The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.
It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.
With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.
It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.
Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.
It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.
All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.
LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.
Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.
Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.
Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.
Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.
It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.
The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.
But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.
Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.
The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.