Saugatuck Renovation Rolls Along The River

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.

Phase I construction is nearly complete.

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.

Despite the gloomy day, the view from a Saugatuck Center apartment is spectacular. Note the wooden boardwalk along the river, at the bottom of the photo.

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.

An artists' rendering of Saugatuck Center's Phase I.

39 responses to “Saugatuck Renovation Rolls Along The River

  1. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Pete, Sam, and all concerned…. Job so far well done…. Reestablishing Saugatuck and the area as a go to place… Now only if Dave W. And the downtown powers that be… Can get our beloved main street region more vital again….

    • Dream on. The Saugatuck renovation was not organized by the ruling political class. Downtown is another matter. The special interests will flock.

      • The Dude Abides

        You make a good distinction between the two projects, Mickey. This country became great on efforts for equality and opportunity. NOT the almighty profit margin that seem to rule opeations today.

        • This country became great because of the efforts of private individuals who risked their own blood and treasure, not through the efforts of a bloated government manned by the bottom half of the class. The ruling political class seeks profits through rents extorted from the private sector. Seeking those profits distorts resource allocations and diminishes the welfare of the citizens.

          • The Dude Abides

            I suggest you read “Profiles of Courage” which desribes, in part, the role of government in controlling the rogues of business that value profit and shareholders over the plight of their fellow countrymen. Could have used some of that courage in dealing with the recent real estate debacle and subsequent bust.

          • Politicians cheer on the rogues and take their money to get elected. I read “Profiles in Courage” by JFK in 1963. It was too bad that he did not have the courage to write the book himself. It is interesting that he chose to highlight the courage of Taft for opposing the Nuremberg trials. Are you referring to another book? JFK’s book was for the most part about politicians doing the right thing, by his reconing anyway, not the excesses of the private sector. BTW the shareholders are fellow countrymen for the most part. Businessmen are supposed to value profit and the optimal use of scarce resources.

            “…., years later historian Herbert Parmet analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980) that although Kennedy did oversee the production and provided for the direction and message of the book, it was clearly Sorensen who provided most of the work that went into the end product.”

          • If you say so, it must be true.

          • It was a quote; so I didn’t say.LOL

          • The Dude Abides

            You original statement reeks of elitisim. It would seem that, in your view, the only purpose of government is only to aid the less fortunate at the “public trough.” So who is to blame the home loan applicant who can’t afford the house or the lending instituion that gives him/her the loan or the investment bankers who package the suprime loans and lie to their clients on their “betting” position????

          • Dude, I already told you all about the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 passed by the second worse President and steam-lined by Bill Clinton and Fannie and Freddie…and G.W. Bush too.


            So, don’t act like it’s all Goldman Sachs fault. Granted they, and many other Wall St. firms/banks took advantage and exploited the whole sub-prime market while betting against it with credit default swaps through AIG. That was one hell of a house of cards and everyone knew it, yet did nothing: from Greenspan to Geithner to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.
            Then they actually had the balls to say they had no idea this could or would happen, when every Joe knew that shoe was going to drop.
            Bottom line – Had the government never gotten involved it would not have happened. For decades prior, one had to put down 20%, verify long employment history, have good credit and pay the interest & principle monthly. To make it even worse for those who did play by the rules between 2000 – 06, had to pay much more for their homes based on the great demand (artificial) which drove up prices like never before.
            Given the choice of free markets or government intervention trying to ‘make it fair’ for everyone (which they NEVER do).
            No contest…I’ll take the free markets every time!
            Oh…and the Saugatuck renovation looks great!
            Watch what happens in 10 years when you have Joseloff’s Senior City on Baron’s South and Saugatuck on the River. One is the free markets doing their thing, the other is using tax payer money to create their social engineered community which will always be a burden on the tax payer’s of Westport and cost us much more than anyone anticipated. Remember, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’.

          • Elitists are those who would force others to act as if they believed as the elitist believed. I prefer to let people make their own choices and their own mistakes, and experience the consequences of those choices and mistakes. An elitist would assert that most individuals are incapable of making informed decisions and the people who signed on to those NINJA loans were forced to do so. Maybe they just made a bad decision. An elitist would want to ban Happy Meals because the average consumer, who lacks the intelligence of the elitist, is too dumb to understand the consequences of eating such food, and only does so because he/she has been duped by a large yellow clown.

          • The Dude Abides

            Tired to arguing. I think everyone is tired of hearing us argue. Life is short. Stay thirsty my friends.

          • It’s not ‘arguing’, it’s a robust debate for a healthy and thriving democracy, but I’ll honor your wishes and give you a pass this time my ‘ol nemesis 😉
            By the way, here’s something that you may be interested in (the Dude’s original sweater) –

          • All I hear from the GOPers and Tea Party is government can do no good. Then they get elected and prove it.

  2. betsyphillips

    This is soooo beautiful– WAY TO GO!! for everyone involved!

  3. Shine on, Saugatuck, indeed. Dan’s spot-on in noting how smooth and non-disruptive the build-out has been. Kudos to all the savvy local pros involved — the Gaults, Romano, Lane, et al. Now if we can just bring the old Bridge market into this slipstream of progress…

  4. Matthew Mandell

    The place looks great and Saugatuck is doing just fine. Let’s not equate Saugatuck with Downtown, they are two different animals and what is good for one, is not always good for the other.

  5. The difference between Saugatuck and downtown:

    I have to travel through Saugatuck to get to the train. There’s no reason I have to go downtown. It’s primarily a shopping district for non-residents. The improvements to Saugatuck are eagerly awaited. The massive changes proposed for downtown – not so much.

    • Rather selfish, don’t you think? I would imagine the reasons for the downtown project IS to get you down there.

      • A very active imagination on your part. The reason for the downtown project is to feather nests. Dowtown is the wat it is because of the preferences of the broader community as they are revealed in the marketplace. The new project is merely an effort to dole out benefits to a narrow minority.

        • The downtown area needs to be renovated. It is beginning to look like Darien. While my imagination may be idealistic, you seem to be pessimistic on any endeavor. Under your theory, no good is ever done for the public good.

          • In your view every government project is a public good. The downtown renovation is just another grandiose effort designed to fulfill the vision of a few to the detriment of the many. Why do you suppose dowtown Westport is the way it is? Who will benefit most from the expropriation of public and private resources and what role are they playing in the “renovation?”

          • If Herb Baldwin took your view, we would not have Longshore. I can assure you, he not only did not benefit from the purchase, but took a lot of crap. Your view seems to be that all public endeavors are for the benefit of the few greed-mongers and promulgate that the free market should dictate any change. I am not sure the free market is the anwer to everything. For the record, I don’t think all public projects are for the betterment of all.

          • Parking garages, parking meters and more condos – nothing like progress downtown! I can’t wait to do my part.

          • There is no evidence that any proposed “renovation” of the downtown area would benefit of the general population of Westport. And now that Joseloff has declared that the time for debate is over, we are not likely to have any sustainable arguments with respect to the alleged benefits. At this point it would be fair to conclude that the “renovation” would be of no more benefit to Westport than the $10 million dog toilet. Why should one dime of public monies be spent in pursuit of the interests of a few? Why is one “renovation” to be favored over another? Will Joseloff allow an up and down vote by the citizens of Westport ?

          • Why buy Longshore for 1.9 million in 1960?? You know the rhetoric and I don’t know local politics well enough to argue. You spruce up downtown, which attracts revenue and lowers the tax base. Isn’t that the rationale? It was when Stauffer Chemical came here in the ’70s and a floodgate of businesses followed. Much to the chagrin of many. BTW, a lot of folks here aren’t all that happy with all the old time locals involved with the Saugatuck project either.

          • You tell him Emma!
            The only thing McGee has to argue his point is the 1966 purchase of Longshore…that’s the best he can come up with?!
            So I guess he proves our point about the efficiency of government, when the only success he can claim is over 45 years ago!

          • The Dude Abides

            It was ’60, John. You guys gripe about the government but nothing changes. Once inside the loop, even good guys go through a transformation that is unrecognizable. The example of Longshore, however long ago, is public monies going for the public good. If the free market were to have prevailed, we would have a nice subdivision of MacMansions all over the fairways. I do note that the conservative right makes great waves about personal responsbility and free market but when it comes to abortion or gay marriage, they are in your face intrusive. As noted above, you Tea Partiers and GOPers gripe about how bad governement is and then get elected and prove it.

          • Dude, don’t feed the Raho.

          • Longshore is not a public good. It may be an enjoyable facility, but it is not a public good anymore than a cheeseburger is a public good. Once again, refer to Samuelson’s definition, or that of any economist of similar reputation; if there is rivalry in consumption, it is not a public good. Taking money by force from one individual and giving to another is theft not public works. The proposed “renovation” of downtown should be seen for what it is; a wealth transfer to benefit the few with the wealth being confiscated from the taxpayer. Furthermore, no one can say for sure what would have happened if the town had not bought Longshore.

          • The Dude Abides

            Not sure I follow what “rivalry of consumpton” entails. Samuelson was not a big fan of free markets as you know and of course, no government intervention. If taxes go for a Longshore, a Wakeman Field or Senior Center or Library, I am not sure how they can not be considered a public good? I am with you on Winslow and the YMCA but the downtown area could use a renovation, in my mind, to take advantage of the water. I have issues with a First Selectman who is also a landowner (no necessity to repudiate assets when elected??) but what is the difference if he was not and a contract was given to his brother-in-law?? It is the nature of the beast and unfortunately, abused by greedy politicians. Under your theory, there would be no taxes and we would fend for ourselvses and under such, the less fortunate or less smart would not survive i.e. an aristocratic elite. And that may be the direction where are headed.

          • First of all, Longshore an Baron’s South aren’t even in the same ballpark, they’re not even the same sport.

            Had Longshore been purchased for open space or parkland and then used to house a convalescent home, then you could use it as a comparison, but it wasn’t.

            It was used as the purchase was intended, for the common good of all Westporters to enjoy. In addition to a fine golf course, there are community pools, tennis courts, sailing, a marina, an ice rink in the winter, a nice restaurant with fabulous views, etc. It’s not an old folks home to the benefit of a few. So lets not even pretend the two are of equal argument.

            And for ANON who said, ‘don’t feed the Raho’, yeah, he would rather feed a bloated government gorging on the taxpayer’s carcase.
            To his dismay, those days are ending soon, not because tax and spend pols finally wised up, but because the trough has dried up.

          • There is rivalry in consumption because if it is a golf course it can’t be a polo field, so those who play golf and get to tee it up are preventing those who who do not play golf, and do not tee it up from using the land as they prefer. Moreover, since we can identify who uses the facility, we can charge those who use it to pay for it. There is no need for the taxpayer who does not play golf to subsidize the taxpayer who does. The senior center situation is even more obvious; the building has a finite capacity and the same space cannot be occupied by all who want to use it at the same time. So, if the space is being used for a Thanksgiving dinner that space cannot be used at the same time for any other activity. Once again we can identify who uses the facility, so why should they not pay for it? The fact that a majority of the citizens like or enjoy the use of a facility does not mean that facility is a public good. As to the so called downtown “renovation”, why should taxpayer dollars and resources be used to produce a facility that is not forthcoming from market forces and benefits some not at all? Why should one vision of downtown dominate another? If this were happening on a national scale it would be an obvious pork barrel initiative. If those who benefit directly from this “renovation” can produce it without public resources, then let them risk their own money on the project and their own real estate. It may be no one likes downtown the way it is, but it is foolish to substitute by force the view of one group over another.

          • The Dude Abides

            So therefore, under your premise, the only pure investment that does not entail “rivalry of consumption” comes from the private sector. That makes sense to me. However, under such theory, where are the tax dollars to be spent?? In every conceivable expenditure, there is a conflict of consumption. For sewers v. septic tanks, home schooling v. public education, etc. In effect, you are advocating the abolition of any true tax or public expenditure. And to reiterate, that leaves those without, further without.

            John, we are talking theory here. Your comments on Longshore v. Baron’s South don’t apply. Further, your words on the public trough drying up are well taken. However, you might want to look at the possibility that the government is a reflection of its constituents who can’t seem to spend enough or stay out of debt themselves. If we follow Emma’s logical advocacy of personal responsibility, the government is merely doing what we want it to do for they are merely taking care of themselves.

          • Mr. Abides, you are right on the mark, the spending habits of our government do reflect the spending habits and preferences of the typical citizen. Most want more and they would prefer that others pay for whatever it is they want; the free ice cream model of government. From time-to-time, adherence to the model generates unfortunate consequences as we can see in Greece, and Spain, and Portugal, etc., etc. In the US, the ruling class has convinced the typical voter that no matter what they want, someone else can be found to pay for it; most often OPM to be supplied by those evil rich people. We punish those who manage to earn above average incomes and reward those who cannot; the bottom 47% of the income distribution pay no federal income taxes.

            With rspect to your public policy concerns, you might note that with all of the effort to bring about through force a redistribution of income, the number of poor people reached its highest level on record in 2009. Moreover, even though we embarked on an effort to improve the lot of the “have nots” at the expense of the “haves” the poor are still with us. Maybe we should rethink the robbing Peter to pay Paul approach to public policy. All other things being equal, if you tax incomes you get less income in aggregate, if you tax investment there is less investment. If you raise the price of labor the demand for labor declines. Maybe Ears should think about calling back Summers and recasting his economic policies.

            As you can see from reading Samuelson’s definition of a public good,”renovating” downtown Westport is not a public good, by definition. Longshore is not a public good by definition. You may want to “renovate” downtown at public expense to suit your tastes or play a round of golf at public expense, but that does not make either activity a public good .

          • The Dude Abides

            Maybe we should play a round some day, Emma?? Perhaps to calculate whether a public good can be a private investment???
            I play to an 8 and always Wednesdays. Let me know.

          • A Wednesday after next week would be fine. Just let me know.

          • The Dude Abides

            6/8. Done. Will advise tee time.

  6. There is money to be made in over developing downtown. The downtown real estate owners and the developers will not let this “opportunity” pass. It is very sad that the Democratic P&Z and 1st Selectman are taking a proactive position promoting development and sprawl in Westport. Where is the sensible counter to this – it’s certainly not going to come from the Westport Democrats, as their standard bearer is a downtown property owner himself. And, it’s certainly not going to come from the Westport GOP – because nothing sensible ever comes from them.