Granted…

What’s needed to make downtown Westport more attractive?

Politicians and civic leaders think new and improved sidewalks, some curbing, a few tree grates, guardrails here and there, and energy efficient lighting would help.

What will it cost?

Well, $497,595 might cover it.

Voilà!

That’s the amount of a state grant — designed to help towns “develop or improve their commercial districts, help small businesses attract customers and improve pedestrian safety and livability in town centers” — provided by the neatly named Main Street Investment Fund. Westport was 1 of 14 towns in Connecticut to receive the aid.

Main Street was looking a bit bedraggled after the removal of some downtown trees.

Main Street looked a bit bedraggled after the removal of some downtown trees.

But — aesthetically improved sidewalks, curbing and tree grates aside — the grant was not universally praised.

A Westporter — and local business owner, no less — posted the news on Facebook. She added one word: “Speechless.”

Other commenters added their $497,595 2 cents:

  • “That’s like an heiress applying for & getting food stamps. Unbeleiveable.”
  • “The person with the best writing skills get the grants! It is silly for Westport to take grant money, they should be embarrassed!”
  • “Taking it away from what other deserving areas that applied?”
  • “Oh please– Westport should’nt even have been ELIGIBLE.”
  • “Good to know the state has its priorities in order!”
  • “Someone should investigate how that even happened.”

Of course, Facebook is its own ecosystem. Friends tend to reinforce other friends’ views.

Perhaps there’s another person out there whose Facebook page is filled with congratulations for this grant.

Meanwhile, “06880″ wants to know: How do you feel about Westport’s half-million-dollar downtown improvement grant? Well deserved? Much needed? Kinda nice, but embarrassing? A boondoggle? Something else?

Click “Comments.” Use your full name, please — and let us know if you’ve got a dog in the downtown hunt.

30 responses to “Granted…

  1. Bruce Fernie

    ‘That’s like an heiress applying for & getting food stamps. Unbelievable.’

    What a load of garbage…

    The massive Federal taxes paid by hard-working and successful Westport residents support hundreds of ‘grants, give-a-ways and non-earned entitlements’ for all the ‘non-heiress’ members of society.

    This is more like society buying the ‘heiress’ a nice pot of tea to thank her for her contributions.

  2. Mike Alpert

    It’s a ridiculous use of taxpayer money.

    It’s completely irrelevant how much Westporters pay or don’t pay in Federal taxes. Economic conditions in this country are not great and there are far better uses for the money. A bit embarrassing, I’d say.

  3. Well, Dan et al,
    This is interesting indeed. Westport has so much resident capital, so many resources – that it does seem a bit odd that it would receive a grant from the state to “improve” the downtown corridor. I would think the local Downtown Business Association might have come up with the money – along with the town’s other resources – to make such an investment in its own infrastructure, particularly because it is largely an “esthetic” improvement as opposed to a necessary structural or infrastructural repair.
    That being said, as a person who lived in Westport from 1949 (off and on) through 2006, who now lives in St Mary’s in Bridgeport, I can see the need for such grants for towns that haven’t the resources to do their own such work. Certainly Bridgeport, with our vast need for infrastructure repair, our current tax burden that rests largely upon homeowners and property owners – could have used this money to improve our Fairfield Avenue corridor, our entryway from Fairfield to the vast cultural, ethnic, culinary, cultural resource that is Bridgeport, Westport’s close and often avoided neighbor.
    This isn’t sour grapes.
    It’s just an observation.
    Our kids grew up in Westport. I grew up in Westport and so did my wife. We paid our taxes willingly because we knew the value we were receiving for our tax dollars. Our kids went through the Westport school system and went on to the finest colleges and universities. Having left 7 years ago now and seeing the problems that exist so close to Westport’s sheltered boundaries (from the inner-city issues that Bridgeport and other post-industrial era towns and cities must deal with in Connecticut) I surely can see where the need for state assistance lies, and where it can make a huge quality of life difference; an attraction for business development; for subsequent easing of the tax burden on homeowners. It would be quite a gesture if Westport decided to forego this largesse from the state to pass it on to more needy community development towns and cities in our fair state. I don’t expect that this will happen though, nor do I resent Westport having received this bonus grant. It was just a case of the savvy grant-writers from Westport knowing how to use the system to advantage. And why not?

  4. Grants aren’t for this in need. They’re for the comnunities that demonstrate a practical use for the money and communicate how it will produce specific improvements that allow the state to recover the grant in increased tax revenue. No doubt, Westport did this well. The same thing happens in scientific grant writing. Once you are successful, attracting investments becomes easier. This isn’t a surprise, a crime, or even immoral.

  5. Steine01 = Evan Stein, physician.
    Westporter from 1974-1992 with family in town since 1973.

  6. Bobbie Herman

    I would have preferred to see the money go to Head Start or Meals on Wheels.

  7. Jamie Walsh

    My guess is that to transform downtown, based on what the 20/20 committee envisions would be north of a $100 million requiring both public and private funding. The “private sector” seems to be well on there way with the development of Bedford Square…but again, a new library addition at a cost of around $25-30million. I know that the library is well on it’s way to raising private funds for this, but do we really need a newer fancier library?Giving up Jessup Green for the WAC is just “WAC’ed”. Flood control needs to be addressed…and while I commend the downtown 20/20′s writing skills but…it is a little reversal of the Robin Hood motto. Yes…yes…I know…if we do not get it some other town will, but when this master plan is developed and a new administration is installed and priorities shift…as they constantly do..what then? Will it sit on some shelf at Townhall and gather dust. Do we really have the money to invest in pulling this off…a bond maybe? Maybe not? How about getting our house in order and addressing our pension fund obligations and creating more efficiencies within our schools and town departments. There are commissions at town hall that do not even have money allotted for supplies…seems crazy but it is true. I am all for an improved downtown but let’s get our priorities in order first. And yes, I do have a dog in this game as I live in the downtown area.

  8. Stacy Prince

    If the state allows municipalities like Westport to dip into state coffers, the towns will go a-dippin’. What appalls me is that the money is being spent downtown. I guess I’d feel differently if Main Street was more than a multi-national corporate outpost. I know it’s not enough money to create bike lanes (those of us who can’t walk to Compo might like to be able to bike there without risking our lives), but what about improving/extending sidewalks near schools, or anywhere where walking is a challenge?

  9. Sandy Soennichsen

    That is really embarrassing. And to “help small businesses attract customers”? Hmmm, lets see, yup there’s The Gap, Brooks Brothers, Tiffany’s, J Crew, Chase Bank, Talbots, LuluLemon, Nike, and the list goes on. Small businesses????? Whoever approved that grant should be fired. And our politicians have their heads buried in the sand at Compo and think all is well? And the building owners and landlords are laughing all the way to the bank saying “yup, we pulled another one off…now we can keep our rents high, keep out the small business riffraff and lure more big business into our exorbitant facades who can afford our rents.” Kaching, kaching go the registers and all suckers are welcome. Maybe it’s time for Westport to go back and become part of Fairfield again, a town that knows how to keep up with change and benefit their residents.

  10. Eric William Buchroeder

    Is there anything keeping the RTM from taking a vote to “give it back”?

    • John McCarthy

      All you need are either 2 RTM members or signatures of 20 Westport voters to get that on the agenda. We (the RTM) approved the application for this grant unanimously, I believe.

      • Eric William Buchroeder

        John, I haven’t lived in town for 35 years but hope others that still do have read your message. This is not a very high bar to clear if they want to. Many thanks!!!! Eric

  11. William Adler

    I believe the state views a grant like this as an investment – there is ROI in keeping or attracting industry, tourists etc. and hence business and the tax base. It’s not completely unlike communities giving tax breaks to major companies for relocating… it’s not that the companies need or “deserve” a handout; it’s economics.

  12. Perhaps the monies should be better spent on ensuring all merchants’ doors remain closed while their industrial-strength AC is blasting away?

  13. Mary Ann West

    Not touching the merits of the grant, but wouldn’t that and other monies to help mitigate the Saugatuck River/ Long Island Sound storm headwaters from wrecking the downtown area be a better investment?

    Given the major storms that continue to flood out businesses, contributing to the closing of shops and the unemployment of those who can least afford to be out of work, maybe the focus should be on enhancement of our infrastructure that helps the local economy.

  14. Michael Calise

    What interests me is that all commercial property owners outside of the downtown are required to build new and maintain sidewalks on state and town property directly in front of their properties entirely at their expense. When the public works department decides you need new sidewalks. you must put them in very quickly or the town will do it and sue you for the expense. Then after you install them you watch them quickly deteriorate as the town or state sprays them with salt and other chemicals each winter while you wait for the next letter from the public works department.

  15. David Stalling

    I just hope one of the business owners supporting this grant were among those jumping on the GOP “We Built This” bandwagon last election and criticizing our President for his true and accurate statements about government’s role in helping the private sector.

  16. Bart Shuldman

    Sad. Governor Malloy raised taxes on just about everyone. The largest tax increase in the states history. Now we give away this kind of money to towns that will need to find ways to spend it. If the CT economy was doing better would that make more sense? This tax increase has helped to make CR one of the worst states in the US for economic growth.

    And while this all happens CT has unfounded liabilities that are in excess of $60 BILLION. That’s right. $60 Billion. We are 2nd in nation in having the highest debt and obligation per capita in the US. 2nd only to Illinois. California is in better shape than CT.

    So do you feel good we have this money? Is our downtown going to do so much better we are going to see these stores higher more? I think not.

    And let’s not forget that Westport has huge issues with debt and obligations. OPEB only is a liability that we will all have to pay that now exceeds $150 million. Or close to that.

    What a shame.

  17. Elizabeth J. Yoder

    Embarrassing. I don’t even live there any more and I’m embarrassed.

  18. Bart Shuldman

    As the CT Governor gives away money for town improvements he is cutting huge amounts from hospitals. There are more issues with his budget but this is one:

    Bruce Cummings, CEO of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, highlighted the financial numbers in a fiery letter to the New London Day. To summarize, the governor proposes reducing hospital support by $650 million over the next three years. The governor justifies these cuts by presuming that hospitals will enjoy a windfall when the uninsured and under-insured (roughly 500,000 by the governor’s estimate) are able to buy insurance through exchanges or receive Medicaid under the health care act.

    The governor must be aware that Medicaid only pays a fraction of the true cost of care. So the burdens on hospitals to absorb what will be a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in Medicaid patients will only deepen their debt.

  19. Jamie Walsh

    David, does partisan politics really play a constructive role in this discussion?

    • David Stalling

      Jamie Walsh: Yes, I think it does. This is a political issue, and a clear case of taxpayer’s money helping private businesses — something the GOP and numerous businessmen denied, distorted, lied about and attacked our President over just last fall. The GOP even turned it into the theme of its national convention. Personally, I find it constructive to counter lies and point out the truth and it seems perfectly relevant to this discussion. Such are my thoughts and opinion on the matter. Thanks for asking!

  20. Bart Shuldman

    This is a political discussion and an good one. Giving tax payer money away is a discussion of what to do with OUR money.

    CT state budget is a mess we have off balance sheet obligations totaling over $60 billion. Our children will eventually have to deal with it. Clearly Gov Malloy does not care.

    Lets not forget the tax breaks Bridgewater is getting. $150 million.

    And here are just some issues regarding the current state budget that borrows more money, raids things like the transportation fund, takes money away from hospitals while he give Westpkrt this money that we will now have to find a use.

    If GAAP standards are used, state finances are $1.5 billion in the red, though Comptroller Kevin Lembo says that number will be down to $1.2 billion by the end of this fiscal year.

    The legislature and Malloy had planned to whittle that number down over the next 15 years with annual payments of between $80 million and $100 million.

    Instead, the governor wants to borrow $750 million. This will reduce the annual payment the state must make to a more-manageable $30 million. But it also would mean another $186 million in interest charges.

    The state’s chief business lobby said Wednesday that the administration and legislature need to focus more on cutting spending and less on borrowing and raising new revenue from taxpayers.
    “We’re disappointed that we’re going to see the extension of taxes that were going to be sunset,” said Joth Rathegeber, CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “We’ve got to get people back to work.”

  21. Nick Thiemann

    It’s great to see that democracy is alive and well in Westport. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this one. I hope that all who hve contributed to this discussion will be at Dan’s cookout at Compo this week to share a cool one.

  22. It wasn’t that long ago that the Main Street sidewalks were widened and redone in brick. Now they need a do over?

  23. Bart Shuldman

    Westport was one of 2 towns in the state that received NO additional municipal aid. $$55 MILLION dollars in increases were given out with the new FY 2014 budget and Westport received NO increase.

    For comparison sake, Bridgeport relieved over $2.6 million more. Not sure where this money is allocated by in the budgeted process Westport got ZERO. ZILCH.

  24. Eric William Buchroeder

    I’d vote to re-direct the $400G’s to go toward free beach passes for the 06880 party. not likely to cover the whole thing but its a start. Sorry I won’t be there.

  25. Jenny Tough

    Perhaps some of this downtown money can help provide for materials needed and proper execution when its time for the sandbags… Last year’s storm waters roared right through the shoddy barricade onto Klaffs, Nike, Chicos, LuLu Lemon, etc. etc., etc.