One step at a time, Litchfield Crossings is getting there

After several false starts, Panera Bread is nearing completion of its store in the Litchfield Crossings shopping plaza along Danbury Road (Route 7 South) in New Milford. June 2014
After several false starts, Panera Bread is nearing completion of its store in the Litchfield Crossings shopping plaza along Danbury Road (Route 7 South) in New Milford. June 2014Norm Cummings

Litchfield Crossings, forecast at one time by its developer to become a jewel near the southern entrance to New Milford, is again striving to live up to that reputation.

The long-stalled shopping plaza at 169 Danbury Road (Route 7 South) is now under the ownership of ECCO Development.

Eight new retailers and restaurants have been announced to be coming to the site.

Construction on Panera Bread restaurant has resumed. Petco, Famous Footwear and GNC all are under construction at this time.

Sleepy's and Harvest Field Market are signing leases in coming weeks, and a Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub and Jake's Wayback Burgers have sent letters of intent.

Litchfield Crossings, which boasts about 1,800 feet of frontage along Danbury Road, is the site of 127,136 square feet of retail space.

That includes Big Lots, Kohl's, HomeGoods, Union Savings Bank, Western Connecticut Medical Group, an AT&T mobility store and Webster Bank.

Upon completion, the plaza is expected to include 282,000 square feet of retail space.

ECCO Development, owned by the Gizzi family, took over the 41-acre plaza in October 2013 from Danbury Road Developers under the limited liability partnership of Litchfield Crossings.

"Our family has a hands-on business philosophy," Kristen Gizzi-Flynn said in a statement. "Our expertise in design, building and property management will attribute to the long-term success of Litchfield Crossings."

ECCO owns, manages and leases about 1 million square feet of commercial space and land throughout Westchester County, N.Y.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for economic development coming to New Milford," said Pete Bass, a member of the Economic Development Commission and vice chairman of the Town Council. "It's great to have deep-pocketed investors coming in to develop Litchfield Crossings."

The original partners in the plaza -- Paul Scalzo, Joe Sisca, Hal Kurfehs and Danny LeTourneau -- had purchased the site in 2005 under the business name Danbury Road Developers.

By 2012, they ended their partnership, and Scalzo was looking for a new partner.

Enter the Gizzi family.

Calls early this week to Scalzo were not returned.

"It's a good thing. This will make the plaza a lot more attractive, benefiting the businesses that are already there," New Milford Mayor Pat Murphy said. "Residents will have more local shops and not have to go out of town to find what they need."

Problems plagued the Litchfield Crossings development starting with the economic downturn in 2008. Target, a major retailer expressing interest in being the anchor store, pulled out that year.

The parcel sat vacant, clearcut of trees for nearly three years, leading local residents to refer to the property as "the dustbowl."

When construction finally started in 2011, Greenwich-based Urstadt Biddle Properties took legal action against Danbury Road Developers regarding the driveway location of the plaza, which is located on the east side of Route 7.

Urstadt Biddle's Stop & Shop/WalMart plaza is on the west side of Danbury Road.; 860-355-7322