The ownership of a long-vacant expanse of undeveloped land, the site of the proposed 95/7 mixed-use project, has been transferred to a Chicago company known for building malls.
Clay Fowler's 95/7 Enterprises sold the property bordered by West Avenue, Interstate 95, the Metro-North Railroad's Danbury line and North Water Street to General Growth Properties in late November for $35 million, according to records in the Town Clerk's Office.
Fowler, the owner of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, bought it for $26,970,000 in July 2005, operating as 95/7 Ventures.
His 95/7 development was originally planned to have 600,000 square feet of office space, 125,000 square feet of retail space, 300 residential units and a 150-room hotel. A permit was pulled for construction on Phase 1 last August. That would have meant 232 apartments, 16,500 square feet of retail, 7,200 square feet of office space and 312 parking space in two five-story buildings
GGP specializes in building high-end malls and was described as "the third most productive mall portfolio in the United States" in a letter written by Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan.
"I think a retail development is probably not an unreasonable expectation," Sheehan said Monday. "They do have holdings with office buildings. They do have hotels that are done in conjunction with their retail properties. My assumption or my hope would be there is some type of mixed use associated with the plan as it comes forward."
It's not expected that the well-funded developer would seek to simply modify the 95/7 plans, Sheehan said.
"I have had one conversation with a representative of GGP. but have not seen a plan," he said. "They don't have a plan to provide because, to my knowledge, I don't believe they have hired an architect yet."
The site has been cleared for about a decade. Fowler bought it from Fred F. French, which had removed everything from the property except Maritime Motors, Sheehan said.
Referred by some as a "bomb site," it had been a bone of contention during this year's local election season.
About $26 million has been spent on improving the infrastructure around the 12-acre property, which comprises parcels 1, 2 and 4 of the Reed-Putnam Urban Renewal Plan. The improvements include widening West Avenue and the North Water Street extension, including traffic lights that are years away from seeing use.
The city bonded $6 million for the project and $20 million came from the state.
That investment has caused some Norwalk residents to wonder if Fowler's company has made a substantial profit from the sale because of the city's related investments.
Fowler did not return a phone call seeking information.
Sheehan said there were carrying costs for the developer, including taxes and mortgage interest.
Norwalk's tax office could find only records dating to 2008, which added up to $428,210 in payments.
There were also pre-development costs, Sheehan said.
"They took this project into design build plans," he said. "They went through an entitlement process associated with this site."
What might the value of that development have been?
"It's not my place to disclose that for them, but it's a substantial amount of money," Sheehan said. "You're into the millions of dollars, not into the $50,000, $60,000 range, because this project was huge. They had architects, engineers, everything else."