With the approach of the spring construction season, projects are in varying stages across southwestern Connecticut that will help define municipalities and perhaps provide fodder for town and city leaders to reimagine moribund parcels that have evaded any impactful redevelopment.
The two biggest projects in the region are connected by the Route 7 spine of Fairfield County. In South Norwalk, Brookfield Property Trust is progressing toward its goal of opening the SoNo Collection mall in time for this year’s holiday shopping season, with the promise of more than 2,500 retail jobs.
And in Danbury, Summit Development plans to convert large portions of 1.2 million-square-foot Matrix Corporate Center into the Ridge at Danbury with a mix of offices, residences and retail. The Fairfield-based developer led a similarly challenging redevelopment of the former Readers Digest headquarters campus in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Across the region, other projects are proceeding that will help define their municipalities and the wider region, including a new and expanded headquarters being built in Stamford by Building and Land Technology for broadband giant Charter Communications; and early efforts to fill the waterfront Steel Point peninsula in Bridgeport.
On a town-by-town basis, Hearst Connecticut Media examines a dozen projects that will define neighborhoods and in some cases have a spillover effect in bringing additional development to the table, whether around the corner or across the region.
Bridgeport — Dockmaster Building
More than three years after Bass Pro Shops held the first major grand opening at the Steel Point development, the peninsula’s second signature project is nearing completion: the Dockmaster Building, where Boca Mediterranean Oyster Bar is outfitting a ground-level restaurant that will open up to a marina and harbor views. It is a tenant out of central casting that Bridgeport envisioned in approving the redevelopment of Steel Point, with hopes that a mix of retail magnets and original venues will bring more residents and visitors with a spillover effect to downtown, helping to trigger additional redevelopment there.
After Rich Farm Ice Cream took space at the initial Brookfield Village building at the town’s historic Four Corners district, the town granted a six-month extension for Cold Spring, N.Y.-based Unicorn Contracting to begin work on two more pieces of Brookfield Village, with the original plan envisioning four buildings in all. If completed as planned, Brookfield Village will add 120 units of housing and more than 30,000 square feet of retail space to Four Corners.
The Ridge at Danbury
For pennies on the dollar, Summit Development founder Felix Charney took on Danbury’ sprawling albatross formerly known as Matrix Corporate Center and built nearly four decades ago for Union Carbide. With well chronicled struggles as a multi-tenant office building, Charney envisions his Ridge at Danbury adding retail and residential components, as the case with his Chappaqua Crossing redevelopment where Whole Foods and Life Time Fitness are among the new offerings.
Darien — Corbin District
In the past few years, David Waldman and Dan Zelson have transformed downtown Westport with their spectacular Bedford Square redevelopment of the town’s former downtown YMCA site, drawing a number of new retailers. A few exits down Interstate 95 in Darien, Baywater Properties hopes to pull off a similar feat with its proposed Corbin District development downtown, which would create a net gain of 30,000 square feet of new retail space and more offices, along with about 115 apartments. Construction is slated to begin by this summer.
With Derby’s economic developer likening it last year to “the first domino falling in place” for the struggling small city, approval was granted to convert Factory Street into a district tailor-made for millennials with 400 apartments and plenty of street-level space for restaurants and other ventures. Demolition work is to commence this year for Derby Downtown, with the development expected to take up to six years to complete.
Nearly eight years after the Fairfield Metro commuter rail station launched service, progress continues on the town’s efforts to encourage development nearby. After the 2017 opening of the Trademark Fairfield apartments on Commerce Drive next door to the headquarters plant of Bigelow Tea, developers Abbey Road Advisors and Skala Partners are building a new apartment and retail building at the junction of Ash Creek Boulevard and Kings Highway.
Greenwich office conversions
In a town where heading into this year the buzz centered on a zoning change that could free up additional waterfront development, a few major projects proceeded converting underutilized office buildings into apartments, including developer John Fareri’s proposals for 500 and 585 W. Putnam Ave.; and separately The Mill offices in the town’s Glenville district.
Milford — Sears box
It is a problem Danbury Fair mall addressed successfully more than a decade ago, and the Connecticut Post mall in Milford itself last year: what to do with the space freed up with the closure of an anchor retailer? On the heels of drawing Boscov’s as a replacement department store for JCPenney, Connecticut Post must now deal with the newly emptied Sears space, with the opportunity to make a statement about its relevance in a retail sector in flux. Malls nationally have been repurposing anchor pads for diversified uses, with examples including the Paramus Park Mall in New Jersey recruiting Stew Leonard’s to open a grocery store in a former Sears space.
Norwalk — SoNo Collection
Envisioned initially by a local developer as a glassy new district with offices, apartments and a hotel at the junction of Interstate 95 and Route 7, under Brookfield Property Trust the SoNo Collection mall instead is pushing ahead with what some have speculated will be the last new mall in America. In addition to its anticipated completion date, two more big questions remain for the project: will other Norwalk retailers benefit by the influx of thousands of visitors each day, and will the SoNo Collection suck air out of the region’s other malls and shopping districts as retailers flock to the new venue?
Ridgefield — Schlumberger site
In a first act of Ridgefield’s long-running conversion of the former Schlumberger campus for new uses, the town hit on a success with A Contemporary Theater of Connecticut, created with the premise of “bringing Broadway to Ridgefield” including the Steven Schwartz musical “Working” now being staged through March 10. More than 15,000 people have seen shows at ACT of CT.
Stamford — Charter HQ
In Stamford girders are going up for the headquarters of the company some 24 million people use for broadband access. Amid skepticism as to Connecticut’s appeal as a corporate destination, Charter Communications has offered up a triple play of sorts in moving to Stamford in 2012 from St. Louis under CEO Tom Rutledge; doubling down for a new building next to the city’s train station; and then adding a second office to accommodate an anticipated expansion.
Trumbull senior living
If not on the gargantuan scale of Matrix Corporate Center, the former UnitedHealthcare offices at 48 Monroe Turnpike was the biggest property listed for sale in eastern Fairfield County. After multiple years languishing vacant following UnitedHealthcare’s move to Shelton, the property was taken last year by local developers Senior Living Development and Silver Heights Development for a planned conversion into an assisted living center, including suites for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The project took a needed second step forward in January after the town approved a zoning change.
For many drivers heading north or south on the Danbury Road, Wilton Center remains a mostly hidden enclave of shops just west of the busy Route 7 roadway. The town hopes to create a new retail district on Route 7 called Wilton Heights at the site of the current Crossways Plaza at 300 Danbury Road. The ownership team is being represented by Paxton Kinol, a principle with Greenwich-based Belpointe Capital whose projects include the Waypointe district opposite I-95 from the SoNo Collection mall site; with a Wilton Heights’ limited liability company listing as its principle Clay Fowler of Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners.
— Includes prior reporting by Ken Borsuk, Donald Eng, Jordan Grice, Barry Lytton, Michael P. Mayko, Paul Schott and Pat Tomlinson.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman
By Alexander Soule 4:30 pm EST, Thursday, February 14, 2019