In 1999, the City of New Haven pulled the plug on a proposal to build a megamall in the city's Long Wharf waterfront district. “The city wanted the mall,” says leasing agent Lou Proto, founder of the Proto Group, “but Westfield, which owns all the major malls in the area, appealed every step of the way.” The Australia-based developer owns malls in Meriden, Trumbull and Milford, all within a 20-minute drive of Long Wharf, and sued to stop development. The company would not comment about its motivations for filing suit.

When Nordstrom pulled out due to corporate reorganization — and the city decided to set its sights on other economic growth engines, such as biotechnology — local developer The Fusco Cos. and partner New England Development, based in Newton, Mass., finally called it quits. Westfield bought the property soon afterward, which it now is selling to Swedish furniture giant IKEA. Construction “will start in earnest” this month or next, says Pat Smith, real estate director for IKEA's northeast division.

The 310,000-square-foot store will be IKEA's fourth in the New York tri-state area, and according to Smith, it's a no-brainer: “Eighty percent of the state's population is within a 45-minute drive, and the demographics are outstanding.” Smith wouldn't disclose the purchase price; Proto says that land in the area of nearby Connecticut Post Mall typically changes hands for $800,000 to $900,000 per acre.

The new plan, however, isn't without opponents. The Long Wharf site includes the Marcel Breuer-designed Armstrong-Pirelli Building, and a coalition of architects, environmentalists and residents is protesting IKEA's plans to alter the 1969 office building by partially demolishing the warehouse at its base to add more parking. IKEA has not said how it will use the remaining office space.