About That Downtown Movie Theater…

The weather this week has suddenly turned cool.  But tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting could presage hot times to come.

“Hot” as in “turning Westport into a hot spot.”

Or “hot” as in “people are outraged.”

This evening at Town Hall (7 p.m.), the P&Z considers “text amendment 637.”  The bureaucratic-sounding term is a proposal for a “Theater Overlay Zone.”

That‘s policy-talk for a new zoning concept.  It would remove setback and height restrictions, permitting buildings up to 6 stories in downtown Westport.

It would also increase the square footage of certain commercial buildings, from the current 10,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet.

Any new theater downtown will not look like the old Fine Arts (now Restoration Hardware).

A driving force behind the proposal is the desire for a movie theater downtown. The amendment would not require additional parking if the theater is located within 500 feet of a municipal parking lot with at least 3 spaces.  Parker Harding Plaza, the Baldwin lot (behind Williams-Sonoma) and the Imperial Avenue lot all qualify.

The text amendment pleases Westporters who say a movie theater would revitalize downtown.

It displeases Westporters — including some circulating a petition against it — who say a 6-story building would destroy that same downtown.

So far, the text amendment/zoning issue has not gotten much press.

After tonight — no matter what the weather outside — Westport’s political temperature will rise.

47 responses to “About That Downtown Movie Theater…

  1. I sure wish we had a movie theatre downtown. And a used bookstore. And a restaurant that served my favorite dishes. Just like the old days. But the economics are not there. So, my dreams are exactly that: dreams. Unless a nonprofit decides to purchase an aging movie theatre (like in Fairfield) or a university decides to purchase a defunct bookstore (also like in Fairfield), or there’s a total collapse in the value of the space on Main Street, or there’s no more Netflix or Amazon, we shouldn’t expect a movie theatre or a bookstore to open/thrive.

  2. I support a movie theatre BUT a P& Z text amendment (change in the P&Z rules) ….to make 6 story building permissible in downtown…..to allow some buildings to go from 10,000 square feet to 50,0000 square feet is NOT what we need. If you look at towns that could be local references for us who have SUCCESSFULLY either revitalized downtown or kept it lively and active in the daytime AND in the evenings (New Canaan, Darien, Fairfield) they all have SMALLER movie theaters. NOT multiplexes. They have outdoor dining, places to stroll, local cinemas, shops, (local and national). We can add to that a beautiful river and a marvelous library! We are a creative bunch here….when I admire Fairfield, New Canaan, Darien for their active downtowns (by that I mean, shopping, walking, dining, entertainment with a LOCAL movie theatre) I think to myself, how can we get this? It seems simple but it doesn’t include big box anything, in height or square footage. I expect the movie theatre business is such that multiplexes are the way to make money but these other towns do it with 1 or 2 screen theaters. We need to understand that model. WHY does a downtown movie theatre come with this text amendment? Other towns do it. Come on Westport! We have a treasure right there, lets not squander it and lets FULLY understand the driving forces behind the text amendment.

    • Nicer summary

    • The Dude Abides

      Are you serious with Darien?? There is nothing in downtown but an Exxon station, an old musty theatre and a diner that closes at 7:00 p.m. Darien does not want visitors. They have made that perfectly clear.

      • Richard Lawrence Stein

        Actually Dude I do time in our overtly waspy friends of the south, where the brunette is an oddity, and they now have several places to eat and are bordering on a nightlife. that is more than watching metro north Or some drunks try to avoid the police

        • The Dude Abides

          One restaurant just went out after 6 months. And what is playing at that old theatre? Gentleman’s Agreement? Crusty snobs in the land of Dar-e-air.

          • NO

          • Sorry Dude, have to go with Rich on this one. Darien’s zeitgiest is no winner for me and I agree, it can be a one-scene town over there but their downtown is more lively than ours once the stores close down in both places. There’s more action. Someone just built some fairly attractive new buildings to house some of these new gathering spots. FYI currently playing at the Darien Playhouse: The Help, Crazy Stupid Love and Winnie the Pooh!

        • The Dude Abides

          Okay, I stand corrected. I was married into a Tokeneke tempestous toney tribe. Salt in the wounds. Crappy beaches though.

  3. Fuck this. Nothing else to say. Let us build bigger/taller movies – we’ll give you a crappy, unneeded multiplex. let us build a parking garage – we’ll open access to the river… someday. Give us a nursing home on Barron’s South – we’ll give you room for 3 of our seniors…someday, maybe.

    What a crock. BTW – has anyone ever scene Joseloff disclaim his conflicts as a downtown real estate owner when blog posts on this subject appear in Westport Now. I haven’t – I guess he skipped that journalism class.

  4. Movie theater fan that is 2 stories, MAX.

    I am all for a movie theater. NO WAY am I in favor of a multiplex- that would change the entire feeling of the downtown area and open the door for other 6 story buildings. Those who are behind this idea and change of Zoning should consider moving to White Plains, which has been ruined by that.

  5. A movie theater represenst an outdated economic model. Bricks and mortar theaters are a quaint vestige of the 20th century, as are bricks and mortar libraries, schools, and stores. So why focus on an unlikely outcome? Changing dowtown in the manner suggested will have unintended consequences some of which may be unfortunate.

  6. JPT is absolutely right. Fixating on a movie theater is absurd in this day and age. To revitalize downtown at night, focus on those things that you still must leave your house to enjoy. In other words, good food, friendly bars, and live entertainment.

  7. Ditto everything said previously without the 4-letter words – although they are appealing to use in this situation. Come to the meeting tonight.

  8. One more thing – it you want to see what a 6 story building might look like – drive by the housing development on Post Road just over the Norwalk border opposite side from Panera. And that one might only be 5 stories!!!

  9. A movie theater would be great, and Westport can certainly use one.

    However, the amendment allowing a 60 foot high building, up to 50,000 square feet is a travesty. It would benefit no one but the developers, at the expense of the charm and character of Westport.

    Do we want Westport to lok like Norwalk, or worse yet, Stamford?

  10. Dan – you said “a driving force behind this proposal is a desire for a movie theater downtown.”

    Actually, the driving force behind THIS text amendment is the particular desires of the devloper as found in his plans, which are attended to quite nicely in this text amendment, under the guise of the laudable “bringing a movie theater downtown.”

    While I cerainly appreciate the energy and Westport focus of the developer, I think the P&Z’s function is to engage in planning and zoning activities that are comprehensive and with some degree of planning (rather than piecemeal), sensitive to the character of downtown (rather than destructive, 60′ building heights and indoor mini-malls being prime examples), and further to the town’s best interests (rather than one particular group – downtown property owners, or one developers wish list).

    And don’t let anyone tell you that the only way we’ll get a movie theater back downtown is to permit the 6 story, 50,000 sq ft indoor mall project found in text amendment 637. Of course, the chair of the P&Z might say “people gave us money to get this done” – but I don’t think the people of Westport want THIS done.

  11. Who needs to go to a movie theater when you can be totally entertained by reading this sort of stuff? We have the Bow Tie and Garden Cinemas right next door in Norwalk. Aside from that, we have the Westport Country Playhouse, school theater, sporting events and concerts and countless other openings, non-profit events, talks at the Westport Public Library and shows to fill our evenings along with meetings such as the one tonight! And then there is a large population of people who are perfectly content sitting at home with a bowl of their own popcorn watching movies in their pajamas (whether it’s simply on the family room couch or in a leather-chaired home theater). Time to move on to more important things.

  12. Pls come to the meeting tonight- email comments are great and reflect what we really think, but the P & Z is unlikely to be persuaded unless they see bodies in those seats. Even if you do not want to speak, please show up. Your impact will be felt. 7 PM 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, See my piece at lisawexler.com on the home page. Listen up today 4-6 PM 1350 & 1400 live to the radio show to learn more. ANd if you want to hear Jim Ezzes, Bob Zappi, Connie Greenfield and me go at it, hear this: http://bit.ly/rswSjS
    Dan, would love to know what you think of that audio too.

  13. Why doesn’t Westport Cinema Initiative hook up with Westport Country Playhouse and host a movie event or 2. Maybe they have? How about some more? I am not talking first-run cinema shows. WCP has done an amazing job revitalizing itself and using many different events to make its building useful. Lets think multi-purpose here. How about Seabury Center? As I said above, we are a creative lot! Lets think outside of the box (big box!). Our choices are NOT just between the old Main Street of yore and 6-story high 50,000 square foot buildings in downtown. There is a modern version….come on Westport! Come on P & Z! We need useful regs that can keep our character and be smart business props too. Best practices! We see it all around us (once more, Darien, New Canaan, Fairfield). Please do not propose text amendments that service one idea or one developer. Please do not trade “this ” for “that”. In July my family went for dinner in Fairfield. Cute cafe. Had a fun evening. We talked about how lively and interesting Fairfield had become. Afterwards, we went to Top This, downtown Westport. Strolling along (just the 3 of us, only ones around it seemed) past Tiffany’s, towards Dovecote, I glanced down Main Street and my heart sank. One car parked in front of Claire’s….under a lonely streetlamp. Not a soul. Just us. Where’s the tumbleweed I thought…..I do NOT think the answer is in P & Z text amendments for 6 story high buildings or 50,000 square foot situations…BUT I am heartened by what’s happening on Church Lane. It looks interesting. I hear the old DeRosa’s Firehouse Pizza (lately Poggenpohl) may be a Bar Taco one of these days? Lets patronize “pioneers” (not for profits or for profits, new or old) who are doing it right for downtown.

  14. The Dude Abides

    If a theatre is to be like Darien or Fairfield where they show reruns of “Psycho” or “Casablanca,” forget about it. I will run up to Bow Tie in Trumbull. Build me a multi-plex with some stadium seating off Imperial next to the Ladies Club and I am there. Jeff (above) reminisces about the ole days: well, then we had a bowling alley, hockey rink, driving range, movie theatre and a dynamic YMCA. But the concept here seems to be taller buildings with the same Woodstock (VT) feel of serene walkways with Mom/Pop stores. Been there and done that. If you are going to change, you have to change the model. Not necessarily bigger but better. Westport used to be a cool place but now it is just some kind of wannabe.

  15. Bring on the movie theater! It should go where it used to be across from across from the library. We need this town to get revitalized! This is Westport, not Southbury! (also fighting a movie theater being built because they don’t want people from other towns coming there)

    • Darien has been keeping people out for 50 years. Dump downtown & crappy beaches. They like it. They don’t want no New Yorkers invading their turf. Do you blame them?

  16. Across from the library? It used to be across from the YMCA. Let’s be honest here, we are talking about attracting the 15-35 year olds with a movie theatre. They are the ones who spend the money. And they ain’t gonna go to some old relic of a theatre or a chopped up claustophobic bunch of closets like the last theatre here. You gotta have a big sucker with plenty of options for this younger crowd. You got to wow them.

  17. How about building one in Saugatuck?

  18. A bunch of bars, movie mult-plex, hip restaurants down by the R&R station. Block off the streets. Let the drunks go wild. Party hardy every weekend. Meanwhile, back at the old folks home in downtown, one can have handicapped access to every store. Maybe even moving escalators down by the river for the aged. A rebirth of the Remarkable Book store with books in big print only. Maybe Acorns Pharmacy will return where you can get a cherry coke? Private showings of “Gentleman’s Agreement” shown in the converted Post Office? Fun for the young. Uh . . . something for the old? Possibly a denture/eye glass store open 24/7 to replace the Y?

  19. Carl Addison Swanson

    Aren’t we looking into the developers mindset in this discussion? How does it behoove any of the general public of Westport to totally transform downtown? I would bet that mostly visitors now go there to shop at Corporate stores. A local can get anything anywhere on the Post Road uptown without the hassle of parking, etc. They told Billy Mitchell that he was crazy when he moved up by MacDonalds. He is crying all the way to the bank now. Downtown is slowly dying from its own greed. Let the free market determine its fate without the aid of P&Z and perhaps some tax dollars.

  20. Dick Lowenstein

    “Jeff” kicked off these comments by suggesting a used book store downtown.

    A used book store in downtown Westport? We have had a small one for many years at the Westport Library, where new and used books are offered at bargain prices on the lower and main levels. Kind of like our summer sale, but open every day that the Library is open. Do many people know about it? What would it take to draw more people to the Library “book store” and, thus, to downtown? Reply to my Comment or, better yet, send me an email (bankside@juno.com)

    Dick Lowenstein, Library Book Sale Committee

  21. I sure hope all those “we want a movie theater” folks, including our representative to the state legislature, realize that they’re being played and we’re all being hustled. The reason there is no movie theater in Westport has nothing to do with the current zoning regulations. For some surprising reason though, the P&Z feels it necessary to re-write the zoning laws now to favor a select few property owners and developers – none of whom has any intention of building a movie theater in Westport.

  22. Played and Hustled. Anyone shocked?

  23. I couldn’t make the meeting last night, but sounds like most people, including the Westport Cinema Initiative and David Waldman asked that the P&Z wait until there was a specific proposal before tackling the specific zoning. Sounds sensible. There is no need to mire a cinema project, which most everyone in town would support, into a polarizing debacle. Hopefully Chairman Corwin will take this to heart. And I hope he will not try to carry out his goal of approving a P&Z-drafted amendment to create a multi-story parking garage zone downtown before the November election. This activist P&Z has been getting way ahead of what people want and need.

    • Well said, Mr. McCarthy.

    • John – That is a sensible approach, although withdrawing the text amendment and taking up Mr. Waldman’s proposal as a site plan review matter was not actually articulated very clearly last night. It will therefor come as no suprise that Chairman Corwin has no intention of withdrawing the TOZ text amendment, in fact the following P&Z meeting on this text amendment has been scheduled and noticed for next Thursday.

  24. My grandmother was right when she said years ago…”This town isn’t happy unless they are fighting over something!” This sounds like it could be a new Y/ Mahakeno controversy!

    • Brought to you by the same cast of characters.

      • The Dude Abides

        They fought over Longshore, this is just the latest installment of the continuing saga. Better than apathy which runs amuck many places.

        • Dude – precisely. Residents of every town has differing opinions on local issues, Westporters simply tend to give voice to their views. Rather than just mutter about how things are being run.