. I work in the South End of Stamford and have watched BLT over the last 10 or so years turn the South End from a desolate waste of waterfront land into a vibrant new community. The things that “anchored” Stamford before, like Bloomingdales or the mall, are long gone. Sure the mall remains, but it is a ghost town, filled with many of the same stores like GGP has in their portfolio. The new “anchor” of Stamford is the South End, or Harbor Point. Thoughtful community decisions like bringing Fairway in, Exhale Spa, a furniture store, more restaurants & apartments, a beer garden, PARKS, etc etc have all contributed to its success. Obviously they’re dealing with a much larger parcel than this, but it would be a SHAME to put up a mall up on that property.

    So If Norwalk is interested in what GGP could put on that property, they just need to look here at the 2 other malls they own in CT.



  36. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Whether to mall or not to mall is getting to be a very discouraging discourse. The nay sayers have laid out well considered and detailed opinions as to why the proposed 95/7 project is not appropriate for Norwalk. These have ranged from poor esthetics of proposed concepts, traffic issues, safety issues, international changes in shopping practices (Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, etc, etc.), the general decline of existing malls across the U.S. (with some few notable exceptions), the inappropriateness of “glitz” for Norwalk, the over-abundance of Big Boxes in Norwalk, and the fact that the owners of this prime property are mall builders and that is all they are able or willing to provide.

    The yay sayers have laid out some intangibles that range from “it will be good for Norwalk”, it will help Sono by providing more shopping, it will provide low-level jobs for Norwalkers , it will provide a place for young people to congregate, it will provide an attraction for folks from other towns and adjacent states, a new mall will fill the empty lot rather than letting it sit idle for ten more years.

    I may be biased as I am one of the nay sayers, but I have the sinking feeling that no one is really listening, and an ill-conceived mall is in our immediate future, perhaps as one unfortunate result of decades of amateur appointees to the difficult and long range tasks of planning for the growth of a middle income community that has grown like Topsy.

    Is it too late to hire a city planner before we blunder our way into another misdirection?

  37. Suzanne

    Interesting, Amanda. Both Malls you have linked to are basically boxes with different facades. One includes a food court, the other a family entertainment center, neither feature have I heard included in the ghastly thing (which I think I will use as a euphemism for the Norwalk Mall Design from now on) planned for Norwalk. I believe I have read that a food court is not planned for the GT for Norwalk in order to prevent too much competition to flailing South Norwalk restaurants. How considerate.

  38. Suzanne

    RLF, any significant development in Norwalk, good or bad, seems planned in advance and long since decided upon before the public ever gets a chance to weigh in. It is a sad, inconvenient and unjust fact. There have been two notable exceptions this year but good luck with any deep pocket developers. In Norwalk, even with the best efforts of the Council and lull of the Zoning Commission, money as opposed to quality of life and public opinion seems to come first. Just an impression but one I think you described above well.

  39. Bryan Meek

    If a mall doesn’t get built, the state should consider buying the property to expand the UConn schools of Allied Health and Medicine. Stamford UConn has been wildly successful for the region and this area would be a good distance from the Farmington medical campus. To his credit Senator Dodd tried to sneak in $100 million in Obamacare to expand it, but it was pulled last minute because of the optics of it being a kickback for his vote. The best way forward to reduce medical expenses will be for the states to increase the number of doctors and nurses. The school of medicine is currently only accepting 85 students a year. The same number when they opened it 40 years ago.

    I’m neutral on the mall, but if done right I think it could help Norwalk the same way the Westchester helps White Plains. But, still I think we need bigger ideas for this city than just a mall. Whatever goes there, it should differentiate without cannibalizing other areas of the city.

  40. Nora King

    Another good source of information is from REITs. Don Wood who is CEO of retail REIT Federal Realty Investment Trust is very bullish on retail in affluent areas. Fairfield County is an affluent area. Right now the focus is on redeveloping urban shopping areas. His view in most of the financials like WSJ is that most retail redevelopment in the coming years will occur in dense, affluent markets. I think what is throwing people is the term “mall.” Perhaps we should view this a Revitalized “Marketplace.” If we keep the streets and sidewalks vibrant, wide, well maintained and ensure the revitalizing is from this shopping area to Washington Street it will be successful. Streets and sidewalks give an identity to a city and create the urban experience. An active pedestrian/street life is only created when destinations are easily accessible on foot and there are destination that people want to go to. Active movement creates the catalyst for success in these types of areas and the result is vitality to an area. In my opinion this is what our goal should be as a city. This is an exciting time for Norwalk. We should be embracing these opportunities.

  41. anon

    @Meek, the UCONN School of Allied Health and Medicine wouldn’t pay property taxes, let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

    @Blank, please no ‘outlet’ mall like Woodbury Commons-added to our big box stores on Connecticut Ave. will give Norwalk the moniker of discount king for Fairfield County, let’s hope the distance requirement nixes that idea.

    Traffic will happen, just as the original plan of office/residential/retail created traffic.

    @Nora, McQuire, Nancy, spot on.

  42. Michael McGuire

    Outlet Malls – I don’t believe that is practical. Retailers will not locate an outlet mall close by the main shopping areas – White Plains, Stamford, Danbury, Trumbull – since that would cannibalize their main line stores.

    I would hope we don’t try to hobble 95/7 with this type of use.

  43. Amanda

    @Meek, by GGP’s own admission, it won’t be high end luxury similar to The Westchester, but it won’t be discount. So what does that leave us with? Express, Gap, Banana, H&M, etc. Go take a look at the tenant lists of their other malls and you’ll see it’s all the same stuff as Stamford, Trumbull & Danbury. That’s what we want to be our anchor? What would differentiate this from other malls to make this destination shopping? What towns would we be serving?

  44. Local Ed

    I like the point about Fairway Market in Stamford, Young Hipster 20 year olds love that crap. Add a few overpriced clothing stores, another beer garden and the mall will surely be a success!

  45. iain

    @Suzanne, re: restaurants- At the Stepping Stones presentation Larry Cafero said there will be restaurants. This was not as i remembered, like you, that they were not going to compete with sono restaurants. Mr. Cafero said that they would be national chains citing Cheesecake Factory and PF Changs as examples. He said these restaurants were not the type that would take business away from Sono restaurants. I wonder what the Sono restaurant owners would say about that? So….Shoppers will go to the mall then walk or take the new trolly/bus to sono and eat…… this is what they were suggesting.

    BTW, their rendering should be taken with a grain of salt. The proportions are distorted. Per Mr. Adams the structure will be 90ft tall. thats 15ft higher than the tip of the steeple of the former United Methodist Church right next door. A huge portion of it will be higher than i-95. As you drive by on the highway there will be a huge wall-o-mall. This structure as planned is massive, it bridges right over North Water Street.

  46. Independent Voice

    What should be of no surprise is GGP, a featured mall builder, has not offered any alternatives besides an enormous shopping center besides a heavily congested I-95 corridor. Should GGP not get their way, expect massive publicity, soft dollars and PR to promote this concept.

    It would be advisable for GGP to go on record and advise the city of alternative concepts or their capabilities to come with any should the heavily advertised mall concept flop in the court of public opinion. I would also encourage the city to hedge their bets and reach out to other developers in the event Norwalk will have to broker GGP out of this site.

  47. Don’t Panic

    Again, you cite investors…this project will certainly benefit the developer. But you represent the city, and this one is a stinker for Norwalk. No property taxes for the first seven years and nothing to mitigate the enormous drag on local resources, especially traffic. No local sales tax, and despite what is being promised, probably not much in the way of local jobs, because of the pay scales involved.

    You mention “affluent” markets, and that troubles me, because Norwalk is not an affluent city, but a wonderful mix of humanity earning from one end of the scale to the other. This project needs to be vetted for the benefit of Norwalk. What did the POCD recommend for that site?

  48. M murray

    How about a nice chevy dealership, a gas station, and maybe a dunkin donuts. Add in a shoe repair store, a variety store and an auction house. All of these would pay taxes for generations

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