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Development, Bonds Top Norwalk's Business Stories

NORWALK, Conn. – Everyone knows that the ka-ching of cash registers isn't as plentiful as it was a few years ago, with the economic downturn still hanging tight in spite of efforts at stimulation. But there has been some good news – including that Norwalk's unemployment rate is lower than surrounding areas.

Take these three examples of the top three business stories in 2011:

• All three national ratings services reconfirmed Norwalk's Triple-A bond rating. Moody's Investors Services surprised Norwalk officials in July when it announced that the city was on review for a possible downgrade from its Aaa bond rating, because of problems experienced by the federal government. But an email to officials in December announced that the review was over, and Norwalk is still top-notch when it comes to its bond ratings.

"I am not sure why they even put us on the review list in the first place. But we are pleased that they have decided that we are still Triple-A, and they are staying with our economic outlook," Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Fitch Rating Service have also affirmed Norwalk's AAA rating.

• Norwalk's three major redevelopment projects — Spinnaker's 95/7, Seligson's Waypointe and POKO on Wall Street — made significant strides toward the building phase. POKO applied for a demolition permit in September, a 120-day process. Spinnaker received approval from the Common Council to modify its permit and held a groundbreaking in October. Demolition is under way for Phase 1 of Waypointe, bordered by West Avenue, Merwin Street and Orchard Street. Plans for Phase 2, converting a Merwin Street warehouse into a parking garage and adding a building with residential and retail, were approved by the zoning commission in November.

• Albert D. Phelps Inc., managing and leasing agent for Merritt 7 Corporate Park, sold its interest in Merritt 7 to Clarion Partners in August. A subsidiary of Marcus Partners assumed property management and leasing services at the 1.4-million-square-foot complex of office buildings strategically located at the Merritt Parkway and Route 7.

"Clarion Partners has enjoyed a successful partnership with Albert D. Phelps Inc. for over 15 years on this premier Fairfield County office asset," Katie Vaz, vice president of Clarion Partners, said in a statement. "By teaming with Marcus Partners, we are confident that we are well-positioned for the future in providing the finest office environment available in the market at Merritt 7."

"Phelps was the founder," Moccia said. "When he first came up with that idea nobody ever thought that it would develop the way it did on Merritt 7. People doubted it, whether it would work or not, and there was a lot of opposition to it. ... Obviously he made money off it, but he also had a dream.

Also on the list of top business stories of 2011:

• World Wrestling Entertainment announced in November that it will develop its digital production facilities at the "Swank" building on Ely Avenue, taking 66,000 square feet and bringing jobs along.

• Pepperidge Farm began work on its 34,000-square-foot innovation center in September.

• The Maritime Aquarium began work on its $4.5 million renovation in September.

• Cervalis announced plans for a 167,000-square-foot data center at the Norden Park. Occupancy is expected in December 2012.

• Work began at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center and restoration of Grumman-St. John House. A $6.5 million project to add a third story to the Norwalk Inn and turn historic Grumman-St. John House into long-term stay facilities began in August.

• Norwalk Community College's Center for Science, Health and Wellness opens. Gov. Dannel Malloy officially opened the 55,000-square-foot center in November. It is?a $38.8 million facility that houses classrooms and libraries for science, nursing and allied health programs.

• Stepping Stones Museum for Children completed its 18,600-square-foot, $17 million expansion last winter. It is Norwalk's first LEED silver facility .

• Wüsthof doubled its manufacturing space at its U.S. headquarters on Wilson Avenue.

• Kayak.com expanded its corporate headquarters on Water Street in South Norwalk.

• The American Cancer Society opened its new regional headquarters at 38 Richards Ave. last spring.

• Bridgewater Associates occupied space at 45 Glover Ave., bringing 230 company employees.

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