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.”
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.”
“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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