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A Turf War Could be Brewing Over Whether there's Room
 for Two New Hotels in South Norwalk, Connecticut

By Robert Koch, The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 17, 2009 - NORWALK -- A turf war could be brewing over whether there's room for two hotels in SoNo.

On Wednesday night, Norwalk Zoning commissioners approved F.D. Rich Co.'s site plan for an eight-story, 121-room hotel at 43-47 South Main St.

During a public hearing beforehand, several SoNo business owners expressed support for the hotel. But a representative of a SoNo-based developer that has big plans for the Reed-Putnam area less than a half mile to the north asked the city not to undermine its efforts.

Kim Morque, principal with Spinnaker Real Estate Partners LLC on Marshall Street, praised F.D. Rich Co.'s investment in South Norwalk -- the Stamford-based developer purchased about 40 SoNo properties early last year. But Morque reminded commissioners that Spinnaker has plans for a hotel in District 95/7 SoNo -- an office-anchored, mixed-use development getting underway off West Avenue and Reed Street.

"On behalf of 95/7, we are concerned about the potential for another hotel in SoNo at this time under the current economic environment and market conditions," Morque said. "We have been actively engaged in negotiations with a hotel owner and operator for several months."

Morque asked that the city "work on a comprehensive, coordinated, economic development policy, so that the hard work and significant investments of existing projects are not undermined."

Last year, Zoning commissioners approved site plans for Phase One of District 95/7. The hotel would be included in a later phase of the project.

A number of factors, including the economy, the Zoning Commission and the Norwalk Redevelopment Commission will determine whether one, two or no hotels are built in SoNo.

Although Zoning commissioners approved the site plan for the SoNo Hotel, F.D. Rich still needs to find financing for the estimated $30-million project. Further, the Norwalk Redevelopment Commission would have to amend the city's South Main Urban Renewal Plan. The plan currently doesn't permit a hotel in the area, according to Timothy T. Sheehan, Redevelopment Agency executive director.

Redevelopment commissioners soon will review a market feasibility study that addresses the question of whether there's room for one or two hotels in SoNo, according to Sheehan.

"The study came back and indicated that a hotel would be feasible in either (location)," Sheehan said. But "the predicate to the feasibility is that all of the redevelopment plans are developed, in terms of the office space at 95/7 and Waypointe (on West Avenue) ... then your hotel is feasible."

"Obviously, the economic returns on a second hotel become more limited. ... Introducing another hotel into the mix is only pulling the same hotel dollar between two hotels," Sheehan said.

Mayor Richard A. Moccia and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Jackie Lightfield distinguished between what's planned for South Main Street and what Spinnaker has in mind for District 95/7.

"One is going to draw the tourists, and the other is going to draw the business people, and they're going to visit all the offices and businesses that are in 95/7," Moccia said.

Lightfield said "the limited service SoNo Hotel is truly about hotel rooms in a dense urban area," whereas the District 95/7 SoNo hotel would be "a full service hotel that would also have things such as conference rooms." She reminded that several hotels operate along Route 7.

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To see more of The Hour, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.thehour.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.

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