Above: Plans to build a multipurpose mall space in Norwalk have been confirmed and are moving forward
When it comes to the SoNo Collection, Norwalk’s up-and-coming mall site, one thing that everyone involved seems to share is enthusiasm. Finally, after years of speculation, the reality of the mall’s development has been confirmed, with some of the final stages of approval completed just weeks ago.
In the past couple of years, while community members wondered if the mall was going to happen at all, those behind the scenes have been ironing out the details to ensure development of the finest quality. “It’s been a lot of education, but after almost two years we finally have the city approvals needed,” said Robert Jakubik of General Growth Properties (GGP), the development company. There have been barriers to overcome, though. According to Jakubik, the city first had to agree to let the firm build a project of this size. Then came negotiations on the terms of agreement. They were followed by input from the public and work with the zoning commission and redevelopment agency on the effects of the design. “Those were the big barriers, the stepping-stones, if you will, to get the project where it is today,” Jakubik said.
According to GGP, the Collection is slated to measure over one million square feet and boasts much more than retail space, with restaurants, public spaces and a boutique hotel of 150 rooms included in the plans.
Expansive retail space is nothing new for GGP. The Chicago-based company has erected high-end retail hubs all across the country, including two in Connecticut— one in Manchester and another in Waterbury.
Surprisingly, the developers did not originally plan for such a diverse project, said Jakubik. After conducting research on trends and consulting with experts in the field, the city of Norwalk insisted upon going beyond a standard shopping mall to create a multipurpose environment.
This is great news for the community. In addition to new places to shop and eat, the Collection could provide pubic venues for events—there are several programmable plazas, a sculpture garden and rooftop deck—along with increased tax revenues and work opportunities, Jakubik explained. What’s more, GGP is funding a five-year career-training program in partnership with Norwalk Community College so that locals can take advantage of the expanded job market. “And because of the mall’s central location, the available jobs are going to be located within walking distance of the South Norwalk community,” said Norwalk Zoning Commission Chair, Adam Blank. “Many of those folks don’t have cars, or rely on public transit, so it’s going to be an easily accessible job site for literally thousands of people.”
It’s no wonder that 96 percent of the surveyed Norwalk public expressed their support of a project like this one.
So where does the development process go from here? Though construction is set to begin in Fall 2016, there is still much in negotiation, Jakubik said. GGP’s leasing team is in the process of securing tenants—anywhere from 80 to 100 retailers and restaurants. Jakubik confirmed that major department stores will be Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. A full list of retailers will be released closer to the mall’s opening, tentatively scheduled for fall 2018. “We’re the second largest real-estate investment trust mall operator in the country, so we’re going to have some very good tenants,” Jakubik said.
“If I wanted to buy a dress shirt right now, I don’t know any store around here that I could go to, short of Wal-Mart,” Jakubik said, adding that the SoNo Collection will really “put Norwalk on the map.”
LaTanya Langley, a member of the city of Norwalk’s Redevelopment Agency and Norwalk native, shared Jakubik’s enthusiasm. “I am so excited to bring a project of this caliber to South Norwalk. It just confirms our commitment to grow in an urban community as well as maintain the closeness that Norwalk has been known for.”