TRUMBULL – The Westfield Trumbull Mall, the town’s largest taxpayer, and its surrounding residential area, may undergo major changes depending on the results of an upcoming market feasibility and land use study commissioned by the town.
“This is not just a surface level planning study. This is a deep dive into the broader area, inclusive of the mall property, and it is a way for us to look at what the opportunities are,” said Rina Bakalar, director of economic and community development for the town.
According to a document released Tuesday, the town is now accepting bids from interested consultants and architects to create a study that will result in a comprehensive vision and plan for improving the Trumbull mall area.
The analysis will examine the future of retail, the potential for services like healthcare, hospitality and corporate locations, affordable senior housing and the use of nearby residential areas.
Bakalar told CT Examiner that the pandemic took a toll on malls, and the town is considering expanding the area’s offerings to complement the “work, live, play” concept they are striving for.
“The foot traffic is returning to the malls and sales are returning to pre-pandemic levels,” Bakalar said. “At the same time, is 1.2 million square feet of retail appropriate for that site? Or is that too much retail?”
While Trumbull will not make any final decisions until the study is complete, Bakalar said she would possibly like to shrink down some of the retail space and bring in other businesses.
First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said she is looking at the pending 260-unit apartment complex between the mall and Main Street as a catalyst for the area.
The Westfield Trumbull Mall makes up approximately 5 percent of the town’s Grand List and the area supplies about 3,000 jobs. Bakalar said that any tax revenue lost by a potential change would be made up by the apartment complex, meaning the town is at a net neutral.
“We don’t want to lose any value,” Bakalar explained. “We want to make sure that the area is vital and that it’s still a job hub.”
The study will also look at improving the quality of residential neighborhoods along Main Street and Madison Avenue. Bakalar said that while some houses are in good shape, others have not had sufficient investment from property owners.
“There has been neighborhood resistance to doing more commercial development on that corridor. But, you know, we have an obligation to look carefully at that corridor and really get a lot of input, whether it changes or not,” Bakalar said.
Tesoro said she hoped the study results and feedback from residential focus groups will help the town decide what to do with the corridor.
Between the existing housing and the upcoming apartment complex, Trumbull is not seeking affordable multi-family housing development in the area, Bakalar said, but the town does have a tremendous need for senior housing that the study will consider.
“We have built some other multi-family housing around town, and we’re seeing how that is working for our community,” Bakalar said. “So that’s not our prime focus.”
The bid posting states that applicants must demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively with the diverse group of stakeholders, which includes residents, property owners, business owners, state government officials, etc, to ensure economic success in the area.
An addendum to the bid included answers from town officials to submitted questions about the level of engagement of the mall owner — Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, known as URW — in the planning and analysis of the study area, as well as the level of cooperation between the Town of Trumbull and the owners/operators of the mall.
According to the bid posting, the maximum amount of funding for the study is $350,000. Bakalar said $200,000 comes from a grant that state Senator Marilyn Moore helped to secure, $100,000 from private property owners and investors and $50,000 from the town’s Capital Improvement Plan.
Both Bakalar and Tesoro said they are working to get the final plan completed as soon as possible. The town of Trumbull will be accepting applications from interested parties until Sept. 23 at 2:00 p.m.