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Sears looking at a new twist in malls, starting in Florida

An artist's rendering of the proposed Esplanade at Aventura that is proposed to replace the Big Box Sears store.
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Esplanade at Aventura that is proposed to replace the Big Box Sears store.

NORWALK, Conn. – Consider this in your ruminations about a potential mall in SoNo – Sears, looking to rebound from nine straight losing quarters despite closing many stores, has developed a plan that includes the opening of an outdoor plaza in South Florida, complete with hotel, restaurants, office space, multiple stores, parking and a pool.

That is news that bopped around the Internet Tuesday, according to Jackie Lightfield, who spotted the post on Business Insider.

Another media report that may be of interest to the conflicted Norwalk crowd is the sentiments expressed in New Canaan-Darien (and Rowayton) magazine, which posted five reasons to gush over the prospect of a mall in SoNo, with absolutely no references to the angst expressed by the people running Norwalk.

The Business Insider story says that Sears, after posting its ninth straight quarterly loss in August, is looking to use its extensive real estate holdings to create a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). In this case, the plan involves turning the 192,000-square foot Big Box Sears into a sleek, 20,000-square-foot store locked and loaded for the e-commerce age.

Oh, yes: The Sears property is adjacent to the Aventura Mall at the north end of Miami Beach, said to be one of the most successful malls in the country. Miami Beach has nearly an identical population to Norwalk – more than 87,000 residents.

According to the Miami Herald, “If the development comes to fruition, it will be another example of the de-malling of the mall trend nationwide. Aventura and other traditional malls across the country have been adding open-air sections and elements to their structures, and this would vastly heighten that experience at Aventura Mall.”

Sears is looking at the development as a “town center,” with a variety of restaurants, a hotel, outdoor spaces and retail. The project is currently named the Esplanade at Aventura. According to the South Florida Business Journal, in addition to the scaled-down Sears store, the Esplanade would offer “250,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, 45,000 square feet of offices, a hotel and both sub-grade and above-grade parking.”

While the upscale Aventura Mall is a conventional mall – the nation’s third largest at 2.7 million square feet – the Esplanade will move the property toward a mixed use feel, something stories indicate could be in Sears’s plans in other venues.

“Clearly, the idea of more than retail in a mall is being contemplated by Sears,” Lightfield said. “I think this kind of looks better than what GGP has proposed.”

Indeed, a Sears adviser was quoted in the Miami Herald on that topic.

“We are confident that we can deliver a convenient, day-to-day town center experience for local residents while also catering to the regional, national and international customers who frequent Aventura,” said Paul D’Arelli, development adviser for Sears Holdings, in a statement.

The story also quotes an industry source who said the move to do similar things at conventional malls is being seen around the country.

The Planning Committee and The Redevelopment Agency are holding a joint meeting on Nov. 19 to consider the prospect of a mall, although a formal application has not been made.

Comments

43 responses to “Sears looking at a new twist in malls, starting in Florida”

  1. John Hamlin

    The New Canaan-Darien Magazine piece reads like a fluff article written by the mall’s developers. And the Sears plan simply underscores the inadequacy of the current proposal for not including provision for multiple use. (Sears’ mall includes a hotel.).

  2. Suzanne

    Sounds like the proverbial “Hail Mary Pass” by Sears and certainly to a scale not appropriate to the existing site at 95/7.

    There is no commerce supporting such a venture as GGP is proposing, no other Mall as in Florida right next door – the Mall at Norwalk is one giant suck up of other businesses in the area including adjacent neighborhoods.

    And, that local piece, as described by John Hamlin, couldn’t be more transparent – it is a publicity and marketing piece reaching out to adjacent communities who will not be affected by the excessive traffic, low-paying jobs that Norwalk residents will not be able to afford, redundant concepts and even old concepts (“Ah, the Mall of yesteryear with all your buddies and no parents in sight”) that are quickly going through demise all across the country.

    A good conversation starter but the concept does not only not fool me, it does not compare to the GGP proposal in anyway and is, therefore, not applicable to the current proposal to Norwalk citizens on the table.

  3. Amanda

    The New Canaan Darien mag piece is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh this morning.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Amanda

      We were amused.

      To all:

      The stories we have run and will run about other malls or retail centers in other places are purely informational, to give everyone a look at the industry on an anecdotal basis as reported by journalists close to those situations. They are not meant to be one-to-one comparisons, nor are the meant to sway opinion one way or the other. We have not taken, nor will we take, a position on the issue. Frankly, I don’t know where I come down on this, or if there is a consensus in the sprawling NoN office complex…

  4. Don’t Panic

    @John Hamlin,

    Yes, and is exhibit A in proving that the developer’s real intent is to try to lure regional traffic into Norwalk. You won’t catch Darien or New Canaan entertaining this kind of nonsense in their communities.

  5. Haley

    Sears has proven it can’t run a department store operation, and now we are supposed to jump up and down with glee because it has a brilliant idea for a mall?

  6. Michael McGuire

    I hope that we don’t get a mixed use town center concept on 95/7, that would just suck the life out of our two existing mixed use town centers – SoNo and the Wall Street Area. Better to have a regional draw which complements, not competes with our existing town centers.

    Integrating GGP’s concept as the anchor for a mix use district from Washington to Wall is the way to go. Anything less limits the benefits to Norwalk in the short and long run.

  7. Mike Mushak

    I agree with Michael McGuire’s comment. I’m all for mixed use development but no need for it on this site when the whole West Ave corridor is now a contiguous mixed use area.

    The key is making strong connections with this other development, from Wall Street to SoNo . So far, we have heard lots of ideas how to do that, with a new trolley or circulator, improved transit connections, and improved bike and pedestrian connections on Crescent Street as well as on West Ave. We have thousands of new and existing housing units within a 10 minute walk of this site. Why do we need more here as well? A strong retail destination makes sense.

    And the argument that malls are failing around the country was debunked already on previous articles here on NON with strong evidence that this isn’t true, and that only obsolete malls in weak markets are failing. We are neither a weak retail market nor is GGP planning on building a 70’s style fortress mall surrounded by a sea of parking, which is the type of mall that’s failing. There are lots of successful malls that are undergoing expansions and growth right now, or the smart investors and executives from GGP wouldn’t be wasting their precious time here. Why do we need to keep repeating this same argument about the fallacy of failing malls ad nauseum?

  8. Amanda

    @Michael, “regional draw”?

    I’ve asked this question a few other times and have yet to hear a really good answer:
    What towns would this destination shopping mall be serving?

    We have 5 malls within a 25 mile radius. FIVE. Out of those 5, the only one that has a regional draw is The Westchester. We have high end open air shopping in nearly every surrounding town. It’s been said numerous times that we should focus on retail. The issue is that this big “SHINY” box feels incredibly out of character with Sono’s architecture. I think people would be more amenable to having retail shopping on this parcel if it came in a different package. We all want Norwalk to be unique, but this mall…this isn’t it.

  9. Suzanne

    “Why do we need to keep repeating this same argument about the fallacy of failing malls ad nauseum?” For the same reason you have been repeating that Mike Greene does not do his job nor is qualified to do it.

    I haven’t seen many qualifiers by GGP (other than the ridiculous sum of patrons they plan on having in order to be profitable – what has been repeated “ad nauseum” exceeds the number of visitors expected at Epcot Center each year. Source cited in previous threads). BUT, you might want to consult such the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly and Bloomberg LP. They will tell you exactly what is going on financially with Malls, especially this type, that is sinking municipalities all over the United States. The last two I heard about, abandoned, were in Sacramento, CA, the capitol of the State and Albuquerque, NM. Hardly the impoverished areas represented from the “Rust belt”.

    This Mall will not do the job nor do it correctly for Norwalk citizens. The jobs they are providing, average $28,000 per year, won’t begin to cover a Norwalk person’s expenses. Like with the “Big Box” stores, the employees will be coming from elsewhere.

    Traffic issues? You bet! Besides the trolley, no solutions have been presented at the exit that would accommodate the number of visitors per year estimated by GGP.

    You may be tired of the arguments, but they are not unfounded. They are real.

    I still say that the Aquarium as a draw to Norwalk is a positive experience for a REGION. Likewise a sports/cultural center, a true connector for every citizen plus those from the surrounding areas, is more appropriate. (And if we can forgive the Aquarium $55 million then we can surely find it in our pockets to create something truly a destination and not a redundancy as being proposed by GGP.)

  10. Don’t Panic

    What has been debunked repeatedly is the successful “new mall”. The successful malls are open air, mixed use projects that integrate with the community. Existing retail is cycling in and out of SoNo faster than you can blink, with long-time anchors all folding up shop in recent years, and retail brands have been consolidating with frightening speed in the last decade. We simply don’t need another mall to compete with the others in the area, as noted by Amanda.
    .
    And circulators being proposed to make this work simply won’t because of the nature of the traffic flow. They would need to run very frequently and be completely free, which is an expense that GGP hasn’t been upfront about.

  11. Mike Mushak

    Suzanne, good point! Lol. But seriously, for every failing mall you reference there are more that are thriving. Otherwise smart investors wouldn’t be backing them.

    As far as a sports/cultural center, we have seen the largest regional sports complex in CT open up 10 minutes away, at Chelsea Piers in the old Clairol factory off Exit 9 in Stamford. It was designed to draw folks from the entire region including Norwalk. It is a fabulous facility but has not seen the activity it had projected and has had financial difficulties. I doubt the market studies would support another huge facility like that here.

    As far as a baseball or hockey venue, Bridgeport has beat us to it for Fairfield County’s competitive sports destination.

    And as far as a cultural destination, great idea too, but Norwalk has two existing multiplex theaters including one in SoNo, and so I think a movie theater is off the table, and we have the new Globe Theater being renovated on Wall Street as an anchor for that area , and a new professional theater called Music Theater of CT that just opened up this past weekend on Westport Ave. Considering the financial woes of the Palace Theater in Stamford, that nearly went bankrupt a few years ago, there is little likelihood of a brand new expensive theater being financed and built at 95/7. The land is just too valuable and the infrastructure too intense to ever imagine anything “experimental” or speculative in the arts ever happening here unless it’s connected to something much larger spinning off taxes and generating crowds, like a mall let’s say.

    Keep an open mind.

  12. Michael McGuire

    @ Amanda – 5 malls in 25 miles is not as the crow flies – more like as the snail crawls. The density and traffic issues make driving to the other malls enough of a hurdle to create an opportunity for a new retail center right here in Norwalk. The only real competitor to this mall would be the Westchester in White Plains. The others are lower end with Danbury being the best and over 40 minutes by car away.

    True we do have high end open shopping in Darien, Westport, Greenwich etc. but not everyone wants to shop in these high priced districts. High rents mean high prices, Greenwich Ave prime retail is north of $100/SF, in Westport north of $125/SF, and Darien is right behind them at $80/SF.

    I’m not endorsing any particular design or look – just the concept.

    @ Suzanne – your arguments really are unfounded. I’ve read all your comments on the 95/7 but have yet to hear anything supportable for making any meaningful argument for your case. As Mike Mushak stated the “death of malls” has largely been debuked. All real estate is local, and all real estate like this is complex. A meaningful case would need local information to be compelling. But nothing local supports your premise.

    Consider your argument on jobs, the average of $28,000 jobs is just that – an average. This will provide many first time jobs (roughly 70% of the 2,100 jobs, or 1,470 jobs) for our younger residents -jobs that are in very short supply now; decent mid-level jobs (25% of the jobs or 525 jobs) for 2 income families; and some very well paid primary jobs (5% or 105 jobs) sufficient to provide head of household living in Norwalk for around one hundred families. The sports/cultural center you propose does not compare.

    Also, considered the other jobs created by companies and business’s that will now be drawn to this area but not locate at 95/7.

    Traffic. Consider that millions of tax payer dollars have been poured into reconfiguring the I-95 Rt 7 interchange over the past four years along with access to surface streets, all to allow for this level of development. Not sure how you can make this claim particularly when the property is located next to I-95 with North-South entrances less than a block away.

    I agree that the Aquarium is a positive draw as well, just not enough of a draw.

  13. Amanda

    @Michael, GGP has said this mall won’t be high end luxury. I don’t think comparing this proposal to The Westchester is accurate.
    (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/07/ggps-mall-pitch-reaches-one-sono-businessman-enthusiastic-retiree/)

    So what does that leave Norwalk with? Middle of the road mall redundancy.

    I still think this area begs for a grocery store.

  14. Michael Foley

    Finally i agree with Mike Mushak !! Build the Mall they will come.

  15. EastNorwalkChick

    But, but…”It’s Shiny!”

    I can’t believe that they actually put that in the New Canaan/Darien magazine, that writer should have her pen/computer taken away and barred from writing, even fluff pieces….

  16. Suzanne

    Chelsea Piers does not provide an open venue for sports not normally considered but could play league play in Norwalk, lacrosse being one example.

    Chelsea Piers does not provide outdoor anything, including classic films and theater.

    Chelsea Piers does not provide other activities such as farmer’s markets. It is an enclosed sports center and no comparison to the sports/cultural center that could put Norwalk on the map.

    An adjacent building could present art shows, classes, yoga, all things that are attended by Norwalk residents and would include EVERYONE.

    Mr. McGuire, you might try to keep an open mind as Mike is recommending to me. I realize this is your business but you were the one to say in another thread that the life cycle of such a building is 25-50 years. So what is the next generation going to do with a hulk of a building except for re-purposing it as in St. Louis at huge cost?

    GGP, just a short five years ago filed for bankruptcy because they could not service the debt on their held properties. Likewise, its NASDAQ rating remains the same: “Failed.”

    Mr. McGuire, you may have read all of my entries before as I have yours, but you certainly did not read the supporting documentation. Just as a suggestion, check out Rich Yamarone, Bloomberg LP which shows a graph underneath the title “The Vacant Mall Problem.” Throwing old concepts that are failing at the new does not a successful venture make.

    And Mike, if you consider films to be the extent of “culture” for all of Norwalk, that’s a big short change of the creative people who live here.

    Culture and smaller scale sports competitions create a multi-demographic facility for everyone. It creates a landmark that is available to ALL demographics, not just those who can afford to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. Like the Aquarium, it creates a destination of interest to the region not just to the speculative local real estate we seem to always be facing with the poor Zoning and Planning for this city.

    Keep an open mind.

  17. Tony P

    I’m conflicted, just like everyone else (or not). I’m happy about the increased Grand List value, and the jobs it could bring. I guess my concerns are the absurd amount of traffic that will be created. While the state is doing the work to widen 95 and the interchanges, can it really handle as many vehicles as this development is going to bring? And in addition to all the development already coming online in the area, has anyone thought about the impact this will have on whatever is eventually done with the Webster Lot? I know that’s light years away in getting started, but a question worth asking nonetheless. Overall though, I’d say I’m a supporter of this – with reservations.

  18. Tony P

    Oh, and I rather like Suzanne’s idea about having an additional building just for cultural events, as well as another posters idea for a grocery store (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, that sort of thing)

  19. Michael McGuire

    @Suzanne – I do keep an open mind, its just that nothing yet can out perform the current proposed use. Your concept, while well meaning, is bad economics for Norwalk and its citizens.

    Going bankrupt for a company that is very, very long on hugely expensive long-term projects is not unusual in a “great recession”. An open mind would focus on is how they emerged and the confidence the market place has vested in them.

  20. Mike Mushak

    With all due respect to the armchair architectural critics out there who say this mall should “fit in” with the historical context of SoNo instead of contrasting with it, there is enough precedent out there to argue both sides of the issue, and I see both sides of it, but lean towards the modern glass version instead of the faux historicism version. Let me explain.

    For example, I like the new Ironworks facade facing Water Street as it evokes the proportions and materials of the 19th century factory it replaced, with cool modern touches. When coming over the Stroffolino Bridge the building looks like it was always there and fits in with the historic district that surrounds it. But the mall would be likely 10 times this scale and do we really want that much fake brick facing West Avenue? And I am less satisfied with the historical pastiche on the courtyard of the Ironworks, but most folks I know love it. It gives me flashbacks to Epcot, where faux pastiche architecture is part of the Disney fantasy but all it made me want to do when I was dining in “Japan” between “Italy” and “Mexico” was drink more saki to dull the pain, especially when sitting within 50 feet of the big gong being struck by the fat samurai guy with a Brooklyn accent dressed up in a diaper. Maybe that’s the point, to sell more drinks at the new bar facing the fountain. I digress.

    The point is, do we really want a new mall with a faux historical pastiche exterior? It sounds nauseating if it isn’t done to exacting standards. Just go to Port Chester and look at that hideous project called the “Waterfront” they built downtown which is basically a bunch of big box stores (Costco, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc) gussied up in a faux pastiche skin. It makes me want to get to the “Beyond” section in an instant, as in get me the hell out of here. If it was a sexy modern glass shell with full transparency and an inviting presence, instead of looking like a tacky floating casino in Mississippi, it would certainly make me want to stay and explore a bit.

    Also, if our architecture is always judged by how it “fits in” to its surroundings we never would have had the architectural masterpieces of the Guggenheim Museum (Frank Lloyd Wright), Bilbao Museum (Gehry), Eiffel Tower, or the Chrysler Building, which all broke rules and stood out in their surroundings. Not that this mall will be a masterpiece, but wouldn’t it be better to have at least an honest symbol of our era of glass and transparent buildings instead of a likely poor attempt at faux historicism at a scale that could easily fail in its execution like the Waterfront did in Port Chester?

    To sum up, the sexy transparent inviting glass box version of the mall looks much more appealing to me than the faux historical floating casino version with fake dormers and cornices which is likely what we would get. It’s all a matter of scale, and what works at Ironworks so well facing Water Street could easily be a huge tacky architectural abomination spanning two full blocks along West Ave at a major gateway to the city. No amount of landscaping will ever fix that kind of blunder.

  21. Jason White

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about Ridge Hill in Yonkers from my wife. It’s an outdoor mall that looks like the main streets I grew up with in Maine. She said there are tons of ct plates on the cars in the parking lots. It’s stores, restaurants, movie theaters and a whole foods. Is this an option?

    With respect to the trolley, I use it every day during my work day in Stamford. I go from the train station to my office and to go to the restaurants and such on canal street. It would be awesome if it would run between the two Norwalk train stations; between the restaurants on route 7, the new movie theater that is being built on the old loehmanns site and the phenomenal restaurants in sono, it would really make the city accessable.

  22. Amanda

    @ MikeMushak, I won’t speak for anyone else on this topic, this is my personal opinion, and you can call it being an armchair architect if you’d like… But Norwalk is a seaside New England town. P&Z has screwed up some of the neighborhoods SO badly, they are beyond repair. I hear your point on recreating something to the point it’s faux & feels icky, a la Disney. BUT, I think an open air “main street feel” retail mall would serve Norwalk far better than this big shiny box. There’s been a lot of emphasis as of late about the fact we are the town with the largest shoreline, etc. This is prime waterfront real estate and we’re going to shove a glass box and a parkng garage on it? Why not design something to incorporate the river frontage so people can have the best of both worlds and truly make this into the pedestrian/bike friendly destination you dream of?

  23. Suzanne

    Amanda, the most successful “malls” in the marketplace are like the designs you describe and, likewise, like the Mall description in Yonkers. I don’t think GGP is giving Norwalk their best if you look at their WEB site and see many of this architectural style. It does not have to be “faux” to have contrasting and historical context. That’s what architects and designers are for.

    In addition, everyone was asking for a new idea and I have proposed one. I think it is a good one and the naysayers simply do not have the will politically to create something lasting and truly memorable. They see dollar signs dancing when the reality is a slow increase of taxes over a seven year period to the market rate. (read on NON as I recall it. I am sure I will be corrected if remembering incorrectly. Nevertheless, I do know there has been talk about shredding the LDA, admittedly a flawed document, to allow this development to exist.) Try doing that as a homeowner.The incentives for developers is a little too cozy with town government and the lengths Norwalk will go belies the requirements of property owners.

    If the naysayers would only read the research I have offered countless times, these types of buildings are hard on municipalities and other Malls in the area (the single greatest cause for Mall failure is building a new Mall nearby – hello Trumbull, Danbury, Stamford and Westchester. Which one will die first?)

    There are Gaps, Ralph Laurens, L’Occitanes, Pottery Barns, etc., throughout the smaller, wealthier towns in this area. I think it is a selfish act by Norwalk and the Mall supporters to allow this type of competition and make mainstreets fail. (A possible outcome. New Canaan already sports plenty of empty store fronts.) The fluff piece from the magazine cited above is unconscionable.

    From Business Insider:
    “When those people keep broadcasting their priors to the world again and again after every new piece of evidence comes out, it gets very annoying…That is unhelpful and uninformative, since they’re just restating their priors over and over. Thus, it is annoying. Guys, we know what you think already.” It’s called “Derp” Josh Barro, Economist and that’s what Mall supporters are doing.

  24. Mike Mushak

    Amanda, I won’t argue with your point that the inept P and Z has screwed up Norwalk. That is pretty much universally accepted at this point by folks across the city. I mean, just look around!

    As to your point about 95/7 being waterfront, it’s impossible to connect this site to the river because of the imposing presence of the Danbury Line, which is 2 tracks wide at this point, and raised up above grade quite a bit. A formidable barrier if you will. Even if the tracks weren’t there, you have a state park along the water with a playground and trails. Turning a waterfront state park into private development is a hurdle that will never happen. And once you get to the water, the view across is of the sewage treatment plant. Not the worst thing in the world but certainly not the prime location you describe, especially when the wind is out of the east.

    Suzanne, I don’t think any developer who paid all this money for this prime site would ever get financing at this scale for an outdoor arts venue, yoga center, lacrosse league stadium, what have you. All great creative ideas but pie in the sky stuff when the reality of the property value and financing gets put into the mix. I also can’t imagine any performance taking too kindly to the loud din of constant truck traffic on 95 less than 100 feet away from the site, or the 21 or so daily trains that happen to blow their deafening horn 3 times right there at Reed Street before the at grade crossing at Crescent Street, which I hear from my house a half mile away which makes my dog start barking every time.

    I have heard subway rumbles in Broadway theaters before but we are talking having the entire train, a belching diesel behemoth at that since the line still is not electrified (welcome to third world America!), right there in your face as Romeo drinks the poison in front of the sleeping Juliet who he thinks is dead, or just pick your favorite Shakespeare scene. And with an easterly breeze you have the fresh sludge odors wafting across your audience from the “award-winning” treatment plant, which might be good for a road production of Urine Town, but not much else.

    Excuse my humor, but arguing for highly risky and speculative ventures here, including seasonal outdoor cultural productions in such a noisy and odorous environment in New England’s finicky weather and dreadfully long winters, is just not realistic knowing the physical limitations of the site. I also clearly did not say our culture extends to film only-I listed that as one option that already exists nearby, but included the 2 new live theaters that are proposed or just opened in other parts of the city. I also forgot to mention the art cinema Garden Theater off of Wall Street, or the new film theater opening at Waypointe a block away, but I should be careful to not mention film too many times at the risk of being identified as having such low-brow entertainment tastes!

    My point is, running a “cultural attraction” in any form in this area is highly risky business, as the financial pressures of the Aquarium will indicate, popular as that is. We are just too close to the gravitational pull of the cultural attractions of NYC to have any kind of large-scale legitimate theater, as the bankruptcy of the Palace Theater in Stamford attested to. The only thing that saved that institution I think was the arrival of the Jerry Springer show, the pure antithesis of high-brow “culture” which ironically was needed to save the “cultural” institution. What developer in their right mind would want to take that risk of building any kind of “cultural” facility from the ground up on this site? Not a one, I am sure.

    We need to think creatively and outside the box for sure at times, but we just can’t go that far with “creative” ideas for 95/7 as it is not owned by the city and the options for its development are very limited in this economy, with a collapsed office market in our area with a 20% vacancy rate, and many analysts predicting a rental housing bust in the northeast at some point in the future from overbuilding, something Norwalk needs to keep an eye on carefully. I also agree with Michael McGuire that duplicating yet another mixed use mini-downtown here will surely compete with Wall Street and Washington Street, more so than a regional mall would. As much as I am a fan of the iconic mixed-use Blueback Square in West Hartford, and love to visit there, it has in many ways competed with the traditional downtown corridor just a block away which is still struggling, by stealing most of its foot traffic.

    There are ways to solve that I am sure, with programming and marketing, but it takes hard work for any city to support so many “mixed-use” centers, which Norwalk already has two of with its historically mixed use centers of Wall St. and SoNo. The verdict on the brand new mixed-use Waypointe is still out there, and we hope it is a huge success, but do we really need yet another Waypointe-style mixed-use center at 95/7 to compete with these 3 other centers (one new, two historic) I just mentioned? With a holistic overview of the downtown corridor taken in like I just described, and all of it seen as part of a larger existing mixed-use system, the idea of a premier mostly retail-only attraction in the form of a mall at 95/7 just makes more and more sense from every angle.

  25. Suzanne

    It makes more and more sense from every angle because no one wants to think outside of that angle and continually makes excuses. It is all about money and not the citizens of Norwalk being joined together in a venue that includes everyone (and could be monetized for every activity.)

    The idea that an outdoor venue could not compete with the many vehicular distractions belies the fact that the Bridgeport Stadium exists among the freeway, the train and the “boat traffic” if you want to call it that and exists very nicely. In addition,a structure and area wisely built can more than dim the noise from the trains and I-95.

    To say “we are too close to the cultural attractions of NYC?” Well, you’ve just wiped out the Westport Playhouse, any number of choral presentations, all well-attended, the Rowayton Shakespeare Festival, outdoor film presentations at the beach. Why would people attend these venues since NYC is “too close?”

    The same question could be asked: why would taxpayers spend their money at a redundant Mall? How does this big box “connect” ALL of Norwalk?” It doesn’t but that doesn’t seem to matter: a risky venture for the well-heeled is what Norwalk will do and leave the building failure there for some other generation to clean up. In the meantime, what a great idea!

    Think outside the box: this could be a year-around, not just seasonal venture.

    What you guys are repeating over and over is Derp, as described above. One idea, the reason why others are not possible, even though GGP has described this ho-hum Mall as so fantastic people from NY will be vying for space of the train to get there.

    And why are we to risk our future with a company that a major stock exchange has absolutely no confidence in? They are a “Fail” in all categories.

    Who is fooling who?

  26. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    RE: “New Canaan, Darien (and we almost forgot Rowayton) Magazine” gush over the proposed mall in Norwalk
    According to this bit of PR fluff, the incredibly shallow reasons the folks from the communities mentioned in this magazine’s title are:

    1.) It will draw a crowd of newcomers that will be just as excited about SoNo as we already are…
    2.) Oh, the places we’ll go…
    .3.) It’ll be SHINY…
    4.) It will create jobs…
    5.) You have a say…

    6) And we might add that we have a bridge to sell you.

    All of the reasons many citizens of Norwalk are against this ill-conceived idea of adding a bit of Rodeo Drive to our modest city have been stated and re-stated countless times here and in other postings on N.O.N. We don’t need it. We don’t want it. Most of all, we think there has to be a better use for the most valuable piece of property in Fairfield County than to turn it over for the amusement and urge to window shop (all that glass) of those who are watering at the mouth over the Excitement of a new place to visit, the Glitter (otherwise known as SHINY), the creation of New Jobs (low-grade and SOMEWHERE ELSE besides New Canaan and Darien).

    If these good folk, as alleged by their magazine, are so eager for a new glitzy mall, why don’t they build it in Darien or New Canaan?

  27. Michael McGuire

    @RLF – Speak for yourself. There are a whole lot of us out here in Norwalk that take an opposing view. We believe in economic development, opportunity for our kids, lowering taxes, creating jobs, providing resources for better schools, increasing the economic base and yes – like to shop.

    Norwalk is not for Norwalk residences and businesses alone – its part of a larger whole. Seems a bit arrogant to suggest that we should go it alone.

    I’m still open to different uses for 95/7 that provide for all the benefits noted above. Until that time I’ll keep questioning those that want to minimize our economic and social opportunities through bad ideas.

  28. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    Mr.McGuire:

    If you have been keeping up with the discussion that has been going on for many months about the construction of a mall in Norwalk, you will see that I do not speak for myself alone.

    What is really amazing is that you seem to conflate the building of a shopping mall with: “economic development, opportunity for our kids, lowering taxes, creating jobs, providing resources for better schools, increasing the economic base” (your words).

    With all due respect, if I am misunderstanding you, you have hit on the panacea for so many of the problems the Norwalk seeks to resolve.

    Who knew that providing a target for all of those folks at leisure to satisfy their urge to consume could do so much for our children, lower taxes, create low-paying jobs, provide for better schools and drag Norwalk up by the boot straps?

    Just build more malls…!

  29. Michael McGuire

    @RLF

    Likewise, I have been talking/writing about this topic for many months now. What is different in my posts is that they are based on facts locally developed since all real estate is local. You may want to take some time to review them. They have included among others, a summary highest and best use analysis on the 95/7 site. In depth discussions supported by facts on the local market place on each major property type use – office, retail, industrial, multi-family. The pros and cons of each in this market place, the how and why our markers are changing and therefore which uses stand a better chance than others. And finally, how the various forms of development on this site can hinder or enhance Norwalk on all those points.

    However, I have yet to see any convincing evidence to contradict a development like this other than “the malls are dying” myth. A close inspection of the info provided by Suzanne shows me the data is not applicable here in our local as she forgets that its demographics that undermine retail. People always want to shop, you just have to have enough of them around. Retail is one of the most creatively destructive parts of our economy. This can be clearly seen along Route 1 from the Darien line to Scribner is a case study of the retail market at work. Its a microcosm of “how to out position” and “how to be out positioned in retail”. Just think of the changes that have happed along this small strip since 1989. (the date the Shop-rite center was built which kicked of the rapid development here).

    As a student of commercial real estate since 1983 I can directly tie together the benefits of a development like GGP and its effects on a local economy – its what I do for a living. That’s why I can confidently state that not doing this project is bad economics for Norwalk.

    That is not to say this development is a panacea as is. As a City we need to work with and pressure GGP to develop the property in a way that will most benefit all of Norwalk. As I’ve stated before, I’m not married to a design, or style (however I tend to agree with Mike Mushak on that), just the concept. However, as a retail site it would be detrimental to Norwalk’s other town centers (SoNo & Wall Street) if developed in a fashion that resembles a Blue Back Square or similar.

    Norwalk already has two wonderful mixed use town center neighborhoods. What we are missing in those two neighborhoods is the anchor to bring in sufficient dollars (shopping, business etc,) to help them grow to their potential.

    The best analogy I can use is to consider the Wall to Washington Street area like a big shopping center where the anchor tenant went dark (out of business). That shopping center will continue to limp along until a new anchor is found. Then and only then does the shopping center have a chance to really thrive. While this is overly simplistic it does get the general point across.

  30. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    @McGuire:

    I rest my case. The answers to Norwalk’s problems that include: “economic development, opportunity for our kids, lowering taxes, creating jobs, providing resources for better schools, increasing the economic base (your words)” will not be addressed by the addition of a glitzy mall.

    However, thanks for your thoughtful response above.

  31. Michael McGuire

    @RLF – So then. How will they be addressed?

  32. Suzanne

    MM: “What is different in my posts is that they are based on facts locally developed since all real estate is local.” Since this is true in your book, why are you then trying to build a regional center? Is Disneyland “local”, is JFK “local”, is Yankee’s Stadium “local?” Your view is simplistic. These destinations servicing many different people from the outside earn their keep because of regional and sometimes nationwide payment for goods and services. The ultimate tax revenues go to the local area but that hardly qualifies as “all real estate is local.”

    “…a summary highest and best use analysis on the 95/7 site. In depth discussions supported by facts on the local market place on each major property type use – office, retail, industrial, multi-family.”

    And yet you insist on an outdated concept from the 70’s with this Mall and the factual information EVERYWHERE and from very reputable sources that have nothing to gain by citing their data that Malls are failing everywhere, especially Malls of this covered style.

    Fact is, you refuse to see that especially as a key player in working with GGP on behalf of Norwalk. What better way to get your viewpoint across, albeit limited, than to create a covered box with stores (listed on the GGP WEB site) that are failing or flee after the first year of discounted leases? The idea that people will order from the Internet then go to the brick and mortar of this Mall as represented by GGP could not be more ludicrous when products can routinely be delivered right to one’s front door.

    “A close inspection of the info provided by Suzanne shows me the data is not applicable here in our local as she forgets that its demographics that undermine retail.” So, Norwalk is different than every other town in the nation that has a failing Mall. EVERY other town and no statistic from WSJ, Bloomberg LP,the Atlantic Monthly, etc., can convince you, MM, that Norwalkers just like to shop and, therefore, will make the concept of this Mall successful. Are you saying no other communities with failing malls like to shop?

    “Retail is one of the most creatively destructive parts of our economy.” And, yet, this is what GGP is offering to save Norwalk from itself.

    RLF’s quote above from you re: this Mall creating crucial connectivity between SONO and Wall Street and “economic development, opportunity for our kids, lowering taxes, creating jobs, providing resources for better schools, increasing the economic base” all because of a Big Box, an ugly leviathan made of glass will somehow, if not built, will eradicate the benefits we are supposed to gain as described above. It is a GGP/Norwalk pipe dream.

    But, I guess you won’t be here when the building runs it’s course, according to you in 25-50 years,and the taxpayers have to pay for either destroying or repurposing the box filled with stores with WEB sights and items many Norwalkers will not be able to afford.

    Buyer beware: B&N is closing and has not been able to keep up with the Internet marketplace. Do you really think the stores featured by the GGP on their WEB site menu are going to do any better?

  33. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    @McGuire:

    In answer to your response, Suzanne said it better than I:

    “economic development, opportunity for our kids, lowering taxes, creating jobs, providing resources for better schools, increasing the economic base” will NOT be resolved by a ” a Big Box, an ugly leviathan made of glass.”

    These are certainly parts of the core issues facing Norwalk (and the entire nation), and saying they can be resolved by a mall is beyond ludicrous.

  34. Michael McGuire

    @Suzanne – To be clear my contention is that retail development is applicable here at this site for very specific reasons – not everywhere. To suggest that is my contention is a mall for every town is “beyond ludicrous”.

    To assume retail is dying everywhere is beyond ludicrous as well. Old malls in areas of poor demographics don’t do well and should close/be demolished – that is the contention of every one of those articles. You have spun that into all Malls are dying – way to “chicken little” and misleading.

    I don’t insist on an outdated concept from the 70’s – you do. I expect a world class retail concept based on the latest thinking on retail development.

    The question still remains – if not a retail development pulling from the best practices in the industry – what?

  35. Suzanne

    Look at the marketplace. Internet sales are increasing exponentially and putting stores out of business, i.e. Borders, Barnes and Noble, Circuit City, etc. (A more complete list was provided on another thread.) All of these were once thriving retail, brick and mortar stores. The latest thinking in retail development will not help these nor other chain stores that are struggling because of market saturation and the Internet.

    To say that Norwalkers want a place to shop over and above other activities overestimates the longevity of this interest and the resources they already have short distances away and on their computer in their homes.

    There are few articles I have cited, if any, that show that Malls are only “dying” in areas where the economy has failed. I do not consider, for example, Palm Springs, San Carlos, Albuquerque and Sacramento failing economies yet they all have had Malls vacated and demolished.

    Yes, there are “thriving” Malls everywhere but they are not a forward looking concept – they are a model of the past and their decline is inevitable. (And this is supported by the Bloomberg LP Vacant Mall diagram I recently provided.)

    The most popular design for Malls that ARE successful are the lower scale outdoor walking plaza type malls with other uses on top – mixed use which GGP claims they do not do (“we build malls”)

    The type you are supporting, the covered Mall with anchor stores are the first to go. The environment you are suggesting will be successful for the Norwalkers that simply want to shop, shop, shop is, again, the enclosed disaster. (And I have no problem being Chicken Little about that.)

    OK, but GGP wants to make this a regional Mall right? Get those millions per year into the structure that contains stores found everywhere and anywhere. As Amanda has stated, such a feature in a neighborhood is a redundancy with several Malls in close proximity.

    While some may shop in Norwalk for the new and shiny, it will not last – it is not only not the trend (oh, unless the site is very, very special and located in the thriving metropolis of Norwalk), it is a backward concept as stated above with the decline in this type of shopping for the Internet.

    I think your queries for other ideas are disingenuous because of your experience. You are working at what you know very well. It is a thinking box but a box nevertheless. A big, ugly, glassed in, big box that will run through its life cycle in a very short time (as you have stated yourself.)

    How is this good for Norwalk in the LONG TERM? You outlined the number of jobs with a “good wage” in a recent article and I noticed the most in the unaffordable mid-range category. It means that a couple of hundred new jobs will be created for Norwalk residents that will allow them to live here. Wow. Out of 88,000 +/- people, a couple of hundred will get to stay here. Thank you, GGP.

    I have yet to see a traffic study, based upon the attendance numbers GGP is touting, that will not create untenable traffic issues for the neighborhood and adjacent 7 and 95 routes. You have stated improvements on these routes will allow a smooth transition. Common sense says, “Bullocks.”

    Norwalk and, now, all of these development task forces are so desperate to get this “hole in the ground” filled, they are not looking forward in the long term as to what would best serve Norwalk. It is inevitable because of politics and the powers that be that this Mall will be built. GGP will be long gone when the inevitable decline and suffering city has to deal with the ramifications.

  36. Michael McGuire

    As I noted earlier retail is one of the most creatively destructive formats – and yes the internet is having an impact, both good and bad. Some retailers who have easily transportable commodity items like books will suffer. Others will benefit from the internet as a new channel for sales. Retail is not standing at the precipice looking into the an internet created abyss. Its just evolving. For retail the internet is a glorified catalog and catalogs have been around for a long, long time.

    Regarding being “disingenuous” I’ve always said I’m open to a better idea if that idea proves more beneficial. Nothing so far has come along.

    I’m surprised that you scoff at 2,100 jobs. That’s 2,100 opportunities and $59 million per year of salaries you so cavalierly dismiss. Pose a better project that brings in better economics.

    Finally, I would be concerned for Norwalk should the CC force this site into a Mixed use venue that is too similar to SoNo and Wall Street. That is to formulaic and simplistic and would gut SoNo and kill off Wall Street. Hmmm….how many more jobs would we lose then as property values plummet and business leave as those neighborhoods spiral downward.

    Still waiting for a better suggestion.

  37. Amanda

    A better suggestion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_center_(retail)

    “Lifestyle centers usually require less land and generate higher revenue margins, often generating close to 500 dollars per square foot, compared to an average of 330 dollars per square foot for a traditional mall, according to the president of Poag and McEwen.[2] Other advantages lifestyle centers have over traditional enclosed malls are savings on heating and cooling and quicker access for busy customers.”

  38. Suzanne

    Thank you, Amanda. MM, since you are working so closely with GGP, I would expect your objections to any other ideas. 2,100 jobs at what caliber? A minimum are at a living wage for this area. You will get your Mall, MM, but it will be Norwalk and its citizens that will lose out. Your choice, your conscious.

  39. Michael McGuire

    @Suzanne – Throughout our back and forth you have repeatedly made assumptions about me that are not true and are misleading. Regarding your most recent above I don’t work closely with GGP, I just know a good thing when I see it.

    As a commercial property owner in Norwalk and my professional background, I felt compelled to provide the readers with a balanced approach based on facts not fiction.

  40. Suzanne

    The facts you present are facts for your view of your profession and do not include the entire picture based on many reputable published reports. (For example, the WSJ, Bloomberg, Atlantic Monthly, NYT…) This is NOT personal – it is questioning your professional judgement.

    “Michael McGuire said he is leading a group that is working to figure out how to integrate the Wall Street area with 95/7…” 11/13/14 NON Who is the developer of 95/7? Last time I checked it was GGP – the prime developer creating the “link”, apparently, between Wall Street, itself and SONO, as has been repeated in numerous reports.

    This is in the local “paper” and cannot be misconstrued. You have touted your expertise in commercial real estate and analysis. I have only repeated that and, since you claim all real estate is local, I believe your perceptions are skewed to your other professional activities and away from Norwalk’s best interests.

    That you believe I have misconstrued who you are and what you do and that what I have provided as fact based upon extensive reports from National multiple media? That is saying I am being somehow careless and I don’t like careless.

    We disagree: I don’t think the Mall is a ‘good thing’ and that developing that area based on convoluted ideas about the number of customers and the effect on traffic alone as well as the numerous national reports that state, unequivocally, that this design style is a loser makes this Mall an idea that just doesn’t add up for all of Norwalk, every demographic. I have seen the “menu” of stores, including the typical “anchors” GGP chooses and, as has been said by me and others, they are simply redundant based on the multiple malls that already exist within a 25 mile radius. This is not misrepresentation, this is just true.

    I think if GGP is serious about providing a Mall, the “Lifestyle Centers” as linked by Amanda above are going to be the only “Mall” that is good for Norwalk over time, not the 25-50 years you have written as the estimated lifecycle of this massive glassed box. (What is Norwalk, future generations, taxpayers, residents going to do then?) It is the only model, nationwide, that appears to be successful at this point in spite of the incursion of the Internet. Malls like it are on the WEB site for GGP and I don’t understand why they are not considering something like them.

  41. Amanda

    I’d love to see a poll of the NoN readers & see what percentage is in favor of the mall v what percentage isn’t. While I’m not in favor of it, I think if the mall will be built, then let’s try to advocate for it to be built with common sense. Most folks on this site have said they think it will be more successful as an open air outdoor mall. One important thing to also note: the GGP property is in an area that can possibly attract some questionable people (just like Washington St in SoNo). As has already been noted, all it will take is 1 stabbing at the mall or in the parking garage and this “regional draw” is no longer. Fairfield County doesn’t NEED this mall. By NOT creating the big glass box, you will DETER these questionable people from having a place to congregate, esp if they are underage. There are a lot of layers to this complicated property and each one needs careful consideration.

    An example of a “lifestyle center” in South Windsor, CT.
    http://www.thepromenadeshopsatevergreenwalk.com/

    Not a perfect concept, but perhaps more palatable than the big glass box.
    http://blacklinere.com/RetailProperties/CT/South-Windsor/The-Promenade-Shops-at-Evergreen-Walk

    1. @Amanda.
      We’d love to see a poll like that, too, but we don’t yet have that capability.

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