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CT Construction Digest Wednesday September 25, 2019

CRDA offered Northland $4.5M for XL Center space
Greg Bordonaro
The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) earlier this summer offered $4.5 million to purchase a key portion of XL Center's atrium and adjoining retail space currently owned by Northland Investment Corp., the Hartford Business Journal has learned.
Northland, however, rejected the bid, arguing it was a low-ball offer, officials said.
The purchase attempt represents the latest wrinkle in an ongoing saga to try to determine the future of the XL Center, including the space owned by Northland.
Negotiations between CRDA and Northland reached a tipping point last year when, after several failed purchase attempts, CRDA considered using eminent domain to take over Northland’s entire XL Center space, which includes the aging facility’s atrium, retail and office space and other areas.
The latest $4.5 million purchase offer in July included less space than CRDA previously sought, according to Mike Freimuth, the quasi-public agency’s executive director.
According to a July 29 letter CRDA sent to Northland, the $4.5 million purchase offer was for XL Center’s “atrium area, the retail space on the first floor,” elevator and escalator systems on the second and third floors and the Church Street overhead bridge.
The purchase offer, which CRDA says was based on independent appraisals, did not include commercial space on the second and third levels, or parking spaces in the adjoining garage to Hartford 21, which Northland built and owns.
Northland Principal Larry Gottesdiener did not comment for this story but previously told HBJ he is not interested in carving up his XL Center holdings, which could eventually benefit from either a redeveloped arena or a new mixed-use development in the area.
CRDA has said the XL Center property owned by Northland is crucial to the short-term operations and long-term redevelopment of the arena.
CRDA, however, has failed to convince the legislature on several occasions to provide funding for a major arena renovation.
CRDA a few years ago recommended a $250 million overhaul of the XL Center, concluding that the building's functionality and ability to generate revenue are severely limited by its age and obsolete design, among other problems.
Lawmakers have not funded that request either, although tens of millions of dollars in renovations have been done on the facility since 2014.
There have also been attempts to sell the arena to private developers, but they haven’t come to fruition.
Meantime, CRDA at its recent September meeting agreed  to rehire Texas-based consultancy Conventions, Sports & Leisure International to perform a new market demand and financial feasibility study of the venue. 

Take a peek inside the SoNo Collection, a new luxury mall in South Norwalk that is set to open on Oct. 11

After more than two years of construction, the SoNo Collection, a new South Norwalk mall, will open next month. The three-story Brookfield Properties project features 725,000 square feet of retail space, three atriums, a bowling alley, and a top-level garden.
As brick-and-mortar stores close across the nation, Sono Collection’s team is confident it will succeed. “Our CEO says, ‘The bazaar was here in 600 B.C., it will be here in 6,000 A.D.,'" said Matt Seebeck, the center’s senior general manager during a tour on Tuesday. “Because we’ve built a smaller shopping center at around 700,000 (square feet), we’ve been able to be more selective and focused on what the customer here wants.”Seebeck said Brookfield Properties, which owns 170 shopping centers nationally, tailors each center towards the local market. The company found that Norwalk-area residents favor housewares over apparel, so they focused 20% of retail on home-wares. “It’s a market we identified in southwestern Connecticut," said Seebeck. “So we’re responding to that."An eight-level parking garage, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom anchor the center, which does not have a food court. “We’ve shifted away from [the food court] because again, our customer is shifting the way that they shop,” Seebeck said. Instead, the mall will feature several co-working spaces.Similar to WeWork offices, the spaces are designed for use as a community office space or meeting place with free wifi. “We’re focused on providing gathering places,” he said. “If you want to hold an event, a meeting, a gala, we can also accommodate that.” Curated murals, trees, and interactive light installations will decorate the indoor and outdoor community spaces.About 90% of retail space is already leased. Nordstrom and some select stores will be ready for shopping when the mall opens on Oct. 11 and more will open throughout the end of the year, into 2020. Retailers include Sephora, Pandora, Bath & Body Works, sit-down restaurants, and food vendors. Since construction began in May 2017, the center has created about 6,000 construction jobs and is expected to create thousands more in retail, security, maintenance, and office work.Come November, the SoNo Collection will forgo the traditional mall Santa for “first-to-portfolio” holiday experience. “Santa will walk through the shopping center and engage with guests," said Seebeck. The mall will also have a “whispering grove,” where children can whisper their holiday wishes to Christmas trees and have them travel to the North Pole. “We’re constantly looking for new concepts,” he said.A full list of retailers and restaurants will be available on the SoNo Collection’s website by October 8.


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