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How do you reimagine a mall? Trumbull Mall asks residents to weigh in

Sarabrent McCoy, an urban planner with Stantec’s Urban Places, talks with visitors to a presentation at the Trumbull Mall.  “We're going to take all of this intelligence and information out to the market to potential tenants and investors so that we can jumpstart the new direction for this mall,” said town economic development director Rina Bakalar.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Sarabrent McCoy, an urban planner with Stantec’s Urban Places, talks with visitors to a presentation at the Trumbull Mall. “We're going to take all of this intelligence and information out to the market to potential tenants and investors so that we can jumpstart the new direction for this mall,” said town economic development director Rina Bakalar.

Trumbull town officials and developers met with residents this week to get their feedback on what they think should be done to bolster economic activity at the Trumbull Mall.

Kathy Kelly milled around a Mexican restaurant and a Ulta Beauty shop at the mall Tuesday night.

But Kelly wasn’t there to shop. She wanted to give her input surrounding a land use study that will be used to determine what residents would like to see at the mall. While shoppers walked in and out of stores, she wanted to see more family friendly spaces.

“What might be interesting would be family centered, community based activities like maybe a climbing wall. Maybe pickleball would be a good idea,” Kelly said.

Kelly was one of dozens of people who spoke to town officials and developers. The study is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Rina Bakalar is the town’s economic development director. She said the purpose of the study is to see what local developers can do with the available retail spaces.

“We're going to take all of this intelligence and information out to the market to potential tenants and investors so that we can jumpstart the new direction for this mall,” Bakalar said.

Getting public input is important make the mall more reflective of community needs and stave off challenges from online retailers.

An idea board with suggestions posted from visitors.
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Suggestions from visitors are posted to an idea board at the Trumbull Mall. A study is expected by the end of the year.

The new direction for the mall has been an ongoing process. The mall, along with another mall in New York were sold off in late December for $196 million. A real estate company, NAMDAR, is now the owner. It’s also one of the main commercial taxpayers in town.

Trumbull First Selectman Vicki Tesoro also attended the meeting and took questions from shoppers.

Tesoro said while the study is ongoing, it's going to take some time before anyone can make complete sense of what people want.

“At this point … it's really too early to tell at this juncture as to what people are asking,” Tesoro said.

People want to see more recreational spaces, according to Tesoro. The mall already has several businesses and spaces for children to play in, from driving toy cars to climbing up nets, and others.

Town officials want to make it a more exciting place and attract more people in a town that lacks a downtown area.

Trumbull is known for its car-centric layout, where residents and commuters are forced to drive to run errands as opposed to walking.

The mall, with nearby apartments being constructed, is the closest thing the town could have to a downtown.

Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public

Greg Dunn walked around the presentation. He used to be involved in urban planning and renewal in places like Bridgeport and Stamford. He said that malls in general are facing long-running challenges from online retailers like Amazon, so they have to diversify in order to remain viable.

That could mean putting up apartments, learning spaces or other establishments other than pure retail.

Dunn believes building more homes would make the town an attractive place for seniors.

“The phrase is age in place. And they're not out in the boondocks, they're right here at the Trumbull, we'll call it the campus,” Dunn said.

One of the realtors associated with the mall is Simon David Real Estate, based in Westport. Rich Leeds works for the company, and readily admits malls are facing challenges from retailers.

COVID-19 was also an issue, but according to Bakalar, foot traffic is now back to 2019 levels.

Yet, the trick is trying to find a niche turning a mall into a different kind of destination.

“You need different ideas, different tenants in the mall, who don't just offer retail and selling merchandise, but something you can't get online, which is an experience with a family or gym,” Leeds said.

The developers have until the end of December to present their land use study to town officials.

But one thing is certain.

Many people don’t visit malls all that often, like Mauro Tete, a Stamford resident. He gets a lot of his stuff online.

“I will come once every two months … I don't go to malls a lot,” Tete said.

Hervens Jeannis walks his
Eddy Martinez
/
Connecticut Public
Mall visitor Hervens Jeannis said his trips to the mall were "when necessary."

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