It sounds like an oxymoron: “Downtown Activist.”
For years, property owners sat idly by as Main Street morphed into Mall Street, local shoppers fled to more friendly and/or funky places like Fairfield, and the movie/bar/entertainment scene ossified.
Chain stores were happy to be here. Rents rose. There was not a lot of activity — but no reason for landlords to take an active role in anything downtown-related.
Drew Friedman is trying to change all that.
A major downtown property owner himself, he’s organized a group. Its mission:
To formulate, propose and help implement an action plan to improve Downtown Westport as a vital community center for culture, art, entertainment, government, business, social activity, riverfront enjoyment and ambience.
Its name: Downtown Activist.
What it doesn’t have is a lot of activity.
The idea of the group — reinforced through the magazine — is to
- Solicit ideas (via questionnaires, and input from “downtown stake holders, interested parties, professionals and Activist Group members”)
- Organize members into committees to “explore and evaluate the proposals recommended for downtown improvements”
- “Translate committee recommendations into renderings, videos, interviews and other presentations to facilitate communicating the suggestions”
- And stuff like that.
The magazine — it says $1 on the cover, but they’re really free, at Town Hall, Oscar’s, the alley leading to Bobby Q’s, the library and train station — is packed with information.
There’s a story on the history of parking in downtown Westport that includes a fascinating, little-known and very esoteric discussion of the Baldwin Lot (behind Williams Sonoma).
There’s a piece on beautification.
And there are photos of possible sites for more parking. (Parking is a constant theme in the Downtown Activist magazine). Suggested sites include the police station lot, Jesup Green (yes, the green itself), and the Baldwin lot (which seems pretty full already).
Drew was hoping for a lot of feedback. So far, he’s disappointed.
“Most people don’t seem to have much interest,” he sighs. “That’s been my experience over the last 40 years, trying to get people interested in zoning matters.”
One big name has sent in his $25 membership fee, and said he looks forward to participating.
Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Ron Corwin told Drew he’s eager to hear the questionnaire results.
Otherwise, the silence is deafening.
Drew keeps plugging along. Recently, he sent a 2-page information sheet to every downtown property owner. (Mailing 150 or so magazines was too expensive, Drew says.)
He got a few responses — though not as much as he hoped.
“I don’t know,” Drew says. “They’re the largest stakeholders in downtown.”
They own property. They make their money there.
But unlike Drew Friedman, they’re sure not downtown activists.