Bedford Square: A Downtown Game Changer

Paul Schott of the Westport News called the 60,000-square foot mixed-use complex planned for the site of the current Westport Y “arguably the most far-reaching commercial real estate project planned during the last generation in downtown Westport.”

It isn’t.

There’s no “arguably” about it. This is The Big One. A true downtown game changer.

The proposed Bedford Square plan, looking northwest. The new buildings (shown) would replace the current YMCA Weeks Pavilion, and 35 Church Lane.

The development — announced Tuesday — would keep the original Bedford Y. The old Tudor building at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street has, since 1923, defined downtown.

But the Weeks Pavilion — the hideous 1978 addition that, in part because of its unwieldiness, has driven the Y to Mahackeno — would be torn down.

So would 35 Church Lane, an 1890 Queen Anne-style house. That will arouse a lot more sentiment than the lumpy, leaky Weeks Y.

The block — extending out to Elm Street — will be the site of a new “Bedford Square.” Retail, residential, restaurant and office space would ring a large public plaza. Public walkways will tie the entire area in with adjacent downtown areas.

The 30 residential units include 550-square foot studio apartments, on up to 1,800-square foot 2-bedroom homes.

Also planned: a 100-car underground parking garage.

A view of Church Lane, looking east. The current firehouse portion of the Y is at left; Patagonia is on the right.

Construction could start in the fall of 2014 — assuming (a big “if”) the new Y is ready then, and the lengthy town board review process goes smoothly.

Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months. That would be a chaotic time downtown.

But — judging from the initial rendering — Bedford Square could be a handsome, well-planned, creative and unifying addition to downtown.

Coming as it does while Lou Gagliano’s 2020 Committee is also working to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, the timing seems right.

We’ve seen what the addition of one restaurant (the Spotted Horse) and one retailer (Urban Outfitters) can do to Church Lane. Imagine what an integrated, block-long plan could accomplish.

The Bedford Square plan is definitely — not arguably — “the most far-reaching commercial real estate project planned during the last generation in downtown Westport.”

Let’s hope it works out better than a previous, similarly touted project 60 years ago: Parker Harding Plaza.

Then again, it can’t turn out worse.

Part of the courtyard that would be ringed by new buildings on Church Lane and Elm Street.

55 responses to “Bedford Square: A Downtown Game Changer

  1. I think the design is impressive but, sadly, the Gunn House did not fit into their plan. The developers are willing to work with anyone who is serious about moving the building. NOW is the time for ideas that can save this Victorian by moving it to another piece of property. Hint: the shorter the distance, the more feasible it would be. I don’t have any answers but am encouraging creative, practical and realistic thinkers to get to work.

  2. Any idea what the plan is for the residential portion of this plan? Anything affordable? An artists’ colony would be exciting…

  3. I heard that six or seven of the 30 apartments (likely rental) would be in the “affordable” category. Dan, you didn’t mention the historic firehouse on Church, which is also being preserved. I imagine it will someday be a great space for a restaurant. By the way, the original fire pole is still there, in what is now the Y’s two-level fitness center.

  4. “………….would ring a large public plaza.”

    Sweet!

    Now all of the skateboarders will have somewhere downtown to ride!

  5. I’ll look forward to seeing this next year! I’m so glad the plans include saving the original Y building. Downtown Westport would not be the same without it. This looks like a good step forward for downtown Westport. Just one request, can you all bring back Westlake?

    Can some of us be hopeful about the beautiful Queen Ann next door? That home has been there for anyone alive who remembers growing up in Westport. I remember visiting a woman in that home who repaired dolls and things. She was a great lady who sat in a big chair with some sort of fur collar on, and on a rainy fall night after swimming at the Y, I brought my damaged doll to her for repairs. It was like stepping back in time and the home was beautiful in its way. She was very gracious and I have no idea who she was — it’s like a Twilight Zone memory. So if any old timers remember who this lady was, I would appreciate it. It was a vivid Westport memory for me from the 1960’s.

  6. Does anyone know what the town received in compensation from the YMCA for the old fire headquaters?

  7. I’m excited. I think Bedford Square Associates and Centerbrook Architects have done a fabulous job. And I’m very happy they listened to the public about the height and scale of this project and didn’t try to make it 5 stories. I can’t wait to see this project evolve. It will really give downtown Westport a unique sense of place, and not just an outdoor shopping mall. Bravo to everyone involved!

  8. Matthew Mandell

    There is no doubt that the developers of this project listened to the public discourse over their failed attempt to increase height and density last year. Kudos, it shows that the system of public hearings can work, especially if the public participates and the P&Z is willing to listen to them as well. The project is striking, it offers the mixed use that people have been seeking including affordable housing, but is this “urbanist” vision right for our town, is it right on, or too dense?

    There are people who are going to fall all over themselves to love this project and those who will steadfastly oppose it – after all this IS Westport. Both will be right, change is inevitable, but protection of our history and our character must be taken into account. A decision is going to have to be made by this community through upcoming hearings with the Architectural Review Board, Historic District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and the P&Z as to whether this is good or bad and also does it fit within our regulations.

    While I attended one of the presentations much attention was paid to the how the Bedford building and firehouse will be protected and how they were historic. I had to point out the glaring omission from their presentation that the 120 year old Victorian was just has historic. During their presentation they actually went so far as to down play its value and call it a commercial building. Yes, it was a doctor’s office, but the house doesn’t know that. Now spin is spin and what PR show would come out and say they were razing what many think is an important part of Westport’s history and character, especially how it is situated on that corner property. Another person attending this meeting was less concerned with the historic aspect of the house, but of the property and green space that surrounded it, including what I believe are 3 large maples. Is this open space? It’s private property, but to the eye it certainly is. Replacing it will be a larger building, wide sidewalks and potted plants. Is this a fair trade? I guess the public and commissions will decide.

    So what can be done, can the house be moved? Should it be moved? First off offering it to be moved is a no brainer, good PR, but really no sweat off the developer’s brow. Sure take what I don’t want off my property. Unless there is money to back it, the house won’t move. So I asked, what are you putting up to move it. Eyes widened and tushies moved in chairs. Tough questions have to be asked when the opportunity presents it. “Its too early to discuss something like this….” No, it’s not, after approvals are granted, if they are, it’s too late. And this same question must be asked again and again. This group essentially paid for the Y to move, they should be able to work with the town to help move the historic house – either to the corner of their property and integrate it into their plans or someplace else. The public private partnership that we strive for in these strange economic times has to take on many shapes and this could well be one of them. So as the 2020 committee looks to find a home for the Queen Ann, don’t lose sight of the fact that moving it costs money.

    There are other things to talk about this project, but I think that’s enough to start.

  9. Matthew Mandell

    I don’t answer or debate people unwilling to put their name to a post. When you have the integrity to discuss things name to name, face to face, I will answer you.

    • An ad hominem attack. Now I understand.

    • I agree with Matt. Names would be helpful to have meaningful discussion…otherwise it is just a word game.

      • If names matter, then the arguments are not rigorous. Matt chose to not answer a simple question.

        • Matthew Mandell

          I never shy away from a discussion or answering questions. Any chicken can scratch at the ground. Name rank and serial number please.

          • Still no answer to the question; and you expect to be taken seriously.

          • this is a fake name

            You can debate the tired cast of biddies on WN if you insist on “name, rank and serial number.” Since you came to play on 06880, play the game as it exists, not how you want it to be. Not replying to silly comments that bring nothing to the table is one thing, criticizing the nature of the forum because you are displeased by the heat is weak.

            • this is a fake name

              …forgot to say, thank you for your original post. Saving the house is very much a worthy endeavor. Is it part of a Historic District? If so, what does that actually mean with regards to the approval process?

              • Matthew Mandell

                No problem offering information to an unknown… The HDC gets to hear demolition permits and can hold it up for 180 days. But beyond that their power is actually limited unless the house is on some form of protective register which I am not sure this house is. The zone that the victorian is in, is NOT the historic zone, while the Bedford building and Firehouse are. Thus the issue at hand. The developers could destroy the house at will after 180 days or they could help to move it either onsite and integrate or off site. As I said, just offering to move it is not a real committment to help save it. Offering funds for moving is. And that’s the miss on other posts, I am not asking the community to fund the move, I believe the development team as part their plan for downtown should.

                • Westport Convert

                  Who should fund it if the development team DECLINES your proposed idea?

                  • Matthew Mandell

                    Maybe the development should not go forward unless they do. The question is who is to decide how our town changes, developers or the community? Working together with a common goal would seem to be the best outcome.

                    • Westport Convert

                      If there is a group or there are individuals in town who wish to pay for the move and preservation, then they should. Good for them. I have nothing against that. Just leave the taxpayers money out of it.

                      WC

  10. Looks like a lot of space being added. Maybe enough for the “Y” to stay?
    ha ha ha

  11. How about some grass and trees instead of wall to wall concrete and a few potted plants.

    • How about a nice water feature as well like a fountain or waterfall wall?

      All of that concrete and pavers is kind of icky!

  12. I want to know how much money Matthew Mandell plans to raise and/or give to move that house. Names should have no impact on answering that very simple question.

  13. Hysterical Society

    Maybe the Town should move the house to Compo Mill Cove. It could replace the historic restaurant and the historic barn that Town Hall, as the owner, declined to preserve.

    • David J. Loffredo

      No kidding, what a joke that mess they’ve created is…..I’m sure the structure was blocking someone’s view.

  14. How about a roller coaster for the kids? This is a mall.

  15. Friday afternoon fun as usual on “06880”. Dan, you can sure pick the topics that stir up the named and unnamed Westport loving/hating masses.

  16. All we will need next is Stepford Wives to go along with the mall. Or maybe Westport already has them?

  17. David J Loffredo

    Put it on rollers and move it down Church Lane to Myrtle to Post Road and incorporate it into the new Barons South project.

  18. It’s another ugly, outdoor MALL !! Such creative use of land.

  19. Ugh!
    Don’t like it at all.

  20. Hee hee more fun than a barrel of monkeys…and that’s fun. I like the “put it on rollers and move to baron’s south” best

  21. I fell into 06880 during a Google accident and am delighted that I did. I loathe my house in Stratford and would love to entomb myself in affordable housing in Westport. How much is affordable?

  22. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be anonymous. I’m way behind on my Internetting

  23. Dan, I have not followed this project closely, since I’m just a former Westporter (Staples ’75), not living in the town now.

    But I’m excited about the plan as your have reported it here and the graphics you have chosen as illustrations. (I’m aware of the Y’s plan for relocation to Mahackeno, but I was less aware of the development specifics of the Bedford property.)

    Two more reactions:
    — The plan reminds me of the developments I admired while traveling this past summer through Saratoga Springs, N.Y. That’s the town about 30 miles north of Albany that’s home to Skidmore College. The town of 25,000 people had a sort of Westport feel to it. I remember admiring the mass and design of the impressive amount of new construction as well as how it respected the original main street. I thought that that small city was an excellent example of how Westport could look with developments like this downtown. Very attractive. We used to be afraid of being White Plains, N.Y. Now I had seen what we wanted to be: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
    — On the subject of affordable housing, the prior comments by Steve Smith make me wonder if federal housing tax credits allocated by the state are being used to finance this development in part. The ratio of “affordable” units to “market-rate” units looks like a tax credit project on first blush. Nothing wrong with that. Housing tax credits have financed some of the most exciting mixed-use developments in the nation and created housing for middle- and low-income Americans to boot. I raise the question mainly because if there are tax credits involved, the application by the developer to the Connecticut housing finance agency should be full of interesting details about the development and revealing them would remove some of the mystery some people might be feeling. (Disclosure: I worked five years back in the 1990s for the housing finance agency in Indiana.)

    Thanks for an always great blog. Loved the Sonny Fox memories on your blogging flip side over at blog.ctnews.com/woog/.

    — DTD
    Arlington, Massachusetts

  24. This a mall.

    Where is the enviroenmental impact statement?

  25. Westport is a town full of “progressives” who want nothing to change.