A century ago, the Gault family used the Saugatuck River to build a business. They’re still here, still thriving — and still intimately involved in the community.
The Gaults’ latest project is a renovation of the very waterfront that helped them prosper from the 1920s on. The company — founded in 1863 on the Post Road — moved to the river nearly 100 years ago.
Soon — perhaps as early as today — residents, merchants and companies begin moving into Saugatuck Center, the new apartment/retail/office complex rising on the banks of the river.
After a long approval process, construction has moved quickly. Phase I is nearly complete.
The Saugatuck renaissance is underway.
Gone are the hulking oil tanks that for decades defined Gault — and provided plenty of local jobs. In their place are stores, office buildings, housing, a broad plaza, a 20-slip marina, a boardwalk — and river access that we never really noticed we lacked.
Hedge fund and financial firms move in this week. A kayak shop — with launch space — opens soon. There’ll be an artisan butcher shop, and an offshoot of a beloved local restaurant.
Living above it all will be 6 renters. The apartments — the first built in Westport in years — range from approximately 1,100 to 2,500 square feet. The most expensive — with killer river views — are $5,500 a month. One is reserved for affordable housing, at $1,100.
All were snapped up quickly, by both young and old. One tenant is a prominent town official.
A 39-car garage underneath the 2-building structure will alleviate parking concerns.
Pete Romano — whose Land-Tech Consultants served as civil engineers and site planners — is very excited.
“As soon as people move in, the character of the place will come to life,” the Saugatuck native says.
Romano points to existing restaurants — Mansion Clam House, Viva’s, Rizzuto’s, Black Duck, Mario’s and more, plus Mario Batali’s new Tarry Lodge — along with the relatively recent addition of the Saugatuck Rowing Club. All have primed the area for what’s about to come.
“People can grab dinner, go somewhere else for dessert, walk along the river or hang out in the plaza,” Romano says. He envisions music, street life — exactly what’s been missing in Westport generally for years, in Saugatuck particularly ever since I-95 sliced the heart out of that Italian community.
Phase II soon begins across the street. Ketchum Street will be de-humped; Doc’s Cafe and nearby buildings (including the former Sons of Italy Hall) will make way for 21 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments (including 4 “affordable” units), plus more shops, stores and offices.
New businesses could include a bakery, an organic coffee roaster, and a homemade ice cream place.
The Gaults — including Bill, Sam and in-law Jim Donaher — and Romano are not the only generations-old Westporters revitalizing Saugatuck with this ambitious project.
Tony Palmer is building a riverfront rain garden — the largest in Westport — that will improve the quality of runoff before it enters the Sound. There are no pipes or catch basins — it’s all soft drainage.
Bruce Beinfield was the original architect. Phil Cerrone — the construction architect — dealt with challenges like 100-year floods, and making sure the residential/retail/office mix worked.
Peter Lane is the real estate broker. Scott Walker is site contractor. And Vin Penna takes care of utilities.
Gus Pappajohn — from nearby Norwalk — is Saugatuck Center’s general contractor.
After the initial permitting process — and the demolition of DeRosa’s and Riverside Barbers — the redevelopment of Saugatuck has proceeded quietly. For such a large and important project, there’s been minimal disruption of traffic, and not much noise.
The first phase of construction is now over. Fences and pylons give way to moving vans, then house-warming parties and “Open For Business!” signs.
The timing is right. The economy looks ready to rebound. Around Westport, the talk is of the future. And summer — prime time for outdoor dining, river strolling and kayaking — is right around the corner.
Saugatuck, get ready to shine.