Thanksgiving in Cheshire is usually synonymous with the Apple Valley Classic — that annual tradition of a cold morning spent watching young men from Cheshire and Southington battle it out on the local gridiron for local football supremacy.
As you know by now, the game has been put on hold in 2020, as have so many other things. The Apple Valley Classic will have to wait, we hope, to be played next year when the pandemic has subsided and football is no longer deemed a high-risk sport by Connecticut public health officials.
But for many in Cheshire, the “Apple Valley” epithet brings to mind something other than first downs and endzone celebrations. It conjures memories of a time when Cheshire expected a rather dramatic facelift in the north end of town. It takes them back to a time when it appeared that Cheshire was about to become home to a sprawling new mall, one that would turn this central Connecticut community into a destination for shoppers from all around the state.
And it undoubtedly reminds them of how the best laid plans can often go awry.
Right around Thanksgiving of 1985, word came that the Apple Valley Mall, announced as the largest project in town history by The Cheshire Herald, in its Nov. 27 edition, had gained unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The final vote appeared to pave the way for work to begin quickly, and for Cheshire’s relatively empty northern area to soon be filled with traffic and shoppers and the bustle of commerce.
As The Herald explained in its front page story that week:
The proposed high fashion retail complex, to be developed on a site on the Cheshire-Southington line, adjacent to I-691, is the largest in the Town’s history and would result in the addition of approximately 925,000 square feet of retail space.
The application calls for the construction of the mall at the new north end interstate highway interchange, at a point west of Route 10 and to the east of I-84. The cost of the undertaking has been estimated at $80-$100 million.
The mall and the price tag, The Herald’s article went on to explain, came with several conditions. Only stores deemed “high fashion” in nature would be allowed — no “discount houses” would be considered. Also, Route 10 was to be widened in front of the mall entrance on the Cheshire side of the project, to provide for more vehicles and a right-turn exit lane.
The applicant also agreed to perform a number of road improvement projects in and around the area as a precondition for building the structure, all of which had been agreed to prior to the PZC making their ultimate decision.
As one would expect, a project of that size had generated considerable interest amongst residents, many of whom expressed concerns. One of the biggest was also the most predictable: How would such an immense new shopping mall impact traffic, not just in the immediate vicinity, but also up and down Route 10, already a source of consternation for travelers in Cheshire?
For some, the answers coming from the applicant, and the PZC as a whole, highlighted in The Herald article, may not have provided much comfort:
Traffic consultants determined that more than 20,000 vehicles per day would arrive at the site during peak periods, and that Friday nights and Saturdays would comprise the times of heaviest use in non-peak periods.
The mall traffic is expected to be generated from I-691 and I-84 to a large degree, the traffic consultants found. An effect on traffic within the Town’s center is foreseen, but not to an extent more than might be expected for a major retail complex three miles distant from the Town’s central area.
Of course, the consultants and many within the community may have differed on what might be expected, or at least tolerated, when it came to the increase of local traffic.
If there were two sides to the debate, The Herald’s editorial board appears to have picked one. In their eyes, the project would be a net positive for the Town, as the paper explained in its Nov. 27 editorial:
The project will be somewhat unusual, as malls go, and will incorporate geographic features in the area, including an historic aqueduct, and will contain design characteristics found in relatively few other malls, according to architects, Machado-Silvetti.
It is in a part of the Town that will increasingly be subject to attention in the years ahead, and it is a major step in the direction of planned, positive expansion.
Opponents of the mall went silent, at least in the pages of The Herald, in the weeks after the PZC decision. Perhaps it was the holiday spirit that kept people from offering their critiques. Or maybe, just maybe, despite what appeared to be the inevitability of the mall rising in the north end of Cheshire, opponents somehow sensed that the project would never truly get off the ground.
They would have been right.
For approximately a decade, the Apple Valley Mall would remain in Cheshire news, but never for the reasons anticipated that Thanksgiving week in 1985. The project would remain in limbo for three years until the arrival of famed developer Edward DeBartolo Sr., who had purchased the San Francisco 49ers NFL football team for his son, Edward DeBartolo Jr., in 1977. It appeared in 1988 that shovels would hit the ground and the mall would be built in haste.
In fact, DeBartolo brought news that Nordstrom, the popular department store, would “anchor” the mall.
However, by 1991 both DeBartolo and Nordstrom had backed out.
Though developers continued to insist that the project would move forward, it was never to be. After numerous other stops and starts, the deadline to begin construction on Appley Valley came and went in 1996, ending the dream of an expansive mall in Cheshire’s north end.
The area has remained a focal point of community economic growth, and other projects have been proposed and passed, only to die on the vine as well.
A new plan has been proposed for the site, one that involves mixed-use development with a combination of retail and residential, and while it still appears those proposals are scheduled to move forward, it’s impossible to know how the current pandemic will impact a timeline.
Will there finally be movement in the north end of Cheshire? Only the future knows. The one thing for certain — the one thing taught to us in 1985 — is never to count your eggs before they hatch … even around Thanksgiving.