SoNo merchant says ‘go-go’ for business climate

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The new owner of 50 Washington St. is planning to make it look nicer, Norwalk Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene said.

Correction, 11:36 a.m., 154 parking spaces in The Pearl, not 100.

NORWALK, Conn. – Longtime SoNo shopkeeper Larry Pellegrini’s wants people to know that the gloom and doom reports about the district are more than slightly exaggerated.

“How come everything is negative? How come no positive is being put in there?” Pellegrini said, after his wife suggested a headline: “SoNo is a go-go.”

Pelligrini Jewelers sits halfway between 50 Washington St. — now eyed for Class A office space — and the nearly complete Ironworks SoNo, a Spinnaker Real Estate Partners development set to begin renting next month with an abundance of commercial tenants lined up, according to Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan. Not to mention a new parking garage.

“I’m optimistic because, if they’re going to be renting 106 apartments, that’s 106 more people down here. Probably two people (per apartment), could be 200 people. Also the parking garage is good. He has a 300-space parking garage which will be open to the public during the day — that’s what I was told.”

Pellegrini had heard about the recent sale of 50 Washington St. “If it’s who I think it is he’s going to make a go,” he said.

Mayor Harry Rilling said last week that the building had been sold to Mike Oz of Capital Construction and Development. “He’s looking to make it Class A office space,” said Rilling.

Oz did not return a phone call looking for comment.

Records in the town clerk’s office tell a mixed tale: Wells Fargo foreclosed on the former owners of 50 Washington St. and 67 Martin Luther King Drive in January. It was bought by CREFII-SCC, LLC on March 7 for $12.2 million.

Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene said discussions about plans for the building have just begun, as Oz is setting up meetings with other department heads.

“He wants to do two things,” Greene said. “Most importantly from most people’s point of view, he wants to make the building look nicer. … But what he has to do is look at revamping the whole building, providing some additional parking near the building, which is difficult to do. We have to figure out how we can do that in an aesthetically pleasing way.”

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SoNo Ironworks is looking almost done at its far end on North Water Street.

Bryan Meek, whose term on the Parking Authority expired recently, said he had heard Spinnaker’s new development at 20 North Water St., now dubbed Ironworks SoNo, is “supposedly spoken for from all of the retail fronts.”

Sheehan agreed.

“Spinnaker has done very well with the ground floor commercial space, especially that which is highly visible,” Sheehan said in an email.

Spinnaker representatives recently got permission from the Zoning Commission to put its own offices in the development, citing a slow rental market.

“It is correct that Spinnaker is locating their offices there, but to the back of the building by the train tracks along Water Street, which currently is not a heavily retailed street,” Sheehan wrote. “One thing we all should strive toward is putting retail where it works and is desirable, not in remote corners or side streets with less foot traffic. The total amount of ground floor commercial space was roughly 20,000 square feet. That’s a lot by SoNo standards.”

Residential leasing should start in May, he said.

That’s a little late to help the recently closed SoNo Caffeine, a Washington Street presence for years.

Meek said he’d miss the white chocolate but saw other positive signs. “C-Town seems to be doing well,” he said of the new supermarket. “We have two new breweries. The Komen Race for the Cure is coming to SoNo (May 10) and is collaborating with the NPA to manage parking for some 7,000 visitors. This can be and should be a showcasing event for the district.”

There are other little signs of hope: Art Studio Plus just opened at 19 North Main St. and while Jack Chiaramonte is closing SoNo Silver, he said he has a new tenant for the space formerly occupied by Jeff’s Cuisine.

It’s a Brazilian restaurant, he said.

Pellegrini said when F.D. Rich builds “The Pearl” at 99 Washington St. — a 66-unit apartment building with a 154-space parking garage — that will mean even more parking spaces. Put that with Ironworks SoNo and “That’s 400 parking spaces,” he said. “Even if the people who live there take a parking space we’ve still got 200 parking spaces. If anything, it’s going to bring more businesses because there’s going to be more parking for them to come.”

Even so, the optimistic Pellegrini said he plans to be there Thursday to complain about parking when the SoNo Task Force meets.

“Unfortunately, people put in 50 cents, they figure half an hour,” he said. “They run over and the parking people are right there a couple of minutes later giving a ticket. That is a problem. I understand they have to make revenue, but my thing is how come South Norwalk has to pay for it all and there’s not one meter up in Norwalk. … Making sure people can come down and not get tickets is more important. They’re not going to come down if they’re going to get a $25 ticket. They’re going to come once.”

He will tell the task force to “try to work with the commercial people that are here during the day,” he said. “Restaurants are different because they’re at night more. … It should be everything uniform. On Washington Street at 6 o’clock they start ticketing. North Main, it’s 9 o’clock. The lots are like 24 hours, or they stop at 9 o’clock. It’s not uniform. You have to have uniformity so everybody knows what’s going on.”

Carol Pellegrini said parking is a problem, but it’s not why businesses are closing. Larry Pellegrini agreed.

“I was told — I could be wrong, but this is what I was told — leases came due, leases were going to go up, and they decided to close,” he said.

“I think everybody has their own issues,” she said. “Parking is a challenge, but we are overcoming it, we are still here. I think it takes three entities to solve this: the Parking Authority, the city of Norwalk and the merchants, collectively working together.”

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The corner of North Water Street and Washington Street is taking on a new appearance as SoNo Ironworks construction proceeds.


5 responses to “SoNo merchant says ‘go-go’ for business climate”

  1. Piberman

    The Pelligrinis have been long time So No merchants. Imagine if the Mayor appointed the Pelligrinis and other established merchants to a SoNo problem solving group. Might actually get some useful answers. But this us Norwalk where politicos have the answers. Always.

  2. Dorothy Mobilia

    SoNo and Norwalk Center have many of the same problems, especially with parking. There may not be meters in the center, but enforcement officers are possibly over-vigilent in watching the clock regarding the posted hours. Additionally, businesses along Wall Street are frustrated that no-parking areas discourage customers who may need to stop for only 15 minutes to, say, get a new battery for a watch or pick up a product they ordered. On Mott Avenue, spaces are at a premium, and it is unreasonable to advise library users to park in the garage and walk the three blocks to bring child to a special program or borrow books and films.
    Parking regulations should keep the public and businesses in mind, even as the city seeks to find revenues. There has been at least one city-funded study to propose ways to work with privately-owned parking in the Center, as well as suggestions for better traffic flow into Wall Street. Whatever happened to that?

  3. Larry Pellegrini

    Nicely done article. I must address one minor miscommunication mentioned here.I would like to attend today’s meeting “not to complain” about the parking situation, but to work in conjunction with the members of the Task Force to help
    resolve some of the parking issues.

  4. EveT

    I’m glad this article reiterated the inconsistency of parking regulations. It’s an imposition to expect people to read every sign and remember a different cutoff time from one street or lot to the next. It’s also an imposition to require paying by phone as at least one lot (not in SoNo) does.

  5. Bryan Meek

    Uniformity of parking zones and times has been in discussion for some time now and currently there is a soft plan to do this once all the construction is completed.
    Pay by cell is an option only. Every lot and space has cash and credit or permit options with one exception being the East Norwalk commuter overflow lot behind St. Thomas school.
    90% of the tickets issued in the Wall Street area are for egregious violations like double parking, hydrant parking, driveway blocking, handicap without permit, etc… No parking zones are established by the traffic commission mostly for safety and traffic flow.
    The city should buy part of the parking lot that the bank owns behind the library. I really don’t understand why that branch thinks they need all 90 spaces, but we can’t force them to sell it. I reached out to their PR team when I was a commissioner but they never responded. They may need all 90, I’m not sure. But for the four banks I use in town, not one has more than 20 spaces so I thought it might be a win win situation for the bank’s PR and the city library which desperately needs more parking spaces.
    On the parking tickets….I’ve never met anyone who like them, but if they weren’t written the already stressful situation could become even more chaotic. The Norwalk Parking Authority wrote about 16,000 tickets last year. The other departments wrote almost 2,000 (NPD, Parks, etc.). That is roughly 40 tickets per day for a city of 100,000 workers. Before I was on the NPA the city was writing almost 50,000. In light of the tough economy there has been a relaxed approach which partially contributes to the precipitous drop we have seen in the last five years.
    Again, I know the pain points and NPA can always do a better job here on image and consideration for the businesses. But, the current situation needs some perspective. Please see the data below.
    Tickets issued in FY2013 for select cities and towns in CT.

    Norwalk 18,597
    Hartford 69,989
    Greenwich 65,487
    Stamford 90,000
    New Haven 158,000
    Westport 9,568
    New Canaan 13,000
    Fairfield 6,000
    Danbury 10,000
    Darien 5,952
    NPA does roughly 1,000,000 transactions for parking. Of the 18000 tickets about 1500 are appealed and almost half of those are dismissed.
    NPA fields roughly 1000 written inquiries a year. About 150 of these concern tickets and appeals. The bulk of these are permits

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