Melissa Kane: Downtown Westport Must Be Both “Soulful” And “Economically Vibrant”

You can’t say Melissa Kane doesn’t have roots in Westport.

The newly appointed chair of the Downtown Steering Committee — she takes over from Dewey Loselle, who is now town operations director — spent summers here, beginning when she was less than a year old.

From that summer of ’69 on — when her parents brought her out from Manhattan — she has loved what she calls “my favorite place in the world.” Her downtown memories include Ship’s, the movie theaters (“I saw ‘ET’ there!”), and Bobbie’s Ice Cream (now L’Occitane), where Melissa served homemade scoops as a summer job.

Melissa Kane remembers when Ship's restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Melissa Kane remembers when The Ships restaurant (background) anchored downtown.

Her boyfriend Jonathan nailed his marriage proposal: It was on a Compo Cove sandbar, which he knew she especially loved.

Melissa and Jonathan moved here nearly 12 years ago, 3 weeks after their daughter Lily was born. (She has an older brother, George). She quickly got involved with A Child’s Place, where she met her first group of “incredible people.”

She is one of Westport’s extraordinary volunteers: with the Westport Library trustees, Booked for the Evening and Friends group; Young Women’s League; Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, Westport Arts Center,a nd Green Village Initiative.

Melissa Kane

Melissa Kane

Kane did all that while starting MKK Designs, a floral company that specializes in weddings and special events. throughout Fairfield County. Before moving to Westport, she worked in non-profit development and PR for a variety of social service providers, and others. She also was a food and entertainment columnist.

Her activism in town affairs led to an interest in the RTM. (“I actually liked the meetings!” she laughs.) She was elected to the governing body in 2011. She ran for 2nd selectman last November.

She and running mate Helen Garten lost to Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner, but Marpe was impressed with her focus on community-building, along with her expertise in conservation and sustainability. He appointed her to the Downtown Steering Committee shortly after the election, and named her chair when Loselle took his new post.

So what does all this mean to the future of downtown Westport?

“We have to make sure downtown is a soulful place for everyone who lives here,” Kane says.

To do that, she notes, “we’ve got to leverage the power of every organization in town. We have to include Town Hall, and we have to promote more public/private partnerships.”

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

Melissa Kane wants to involve all stakeholders in deciding the future of downtown Westport.

She promises to continue Loselle’s focus on transparency and inclusion. After what she calls an “unprecedented” effort to reach out to as many constituencies as possible — a survey runs through July 13 — she looks forward to the committee’s next phase.

They held their 2nd “Visioning Workshop” on Monday. Ahead on July 21 at Town Hall: a series of presentations, by consultants, of survey results and workshops. That will be followed by open committee meetings and work sessions. Then comes a multi-day charrette, for even more public involvement.

“We’ll be involving all the stakeholders: residents, town officials, the Downtown Merchants Association, the library, Arts Center, Cinema Initiative, Bedford Square developers — you name it,” she says.

So what is Kane’s vision for downtown?

“As chair, that’s not important,” she says. “But what I am firm about is this. I never want to compromise the soul of Westport. Downtown must represent what’s real and authentic, and wanted by Westporters. But ‘soulful’ goes hand in hand with ‘economically vibrant.’

“Right now, we’re heading along the path toward that.”


One response to “Melissa Kane: Downtown Westport Must Be Both “Soulful” And “Economically Vibrant”

  1. Cheryl McKenna

    This committee is indeed inclusive and very transparent. Both Loselle and Kane are good managers and are open to all residents and interests. I have been at most meetings as observer corp chair for LWV of Westport.
    I encourage anyone with an interest in traffic issues, urban planning or as Millissa says a soulfulness in keeping Westport warm and welcoming please attend these open meetings you will not be bored or disappointed in our local government and volenteers at work !!