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Norwalk Council given economic appraisal of City

A rendering of the plan for a Spinnaker development that would rehabilitate two Monroe Street buildings and add 150 apartments, retail and restaurant space to SoNo. At right is the plaza at Norwalk Police headquarters. Spinnaker will break ground this year and has a tenant lined up for its commercial space, said Director of Business Development & Tourism Sabrina Church.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is growing steadily, with at least 91,000 residents now, Director of Business Development & Tourism Sabrina Church said.

“There’s tons of new businesses all the time, which is really exciting. But we’re also seeing a large number of entrepreneurs as well. Which is good news, because that’s how we kind of home grow our own businesses within the city of Norwalk,” Church said last week, as part of an “overall economic outlook” delivered to Common Council members.

Church said:

  • Apartment vacancy is low
  • The median home price is $550,000
  • Two mixed-use developments are expected to begin construction this year
  • Wegman’s is coming to Norwalk

Population

The 2020 Census shows 91,184 living in Norwalk, but this is likely a little low given the challenges presented by the pandemic, Church said. It was harder for census takers to go door-to-door and the data doesn’t show “the migration of New Yorkers, or what have you, to the city that we might have missed during that initial time period when the census data was being collected.”

The number of people identifying themselves as “only white” has significantly declined and the “Black alone” population has also decreased. However, “everything else basically significantly increased.” While the Hispanic population doesn’t “significantly” increase, it does “consistently” increase.

The median household income is about $90,000 and a “sole person is making is around $50,000.” That latter figure is “pretty stagnant” but high compared to the state and the nation. The median household income has increased, suggesting household sizes are getting larger or that the children have reached working age but haven’t moved out yet.

About 43% of residents have at least a Bachelor’s Degree.

“We have one of the most highly educated workforces in the state, which is something that larger companies look for when they’re moving to municipality is their access to talent,” Church said.

“I do know preliminarily that our median age has gone down,” Church said. “… I can’t tell you the exact numbers. … But we’re getting younger as a city.”

The employment rate is a bit lower than the Labor Market Area (LMA), “a trend you’ll see going throughout the years,” She said. “We’re usually a decimal point or two lower when it comes to unemployment than other municipalities in our in our LMA, and the state. So we’re doing really well.”

 

Businesses?

Church used tenant fit up permits for commercial space as an indication of the hyperlocal business climate. That’s a bit skewed by a spike in 2019, when mall tenants were getting permits so they could open in The SoNo Collection.

There were 131 permits in 2021 and the City is projecting 140 in 2022, she said.

Common Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) asked her for examples of the types of businesses opening in Norwalk.

  • “We have a significant amount of food related businesses. And that’s not necessarily restaurants, that’s food manufacturing businesses as well,” she said.
  • “We have a significant number of boutique manufacturers that are making things like soap, ice cream, hand lotion, those types of things,” she said. “We also have a significant amount of artists and businesses that are starting up in textiles and 3D printing. Some of those creative economy type of businesses that are really exciting when we’re talking about larger increases of jobs.”
  • “So we’re seeing an increase in kind of the startup tech industry and in the marketing industry. So data engineers and kind of designers, things like that. Those are the jobs that are really coming out in large strokes. … It runs the gamut,” she said.

 

Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) asked how many employees the businesses have.

The most she’s seen at the smaller boutique manufactures in 13 and the least is four, and it depends on whether the business is new or if it’s grown for a while, Church said. Startups and marketing firms have more, maybe 25-50.

Economic & Community Development Committee Chairman John Kydes (D-District C) asked if there were other documents that could show business activity, like LLC formations, because “not everyone’s going to have a permit.”

“We can track that via trade name certificates,” Church said. “But the only issue with that is that somebody can register for a trade name certificate at any time. Technically, they should do it when they start their business. But a lot of times they do it after the fact.”

Her PowerPoint states, “Since July 1, 2021, there have been 185 new business formations in the City of Norwalk. This is slightly higher than last year at this time. We are projecting around 370 new business formations from July 2021 to June 2022.”

She said, “That could include some businesses that have been established in previous years that just haven’t filed a trade need certificates.”

“People can set up corporations, but … they may operate someplace else. So I think it’s good information. We just have to bear that in mind,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.

 

Leasing activity

Church turned to commercial leasing. Her PowerPoint states:

  • The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk commercial real estate market is weaker compared to the overall U.S. market.
  • The apartment property market is stronger than nationally.
  • The office property market is stronger than nationally.
  • The industrial property market is stronger than nationally.
  • The retail property market is weaker than nationally.
  • The hotel/lodging property market is stronger than nationally.

 

“This is really showing the rebound from COVID, and the effects of COVID on Norwalk, and specifically on our Labor Market Area,” she said. “Our apartment, and residential properties are very hot right now. So, there’s very little room to move around. There’s high demand, which is leading to increased prices, both our single-family homes and our rent values. Our office property market is stronger.”

As a national trend, teleworking is decreasing the need for office space and Norwalk is growing more with residents than companies, according to Church.

Occupancy in larger office parks, like Merritt 7, is a little difficult to discern because many companies are subletting some of their space as they still have time on their leases, she said. It’s “tough” to forecast what direction that will go in.

Her PowerPoint states:

  • “Norwalk Class A office availability increased from 34.6% to 38.3%. Of the 20 buildings surveyed, 10 experienced a decrease in available square footage, 8 had an increase and 2 were unchanged. 201, 301 and 401 Merritt 7 combined added 157,689 sf of available space, and 801 Main Avenue and 20 Glover combined leased 90,914 sf.
  • “Sublease supply, fueled by a shift in workplace trends and an underlying uncertainty, is something we continue to track closely as it remains a primary contributor to overall availability.”

 

That data did not reflect “three major office permits that were pulled in the last week,” Church said Thursday.

As for retail, “We’re updating our zoning to be a little bit more flexible on the ground floor use,” and, “if we zone correctly, I do not think we’ll see as much vacancy as we’re seeing now.”

It might not be for a retailer or a restaurant, it “could be for a boutique manufacturer, or a girl who’s making soaps and candles in the back of her store. Those types of things will end up starting to fill the retail space, so not your traditional kind of commercial business.”

 

 

Housing

Church said Census data shows:

  • 35,415 Norwalk housing units in 2010
  • 34,724 Norwalk housing units in 2015
  • 38,152 Norwalk housing units in 2020

 

“It looks significant, but in reality, it’s only 2,500 units in a 10-year time span,” Church said. “So the number of overall housing units has gone up since 2010. But the vacancy rates, however, we should know is at historic lows.”

This means it’s a challenge to move about, both for renters who want to leave an apartment and move into a two-family home and for homeowners who want to sell their house and move into a rental, she said.

The median home price has gone up 10% in a year, she said. It was $550,000 in January. Home sale prices in the previous week averaged $750,000.

“This is due to COVID-19 essentially,” she said.

An artists rendering of the Wegman’s planned for the MBI property off Connecticut Avenue.

New development

The Planning and Zoning Department expects groundbreakings this year on two recently approved mixed use developments, Pinnacle at 467 West Ave. and Spinnaker’s development at 10 Monroe St., according to Church.

The latter has 16,000 square feet of commercial space in its design, and, “I’m not sure if they want it to be publicly known, but there is a tenant that will be in that space,” Church said. “So that’s great news when we have a new development where we have a tenant that’s already lined up.”

An artists rendering of the Wegman’s planned for the MBI property off Connecticut Avenue.

On Connecticut Avenue, Wegman’s grocery store plans to open, she said.

“Wegmans Norwalk will be located on nearly 11 acres of land off Connecticut Avenue, adjacent to route I-95,” the company states on its website. “The property is currently occupied by an office complex owned by MBI Inc., which plans to move to new office space within Norwalk before construction of the new Wegmans store begins.”

Peter Maglathlin, CEO and President of MBI, Inc., is quoted as saying, “Although our current building has served us well over the past several decades, the chance to relocate to modern office space while still keeping our headquarters in Norwalk offers unique advantages to our company and our employees.”

It will be Wegman’s first Connecticut store.

“The two-level store will be approximately 95,000 square feet and will also include a multi-level parking garage,” Wegman’s states. “A timeline for construction and opening has not yet been determined, as the company is currently seeking municipal approvals for the project.”

 

Economic Outlook 2022 ECD Meeting 3-3-2022

Economic Outlook 2022 UPDATED

Comments

13 responses to “Norwalk Council given economic appraisal of City”

  1. DryAsABone

    Have your taxes gone down?
    Any plans to fill all that empty office space?
    How are those schools and what are their results?
    Spin it however you like…state and local policies are destroying Connecticut.
    The only constant “winners” are government employees and elected officials but that clearly is not sustainable.

  2. Piberman

    Lets do the numbers. Almost 90% of the City’s Grand List reflects homeowners. Our City remains half a dozen suburbs surrounding a depressed inner core lacking major employers with good jobs. No office buildings. Or industrial parks. Even City Hall is located far away from our shabby downtown, The City’s infrastructure has remained unchanged over the past 4 to 5 decades. Our City lacks an inner core providing good jobs. We’re not a “real City”. More accurately a large town. We lack even a 4 yr college. All other CT “cities” have 4 yr colleges. And real Downtown centers.
    Norwalk’s structure is unique in CT.

    Over recent decades suggestions for transforming downtown to create a ‘real City” haven’t generated much political support. What has changed is a major increases in apartments to where renters are about to overshadow individual homeowners. City officials claim renters bring growth. That claim is not supported by the professional literature on City development. Nor have City leaders presenting any evidence supporting their “claim”.

    As long as Norwalk remains a series of suburbs surrounding a long depressed inner core where small business dominates there’s not much chance of substantially lowering our 10% poverty rate. Nor reducing the transient nature of Norwalk where residents commute to good jobs outside the City. Those with major business and economic development backgrounds haven’t made any headway with City leaders focused on the unsupported “renters bringing growth” claim. So Norwalk’s future remains unchanged. Past is prologue.

    Long term residents remember when Stamford was similar to Norwalk’s unusual structure with a shabby downtown. Now Stamford is CT’s only modern City with a skyline of major office buildings and world class firms. An example of what can be done by an enlightened and determined citizenry. Best we can judge Norwalk will remain a transient City with leafy suburbs surrounding a depressed downtown where apartments overshadow businesses. Leaders in our City appear comfortable with Norwalk’s unusual arrangements.

  3. David Muccigrosso

    Let me just ask one question: Does this new Monroe development look at all like Washington Street?

    Do ANY of the new SoNo developments look like Washington Street?

    The answer, of course, is NO. They don’t. They’re monoliths. Each is its own big, block-sized building. Has Harry or P&Z ever stopped to wonder what’s going to happen with these buildings once the pandemic ends and all those commuters flee back to New York?

    In a way, it’s ironic, because many of them are replacing old factories built 100+ years ago during a different kind of boom. Ironworks, the Old Corset Factory, the Lock Building, etc. And they stood vacant for so long because they were too big to be easily converted to anything else.

    But you know what WAS left standing? Washington Street. It’s still recognizable from 100+ year-old photos, even.

    We don’t need to build these huge buildings to increase the amount of housing in the area. We can build all kinds of small ones! And along the way, we’ll build strong neighborhoods that are resilient just like Washington Street. That won’t fold over once the commuters dry up.

    But, of course, that wouldn’t help Harry and his buddies cash in on pent-up demand from all those commuters, now would it?

  4. Johnny Utah

    91k?? More like 125k with all the illegal multi family houses.

  5. Tysen Canevari

    We were at 90,000 people 20 years ago. As a sanctuary city you are not required to register for the census. We are at least 150,000 strong here in Norwalk

  6. JustaTaxpayer

    In a poll just released today, by a margin of 2 to 1, African Americans are agains chain migration. I’m trying to understand how whites are declining significantly, blacks somewhat, yet Hispanics aren’t increasing dramatically.

  7. Piberman

    To Mr. Canevari

    About 15% of CT are foreign born. For Norwalk the latest US Census is 28.1%

    About 37% of Norwalk residents speak languages other than English at home.

    No official records are available for illegals in Norwalk or CT. Nor are their stats on apartments in single family homes.

    Some 43.4% of Norwalk adults have 4 yr college degrees. Yet most Norwalk school grads never secure 4 yr college degrees. Nor do they meet CT Edu graduation standards. That doesn’t seem to both City parents nor community officials.

    Population as of 4.10.2010 was 85,603. Ten yrs later it was 91,184. That’s about 500 to 600 more each year. (US Census). Once our Downtown is filled up with apartment buildings we may have 100,000 or so residents. We’ll still be half a dozen leafy suburbs surrounding a depressed City core with a City Hall far away from Downtown.

    Despite some modest changes over the years our Poverty Rate remains at 10%. With outa major effort to bring major new business that fixture will likely remain the same.
    Our per capita income is now about $50k. Similar to CT itself.

  8. Lisa Brinton

    Spot on Mr. Muccigrosso!

  9. Tysen Canevari

    @ Piberman. As a 4th generation resident who has lived here forever it is sad to see. Norwalk gets sucked dry by administrative heads who dont do a lot and poor leadership. Our downtown Wall Street is a dump. Headlined by the beautiful POKO building wrapped in Tyvek. All we do is put up apartment buildings and say how wonderful it all is

  10. Piberman

    Tyson Canevari

    Yes the beauty of Norwalk is that its leaders have firmly resisted any significant change to our depressed Downtown with its several dozen small shops and large apartment complexes. City leaders (of all Parties) have no interest in creating a real City Downtown with office buildings, good jobs, etc. And if truth be told in our transient city with good jobs requiring commuting our homeowners representing the majority of our residents have no interest in creating a real conventional Downtown.
    After all who goes Downtown if you live in the outlying suburbs. So all that’s left is encouraging builders to create apartment buildings and trumpet “progress”.

    Norwalk just doesn’t have the City leadership as did Stamford necessary to transform a sleepy depressed downtown into a real City Downtown. Any more than City leaders have the leadership to demand our school kids meet CT Edu graduation standards. We’re a transient “bedroom community”. So enjoy. Its our destiny. Most of us will retire outside Norwalk. Nor will our kids live here as adults and raise families.

    Lets remember CT itself is a transient State. Only a 1/3rd of us were born here (US Census). That we’re bordered by dynamic NYCity and Boston doesn’t mean we can become different. What we ought do different is properly educate our kids. But that seems a bridge too far.

  11. Tysen Canevari

    You are correct about the education part as well. Unfortunately, you have to do that out of town as well because our wonderful teachers in Norwalk are saddled with non english speaking kids in class and making sure most of the class has their free breakfast, lunch, and weekend meal tickets compliments of Harry and company. BTW, Has the mayor appointed a chief of free lunch yet? He has a chief to do every other part of his job. Chief of staff, chief of communication, chief of marketing, etc… $160,000 a year salary for each roughly. All the previous mayors did this as part of their job.

  12. steve

    Not sure what Tyler is talking about with “As a sanctuary city you are not required to register for the census”. To the degree a city “registers” for the census- Norwalk was fully registered and in. Whether someone comes into the country legally or illegally they are still counted for census purposes. That was the law in 2020, 2010, 2000 and for decades earlier. Any and every municipality has a firm interest in having everyone counted regardless of their immigration status- that’s why many objected to the most recent Census where it’s estimated that there was a 2 to 3% overall undercount.

  13. David Muccigrosso

    @Piberman – Office buildings do not a city make. Rather, a prosperous city makes office buildings. And museums, and city halls, and schools, and libraries, and so on.

    In order to build a stronger Norwalk, we need to start building it more like Washington Street. Lots of smaller buildings, that can be repurposed quickly, and easily rebuilt bigger as the area grows. As Strong Towns puts it, “lots of small bets”. Not big ones. The big ones fail too easy, and they take everyone else down with them when they do.

    We could even start IN Washington. There’s a lot of Water Street not being used right now for anything meaningful. Same goes for South Main. The “bones”, as it were, of SoNo are pretty good! But these commuter apartments aren’t adding much real growth. I live right between them and SoNo, and I sure as heck don’t see hordes of bored commuters making pilgrimages to the bars and restaurants every weekend. I also don’t see any bars and restaurants springing up next to them.

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