Downtown Redesign Tiptoes Forward

Two months ago, “06880” reported on a radical plan for redesigning downtown Westport.

According to the concept from the downtown subcommittee of the Town Plan Implementation Committee, the area could be revitalized by

  • constructing small brownstone-scale buildings combining retail, commercial and residential uses;
  • expanding the riverwalk from Gorham Island to the Levitt Pavilion;
  • adding paid parking, and
  • overhauling existing zoning regulations.

In ways big and small — partnering with private developers; creating a new town director position; moving dumpster locations and rejiggering garbage collection times — downtown could join the growing “greenfield” movement.

The psychic change would be as monumental as the physical one.  Downtown would look and feel different.  Traffic patterns would change; the mix of stores, and our ideas about commerce, would shift.  We’d conceive of all of Westport in a different way.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff backs the plan — or at least an intense conversation about it.  “I think it’s time for the naysayers to take a back seat,” he says.

The next Town Plan Implementation Committee meeting is in 2 months.  That’s the heart of the holiday season — the one time each year downtown is truly vibrant, swamped with shoppers and decorated nicely.

Between now and then, let the debate begin.

Will the downtown Westport of the future look anything like this?


15 responses to “Downtown Redesign Tiptoes Forward

  1. Old friends Gone and Forgotten

    I have lived here since 1984. I miss the family owned stores. I will really miss the downtown Y. Still have a problem with it moving where you can not ride your bike or run to it, from 90% of Westport homes. I hope we are not turning Westport into a CITY,
    I like it as a town. It is a nice place to live. I wish we could stop feeling a need to fix something that is not broken. I wish people could be happy with what we already have. I do not want to add more traffic and cars in Westport. Maybe I am selfish, I want Westport for Westporters. How much do we need?

  2. I agree there are definitely areas of downtown that can be improved. What those ‘improvements’ are is the question. I would rather see a less radical overhaul that maintains the character and enhances those characteristics that define Westport.

    I don’t believe we should change the old charm of downtown, by completely redoing it in a new and radical way (especially with taxpayer dollars).

    As of yet, I have not heard an unequivocal declaration that we wouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars or if so, how much would it cost all of us. It seems to be a big part of the renovation question that has not been made clear (by design). I’ve read how we need this and how the powers that be support it, but have not read how ‘we’ are paying for it.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’m trying to visualize the finished project and I can’t help but to picture West Hartford. I prefer the original old part of town much more than the revitalized new section. It just lacks continuity and seems very impersonal and sterile.

    Another bad idea comes to mind and that is the grotesque complex in Southport (over looking I-95) which was suppose to capture the essence of classic New England. I would have to say that concept failed miserably.

    Metered parking = bad idea and changes downtown forever and not in a good way.
    I stay away from Greenwich for that reason and find it offensive when I’m spending hundreds of dollars only to return to my car and find a ticket on the windshield.
    I also swore off the Westchester Center because of the paid parking garage (Nordstroms use to validate, not anymore). I know it seems like small change, but it’s the principle of the thing.

    As for Gordon Joseloff’s comment – “I think it’s time for the naysayers to take a back seat”.

    I find that statement both arrogant and offensive. Maybe the majority of the community prefers only small improvements, no metered parking, no parking garage and no taxpayer dollars going toward a project they just don’t support.

    Is he saying we should just sit down and shut up while he and his developers proceed?

    That attitude doesn’t seem very democratic to me.

    I don’t deny downtown could use some improvements. I like the way downtown New Canaan is set up and they still have plenty of ‘mom and pop shops’ and outdoor dining!Why can they do it and not us? The same for downtown Darien, they have a decent mix and their new renovations look very nice and fit in with existing buildings. How much did that cost the taxpayers of Darien?

    I need to know more before I can support this and having the mayor say, “…naysayers take a back seat”. Seems minds and plans are already made up and critics are not welcome, which doesn’t make me too supportive from the get-go.

    • John McCarthy

      John, you are correct, critics and naysayers are really not welcome from our 1st selectman on this or any other issue. Get in line with the plan that has been crafted by a select few or be called NIMBY or an obstructionist or a naysayer. Certainly not an attitude which inspires much confidence or out of the box thinking from those with a diversity of views.

      Oh, and has anyone asked who brought Robert Orr, the New Haven architect, into the mix. The town didn’t pay for him to show up, as far as I know. I understand David Waldman, the developer, brought him to town to guide the discussion. I actually think that much of what has been proposed for downtown by this committee makes sense. What I don’t like is the lack of real transparency in the process and the contempt that is shown for those who question the process and actions of government in this town.

      Yes, Downtown is a big issue. And coming soon is Gordon’s plan for giving away Baron’s South to the lowest bidder, rumored to be the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield. . And yes, put me in the naysayer camp on that one. Again, largely because of the “process” that is being employed to ram it down the town’s collective throat, and not necessarily because of what is being proposed to be built.

      Dan, glad that you are here with a free, online place for comments, best place in town.

  3. Carl Addison Swanson III

    I have been here since 1953 and loved the downtown area until I was reminded it had a gas station and some flea biten Mom and Pop stores. It is a beautiful location and I think the water should be utilized more to enhance its beauty for the future as well as making it far more pedestrian friendly. I think it could be really something with small trolley cars ferrying people about instead of cars and roadside vendors to somewhat minimize the overpowering corporate monopoly. It should be much more of a centralized gathering place, including a move theatre, rather than shoppers running about to get to that clearance sale or the last parking spot. Here, here to the town’s subcommittee.

    • We had movie theaters. We had mom and pop shops. They were not economically viable. Why would anyone want to go back to a failed model?

      • No one advocated the return of Mom and Pop stores. That ship has sailed although I did notice recently that downtown Ridgefield is full of them. As to the theaters, the original was a dump and its successors were not much better. Certainly a modern theater would attract customers. Most cities, primarily in the south, have found that redevelopment of the inner city has brought substantial attraction from the public and revitalization in terms of tax revenues. I assume that is the purpose of this project. Thus, you contention that the business model is failed does not fly with me. As for Mr. Raho’s comparison to the downtowns of New Canaan and Darien, they both do not have a municipal facility like Longshore or beaches to the quality of Compo to pay for either. While I am equally nostalgic about the “the charm of old downtown,” we sold out to the almighty dollar here a long time ago. I am afraid it is too late to go back.

        • If the model were economically viable, the market would have chosen it. Thus, we have empirical evidence with respect to the viability of the model. BTW who would indemnify the taxpayers of Westport if Joseloff’s Folly proved to be just that?

          • Interesting counterpoint. I was out to prove you wrong with a look at Camden Yards in Baltimore which is credited with transforming the Harbor area. Turns out that the taxpayers have taken it on the chin and the Orioles and tourists benefiting only. Same with Enron, Chapter 11 or Minuteman Stadium in Houston except that the hotel tax paid for that. Tip of the hat, Jeffxs.

  4. Josellof has no problem spending other people’s money. The current state of downtown is probably to no one’s liking, but why substitute Joseloff’s view for anyone else’s? Why is he intent on cramming his half baked ideas down the throats of taxpayers without allowing any dissent? Perhaps because because his ideas can’t withstand scrutiny. He really does think Westport is the People’s Republic of Joseloff.

    • You're a broken record

      You’re a broken record Jeffxs. Throw in a comment about Compo being a “doggy toilet” and the breadth and depth of your “scholarly” contributions to this blog are complete.

      Why do you attack the man — “…but why substitute Joseloff’s view for anyone else’s? Why is he intent on cramming his half baked ideas down the throats of taxpayers…” — instead of his ideas? Can you say ‘red herring’ and ‘ad hominem’?

      Please don’t assume I support Joseloff because I’m highlighting your painful attitude.

      • As long as Joseloff demands that no one who opposes his ideas speak against them, I’ll criticize him. The plan is flawed, it does not recognize evident economic realities as I pointed out, and Joseloff’s approach to public debate raises questions as to the propriety of the plan. I have asked before, who pays for this grandiose scheme? Who benefits, besides Joseloff? Where has Joseloff demonstrated the economic viablity of this plan? He won’t, as long as he gets his wish and everyone is forced to be silent.

        • You not a ‘broken record’ to me Jeffxs.
          You are the voice of reason and rational thought with well written arguments and opinions backed up with facts.

          If anyone should be appalled, it should be the people of Westport from Mr. Joseloff’s comment, “I think it’s time for the naysayers to take a back seat”, with reference to any criticism of the project.

          Would it be asking too much to inquire about the cost to us peons and commoners? Or should we just be quiet back here in the back seat?

      • The doggie toilet is Winslow Park. And you guys know Joseloff owns commercial property downtown, right?

        My money is on the redevelopment of Saugatuck. If you look at the vibrant downtown areas in neighboring towns they are all in transportation hubs/near train stations. Downtown Westport has the fatal flaw of Route 1 running through the heart of it. Sad but true it is basically a strip mall. Saugatuck has the most potential to become the “old downtown Westport” that never really existed. And no I am not a developer nor do I have any interest in the success or failure of any of these areas.

  5. As a former Wesporter, now living in West Hartford for the past 23 years, our town center has seen a lot of changes. We now have unique shops and restaurants in our center, along with Blue Back Square which has a movie theatre that is always busy, a health center, condo’s and offices. Teens love to congregate in the center, and it is a destination for many people from other towns. We have adequate parking and one always feels safe walking around town. The prices of homes has increased near our center as many people like the connivence of walking there from their homes. The center is made up of more mom and pop stores, as all the big brand stores are 10 minutes away at WestFarms Mall. It is good to see something different in our center and it truly makes West Hartford unique to the area.
    I am sure Westport can capture that old time feel from way back when that I remember as a kid.