David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

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.

Plans for the new west bank project show ... (Click on or hover to enlarge)

Plans for the new west bank project show the new office building and residential condos, extended boardwalk, pedestrian bridge, dedicated left-turn lane and more. (Click on or hover to enlarge)

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.

The former Save the Children's Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

The former Save the Children’s Wilton Road headquarters. The 60,000-square foot building now stands empty.

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.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

Right now, this cute building at 1 Wilton Road inhibits traffic turning in 2 directions, or going straight.

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.

An artist's rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (right-center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left; Bartaco is in the middle.

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.

14 responses to “David Waldman’s Save The Children Project Takes Shape

  1. gerald f. romano, jr.

    David Waldman is a person of great knowledge, vision and is a true asset to the town of Westport
    sincerely,
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr

  2. This is great, David continues realizing the vision he had for that area of WSPT as far as back as when his idea to tie the 2 sides of the river together was a restored trolley, Fantastic. With a few Westporters also now living back in NYC we were talking about that trolley, David is definitely vested in Westport for the longhaul, always has been and will be 🙂

  3. Don’t want to rain on this lovefest parade for a real estate developer (is this WESTPORT?), but why tie an improvement in a state & Federal highway intersection to the approval of a commercial real estate development? Seems a bad precedent to me. The highway authorities should do it, and if necessary, use their power of eminent domain to remove or relocate the “historic” structure, regardless of whether the development is approved. Burying a necessary infrastructure project within a real estate development doesn’t make sense.

    • Except that that’s exactly what they did to the YMCA. The Y spent millions of dollars to clean up the mess of the exit 41 entrance, including the removal of tons of nasty toxic junk that the State had been dumping there for years.

      • Are you sure? First I’ve heard of this. Sounds odd for a nonprofit to pay for cleanup of state’s toxic waste. In terms of exit 41, the road work was to provide for access to the Y, not improve the interchange otherwise, right?

        • I’m certain but I can’t tell you how. Ask members of the Board, or anyone on the Building Committee. The Y is out somewhere between $1M-$2M for expenses that had nothing to do with their project and were a direct result of State neglect.

    • David A. Waldman

      The proposal is not tied to the intersection it is part of a public benefit package incorporated to help facilitate many of the items identified in the recent Downtown Plan and prior PCOD.. Our proposal provides the town with the opportunity to improve the intersection by moving and preserving the historic structure on #1 Wilton Road and thereby giving them the ability to construct the much needed dedicated left hand turn lane. While this wont make the intersection a A, it will greatly improve it from its current F/D status. In the end, our proposed development is a LESS intense use then the prior occupant and provides “shared” parking from our uses being proposed. This in turn will allow provide overflow parking (nights and weekends of over 90 spaces) for the adjacent d National Hall development. (Vespa, Neat and Bar Taco). The “burying” you refer to is actually not buried, it is put out in front as a means of providing the town the opportunity to improve the infrastructure of the downtown.

  4. As one of the District 3 reps for Westport’s RTM, I have been following this project since David Waldman first bought the Save the Children building. He definitely has a vested interest in Westport over the long haul, has a strong vision for our town, and works to involve the Town’s residents and officials in his plans. In fact, he met with several government officials many months ago to brief us on the plan. He has been an honest actor in the past and has done a marvelous job with the Kemper-Gunn house thus far. However, he is still a businessman who is developing a potentially large residential complex in an area already replete with traffic and parking congestion, and in a school district where the elementary and high school are already at capacity and the middle school is close to capacity. Yes, if the units are occupied soley by retirees the schools won’t be affected, but without specific building plans geared toward retirees, that is extremely unlikely. The complex needs to truly be built and outfitted with retirees in mind, not families with children. Also, right now the intersection at Rt. 33 and Post Rd. receives a failing grade from the state. And traffic on Rt. 33 is abysmal and has only gotten worse in the 17 tears I’ve been driving up and down the road from my home near the old Three Bears Restaurant. (Yes, I’m a real Westporter according to Dan!) If David’s complex is built but the Rt. 33/Post Rd. intersection isn’t widened, the resulting traffic and congestion could be significant. If David succeeds in buying and moving the old Needlepoint House at the Rt. 33/Post Rd. intersection and successfully works with the state to open the area and add a right or left-hand turn lane so more than 1 car can turn left at a time, that would truly be amazing. Of course, this requires a tremendous amount of work with the state, especially after they recently spent a lot of money redoing that intersection (though with very modest results). Equally amazing and wonderful for the Town would be connecting his development by pedestrian bridge with Parker Harding Plaza or Gorham Island. This would be a boon to downtown without a doubt! Again though, this project would require tremendous coordination and work between multiple local and state agencies along with Waldman’s work and patience and is far from a sure thing. What I am saying is that David Waldman is asking a lot of the Town in approving his Save the Children building complex. At the same time, he is offering the Town a lot. However, we all need to realize the pros and cons of the project and work hard to make this something that really works for the Town because the project without the Rt. 33/Post Rd. enhancement is very problematic and a building complex that adds more children to the district’s schools instead of retirees to the Town is also problematic .

  5. Also, regarding parking, it seems a bad idea to continue the current pattern of parking structures captive to one building (like the large and aggressively designed multi-story lot opposite National Hall), while the rest of the retail/restaurant patrons are left to hunt around for the few spaces available to them — clogging traffic and encouraging customers to shop elsewhere. A municipal lot open to the public would be a much better solution.

    • agreed!!!!

    • David A. Waldman

      On the contrary Peter, we are only placing a small portion of our proposed parking slightly below grade. This would be below the proposed residential building shown on the demonstration plan. The rest of the development we are able to park at grade. Additionally, as I mentioned above, the mix of uses we are proposing allows for a “shared” parking arrangement (use of office spaces on weekends and off hours (nights). Since it will all be at grade and is adjacent to the national hall project, this will be a great benefit to the already successful area (and of course make it easier to park). Another benefit is that by relocating the historic home and combining the national hall lot with the proposed Save the Children lot is we can remove 3 curb cuts onto Wilton Road. That, along with the turning lane, proper cueing space and a less intense proposed use, will improve traffic, pedestrian flow and promote a desire to come to westport. To shop, eat, read, see a show, sit and stare at the river, get your nails done and so much more.

      In the end the improvements our proposed development is enabling the Town to provide have a far greater benefit to the entire town then to our proposed development. These are “moment in time” “once in a life time” opportunites which will have long term, positive effects on our already very successful town.

  6. Michael Calise

    an “improved” intersection is just that. The traffic still ends up on a narrow bridge and a narrow Riverside Avenue. The only road that has capacity is up the hill and out of town. Our problems start with traffic generation and fully blossom in our inadequate road network

  7. I have nothing against the development – the area is commercial already, and the condos add a little more diversity beyond the stockbroker and hedge fund offices that dominate the district. But I still do not see how parking and traffic will be appreciably improved. First, will there be protected left turn lane on northbound 33 and US1? Seems that the whole intersection needs to be fixed, not just 1/2 of it.

    Also, I still disagree the tenants’ only parking that is available to the public on nights and weekends is a real public convenience. I do not do business lunches at Bartaco, Rive Bistro or Arezzo for the very reason that the vast majority of the nearby parking spaces are signposted tenant’s only, with dire tow-away warnings. (And in many cases these lots have ample unused space.)

    I don’t believe the town has added a single public parking space to downtown since I got my license in 1972 (David, please correct me if wrong) and to me it would make more sense if new development projects gave up space for public parking instead of making it for tenants only.