A crane towers over Main Street. The old Tudor YMCA is being gutted. Concrete is poured near Church Lane and Elm Street.
But even as Westporters await the completion of Bedford Square — David Waldman’s project that will redefine downtown — he’s moving forward on his next project.
Waldman is a partner in the development group that owns the former Save the Children site across the river. Right now, a 60,000-square foot building blocks views from Wilton Road. A few yards away, the brutal Post Road/Riverside Avenue intersection makes that west bank neighborhood a don’t-go-there-unless-you-have-to afterthought to downtown shoppers.
Waldman wants to change all that. He hopes to build an office building and 18 high-end condos on the 2.6-acre site.
He’ll extend the boardwalk from National Hall and Bartaco all the way to the end of his property. He’ll help the town and other interested parties build a pedestrian bridge, linking his development with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island.
Most importantly, he’ll move the charming, old (and very much in-the-way) needle shop house from 1 Wilton Road, to his new project. That will allow construction of a left-turn lane onto the Post Road, easing congestion at one of the worst intersections in the state.
Plans have not been presented formally. But discussions are beginning with important town bodies, like the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Waldman is very familiar with the property, and the land around it. Compass Commons — across the street from Save the Children — was developed by his father in 1982.
Though Waldman knows the Save the Children site is in a flood zone — and is well aware of the traffic woes — he’s excited by its potential. It’s one of the last remaining developable sites downtown. The native Westporter thrives on challenges like these.
He and his partners worked for over a year on the concept. It includes residential units, because they’re called for in the downtown plan. Waldman knows there are many empty nesters in Westport looking to downsize, but stay here. Nationwide, older homeowners are relocating closer to downtown areas.
“I tried to hit all the buttons: what the town wants, how to incorporate visual access to the river, and get parking off the river,” Waldman says.
He notes that Save the Children at one point had 250 employees, but only 180 parking spaces. His plan will help add parking for restaurants like Bartaco and Vespa. Eight spots will be available for public access to the water.
His new buildings will be FEMA compliant. (Save the Children is not.)
Waldman is particularly excited by the opportunity to redesign the brutal Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection.
He has an option on the house that right now huddles underneath the Wright Street building. He hopes to give that land to the town.
The development’s architect — Roger Ferris + Partners — is coincidentally headquartered at 11 Wilton Road. They’d accommodate the redesign, ceding room for the new lane (and a nice pocket park.)
It won’t be easy — or cheap. Waldman estimates the cost of moving the house at $2.5 million. But he relocated Kemper Gunn from Bedford Square across Elm Street. He understands the value of both preservation and change.
He’d need a text amendment to increase the allowable height of his residential building to 48 feet. That would allow underground parking. According to Waldman, it would still be lower than the top of National Hall.
In the early 1990s, the Tauck family breathed new life into that old building. A century earlier, National Hall was one of Westport’s central meeting places. After Fairfield Furniture’s long run, it stood abandoned and in danger of collapse. Today it’s beautiful, and functional.
The old Vigilant Firehouse is now home to Neat. Bartaco recently infused more new energy into that area.
David Waldman stands poised to do the same. With Save the Children gone, it’s time to Save the West Bank of the Saugatuck.