Opinion: Some groundbreaking cynicism

NORWALK, Conn. – The time was Fall 2011. The place, Norwalk, Conn.

Business was booming. The recession was over. The city was beginning to spring back to life.

Roads were being paved. Potholes disappeared. And, every few weeks, it seemed, there was another promise fulfilled, another exciting beginning.

Another groundbreaking.

Development was back, and in a big way. At least that was the message being delivered to Norwalk’s voters less than two months before they were to choose between incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia and his Democratic challenger, incumbent Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel.

On Sept. 9, 2011, it was all about Wall Street Place, the project that was supposed to revive downtown Norwalk. Moccia, state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Chairman Emil Albanese and POKO Partners Managing Partner Kenneth Olson donned hard hats and grabbed their special shovels and posed in front of 61-65 Wall St. On the wall was a Demolition notice.

“A new era for Wall St.” proclaimed the headline in the Norwalk Citizen. Finally, Wall Street would rise from the ashes. There would be 390 apartments, 70,000 square feet of retail space and 900 parking spaces.

The Hour headline said POKO had 36 months to complete Phase One, which calls for 101 apartments, 236 parking spaces, and 16,182 square feet of retail space, the story said.

And we all know how that turned out. And for those who might be tuning in late, nothing has happened. Not a thing. Nada. Except, of course, for the complaints from zoning commissioners about the weeds.

On Sept 21, about six weeks before the election, Moccia, Common Council member Doug Hempstead and various developers and financial types gathered on West Avenue for a festive event, again with the hard hats and golden shovels.

A story on The Daily Voice by then-Voice reporter Nancy Guenther Chapman described the scene:

“About 40 to 50 people attended the celebration, enjoying light refreshments under a tent before moving to the open air of what had been a topsoil-screening business to watch as city officials and project-backers shoveled dirt that had been spread for the occasion.”

The Hour’s Robert Koch a bit more optimistically wrote “About 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony alongside a tent pitched off Merwin Street in what was once the parking lot of the Bigelow Tea Co.” He went on to say the site plan for the first phase had been approved July 20, calling for “325 apartments, 33,654 square feet of retail, 11,550 square feet of restaurant space and a 626-space parking garage in the area bounded by West Avenue, Merwin and Orchard streets.”

Above the story ran the headline: Construction of Waypointe to begin by year’s end.

Demolition of the buildings started in February 2012, and the building is taking shape nicely.

Still time for one more before the Nov. 8, 2011, election.

On Oct. 13, the Men at Work in business suits jumped into action down the road apiece on West Avenue to break ground for District 95/7. Moccia, Albanese, Duff and State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk) joined Spinnaker CEO Clayton Fowler in the celebration.

From the Norwalk Citizen:

“We’ve just recently been approved for the first building in a complex of buildings that we’ve named 95/7 — a 232-unit apartment building with about 24,000 feet of retail. There will be four floors and covered parking, with about 312 spaces on the 2.7-acre parcel behind us,” Fowler said pointing to the construction site.”

Years of delays had been attributed to the economic collapse, but now, things were ready to move ahead.

Citizen editor Nicole Rivard quoted Moccia:

“We’ve all weathered the difficult economic times. The people of Norwalk have driven by here for a long time saying, `When is something going to happen?’ Well, today something is going to happen,” Moccia said.”

Today, people continue to drive by and ask that very same question.

In March 2013, Spinnaker won a fifth one-year extension on its agreement with the city to build the first phase of 95/7. In August, Spinnaker obtained a foundation permit. Since then, there has been no activity, and repeated attempts to contact Spinnaker to find out when construction will begin have gone unanswered.

Gotta love campaign season. Three groundbreakings. Two years later, one development that is actually happening, two stalled. Why were those two goundbreakings held again?

There will likely be no surprise announcement on the Main Avenue parcel that was to have housed BJ’s Wholesale Club. But there is still time for something to be done about, say, the nightmare that is East Avenue between Cottage Street and Seaview Avenue.


10 responses to “Opinion: Some groundbreaking cynicism”

  1. Oldtimer

    East ave from Cottage to Seaview ? That was just paved, finally. We gotta love campaign season.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Oldtimer

      Really? I gotta get out more. I had avoided that area last couple times to save my tires and shocks.

  2. Diane C2

    More reliable than any calendar, we surely will always know when it’s municipal election year!
    Great recap, Mark – any updates might include the new phenomenon of the local paper printing columns and columns of arrests in the Police Blotter…which actually could backfire, depending on your point of view (either active, productive police department or over-abundance of law breakers hang out here…).
    Or how controversial development applications suddenly get pulled (ala BJ’s and Beinfeld’s)?

  3. Suzanne

    Everything old is new again. Just how does your description of events in 2011 support the idea that the “recession is behind” us in Norwalk, in the rearview mirror, while these highly touted developments sit idle, gathering weeds, holes in the ground? Moccia can have his perspective promulgated throughout the land on just how well he has led Norwalk through the last two years but if he was saying the economic collapse was basically over in 2011 and is now saying development is stalled because of that same, deceased collapse, well, then, it is quite revealing just how data is manipulated by him to meet his criteria for political reelection. Thank you for showing just how misrepresented his excuses are in a factual manner, revealing the history and delayed progress of developments under this administration.

  4. LWitherspoon

    How ironic that while Harry Rilling is lambasting the Mayor for Norwalk’s unfixed potholes, Rilling’s fellow Democrats are denouncing actual road improvements as election-year gimmickry.
    I agree with Oldtimer – gotta love campaign season!

  5. we deserve better

    And when did they promise Wright Tech would reopen? And when is that water tank being replaced here on spring hill? How is that tree trimming project going to help protect against storms? No hope, huh, of actually putting getting leaders with a spine to put political pressure on utilities to bury thier infrastucture to protect us? Lets see, exposure to life threatining events due to (loss of utility on regular basis), (high unemployment), (high profit margins for utilities), equals = wait, what? It cant be done? Really? Someone want to explain that?
    Far as road improvements go, it’s an old trick in the playbook, everyone does it. Wait till last 6 onths and than a flurry of projects get done. So the incumbet looks like he/she accomplished something. Street sweepers? People lets not give the incumbent that much stamina, really. Sweepers do sweep prior to, during and if weather permits after leaves fall, regardless of elections. It’s a responsibliy of the public works to keep drains clean to prevent flooding from melting snow. Most politicians do not have control over sweepers schedules nor have that level of inteligence or sense of humor. But paving, yep s.o.p. for all low wattage incumbents. It indicates they have nothing much to run on, so they spiff up the place a bit. Pave over the blood stains and outlined body marks. If they dont have money for paving than a little roadstripping will work, new paint on anything looks good for a short while, distracts from real issues anyway. Did everyone love the way DOT and NPW worked and cmmunicated together so seemlessly on CT ave. Everyone waited for deacded for repavig. Two weeks after stripping was done CLP contractors tore it all up. dont these guys have eachothers email? Or is it about keeping contracts flowing? Feels like Ct ave from toysrus to the new cvs is a dirt road and is blowing out tires and susensions faster than people can relpace and repair them, hey but thats more work for town fair tire and the local mechanics and the wreckers, right? Speaking of the wreckers, that whole deal needs a state investiagation,it smells bad. Just saying the obvious. It needs to be cleaned up. Be interesting to hear candidate Rilling’s views on how and who gets towing contracts and who is responsible for supervising consumer protection with this wild wild west of wreckers and their abilitiy to rip folks off without accoutability. And why is it that we have laws that imprison even students for possession of canabis within 1,500 feet of a school but we let people live 15 feet from a major contaminated toxic waste depot on meadow? Whats wrong with that picture and message?

  6. Fair Play or Foul Ball

    Is this fair play? It’s presented by The Daily as an editorial opinion but its a paid avertisement. If this lady exsists, has she been payiny attention? If she dosent is it legal to hire actors to post paid for op/eds? Wonder how much Moccia paid this actress/ghost writer who is clueless, er, hasn’t been paying attention?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Fair Play of Foul Ball

      Thank you for calling this out. We saw it and, frankly, were appalled. Journalistic ethics dictates the reader be notified UP FRONT, without clicking and looking for it, that it is, indeed, a paid advertisement. Worse, it is presented in the editorial flow. We were not going to comment, but since you brought it up, here’s what a Poynter writer said about this several years ago (and the trend is obviously coming back): http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/e-media-tidbits/19088/advertorial-an-online-trend/

      Yes, the lady is real. She spoke at a Common Council meeting in favor of Linda Kruk’s appointment to the Zoning Commission, according to Nancy, who was there.

  7. Oldtimer

    It is clearly a campaign ad, carrying the required identification as such. We are free to wonder what motivated the lady to allow such use of her name and image. Hard to believe many were fooled into thinking it was a legit letter to the editor. Maybe she was paid ?
    “Paid for by: Moccia ’13. Brian Smith, Treasurer. Approved by Dick Moccia.”

  8. umpire

    “Is it clearly labeled? Is it identified as an ad, or is it deceptive?” Intentionally?”
    Kinda- yes and looks like yes.

    “Readers must be able to immediately identify advertising and separate it mentally from the medium’s editorial or programming content. Otherwise, credibility collapses.”

    Looks like Carll missed that memo, or has he sold out to the devil? Thanks for digging Zollman’s piece out of the cobwebbs there editor. Do remember reading it now that you reminded but would have never found it again. Anyone ever tell you, you also have talent? What a team you two are together. Keep em coming…

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