Category Archives: Downtown

How’s Business? We’re #3!

Chain stores are fleeing Main Street. “Retail Space Available” signs fill the Post Road. “06880” commenters warn that high taxes, crumbling infrastructure and many other factors put our town in peril.

But a business environment is more than merchants. And a new study from the Yankee Institute ranks Westport as Connecticut’s 3rd most business-friendly town.

The public policy institute collected and measured data from the state’s 50 largest municipalities. Criteria included economic vitality (median income and job growth), tax burden, transportation, and “community allure” (education, crime rates, cost of living).

The Yankee Institute report says Westport is

heavily reliant on financial service companies, with over 7,000 financial-sector employees. Major companies include Bridgewater Associates and Canaan Partners from the financial services area. But Westport is also home to Terex, a Fortune 500 industrial equipment manufacturing company.

Westport is home base for Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

The Yankee Institute adds: “Westport’s score was lowered by its high tax burden. But high community allure, economic vitality and transportation infrastructure kept it high on our list.”

I’m not sure what “transportation infrastructure” means — something about ports of entry, interstate highways and rail lines — but we’ll take it.

Westport followed Fairfield and Greenwich. Ridgefield was 4th, Simsbury 5th — meaning the state’s 4 most business-friendly towns are in Fairfield County.

The least business-friendly places were cities like Waterbury, New Haven and Hartford. All face severe fiscal challenges. Stamford was the only major city to score in the top 25.

To celebrate our town’s ranking, “06880” invites you to treat yourself to something nice — a gift perhaps, or a meal.

Anywhere in town that’s open.

(Click here for the full report. Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Pic Of The Day #575

Man builds; nature laughs — the new sidewalk on Avery Place (Photo/Bob Mitchell)

Friday Flashback #115

At first glance, Fred Cantor’s 1976 photo of downtown Westport seems timeless.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The facades on Post Road East look very familiar. More than 40 years later, little has changed.

But look closely. So much is different now.

Three spaces — all in a row — tell the story of downtown Westport, then and now.

Fine Arts Theaters I and II (and their companions, III on Jesup Road and IV a short way east) drew scores of people after dark. They came early for dinner. They had drinks afterward. They window-shopped. They made downtown a destination.

Next door, Fine Art Supplies — rechristened a few years later as Max’s — was much more than a place to pick up watercolors, easels and brushes. It was the center of Westport’s bustling, creative, supportive arts community. World-renowned artists shared stories and secrets. Aspiring painters and illustrators met mentors. Window displays proudly showed Westport’s talent to everyone passing by.

And next door to Max’s stood Schaefer’s Sporting Goods. It catered to an entirely different clientele: jocks. But high school students found a home here too. They bought soccer cleats, bats and skis, sure. But they also hung out. Tip and Charlie Schaefer told them stories, offered tips, and gave them their first jobs.

In short, there were reasons to go downtown. There were things to buy, places to feel comfortable in, people to meet.

All day long, and after dark.

If you’ve got memories of the Fine Arts Theater, Max’s, Schaefer’s — or any other place downtown — click “Comments” below.

Pics Of The Day #569

Fantastic fall foliage, all around town.

(Photo/David McKenzie)

Longshore (Photo/Samuel Wang)

Bridge over Deadman Brook, downtown (Photo/Samuel Wang)

Saugatuck River and beyond, from Grace Salmon Park (Photo/Samuel Wang)

Fall comes to Wild Rose Lane (Photo/Julie Fatherley)

 

[OPINION]: Maker Faire Is An Inspiring Economic Engine

Mark Mathias — founder and chair of Maker Faire Westport; founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, Inc. — writes:

Seven years ago, Maker Faire Westport launched in Westport. We had no idea what we were starting. It sounded like fun, and was meant to be a party for geeks.

Organizations such as the Westport Library and a handful of volunteers put on the event. The Sunrise Rotary Club gave us the seed money, along with other sponsors.

That first year, we hoped for 800 attendees. 2,200 showed up.

After 7 years, Maker Faire Westport is the largest single day event in Connecticut. This past spring, it attracted 13,500 attendees. 15,000 to 20,000 are planned for the 8th annual event on April 27, 2019. Of more than 770 Maker Faires globally, Westport is in the top 5% of attendance.

From its geek roots of 3D printers and robotics, Maker Faire Westport has become the “go to” event for creative, innovative people, and a showcase for what Connecticut has to offer.

In 2015 “The Great Fredini” constructed an entire scale model of Coney Island, with a 3D printer. Faire-goers could have their own body scanned — and printed — to be included.

Companies such as Sikorsky (helicopters), Electric Boat (submarines) and ASML (semiconductor chips) demonstrate the types of high tech manufacturing going on in Connecticut.

Colleges and universities like Sacred Heart, Fairfield, University of Bridgeport, Housatonic Community College and Norwalk Community College show off their educational programs and graduates.

And organizations such as the Westport Young Woman’s League and League of Women Voters showcase their good works in the community.

The value of what Maker Faire Westport is doing was cemented in my mind when I was invited by the Italian government to attend Maker Faire Rome in October.

Produced by the Italian Trade Agency and Rome Chamber of Commerce, it promotes and highlights Italian innovation and businesses around the world.

Delegations of reporters and businesspeople were flown in from around the world. They joined 115,000 attendees, 700 selected projects and visitors from 61 countries.

Mark Mathias at Maker Faire Rome.

Italy is not alone in its vision. China has 3 large Maker Faires, which also promote economic activity.

What is offered at Maker Faires is far more than just geeky fun. It’s a showcase of human capital, businesses, vibrancy, and a place where people will want to work, live and invest. Maker Faires are inspiration, substantiated by proof.

In other words, Maker Faire is a way to help grow an economy: businesses, schools, libraries and communities.

For the 8th annual Maker Faire Westport, we will continue to embrace creative people and showcase the best that Connecticut offers. We will work to let the world know and see that value.  We will continue to inspire local people to learn about opportunities for personal growth, skills and career opportunities.

We welcome all who want to be a part of Connecticut’s economic and social future.

If you have an initiative already in place, we can work with you to leverage it on a larger scale. If you want to gain visibility and access to people who should know about you, we can work with you. If you have a vested interest in the success of Connecticut, work with us to help realize your success. If you have a quirky or unique hobby, talent or project, we want you too.

Planning is underway for next year’s Maker Faire Westport.  Please contact me to discuss how you can benefit from this initiative: mark@remarkablesteam.org; 203-226-1791.

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)

David Waldman: Westport Has Positive Stories. Let’s Promote Them!

David Waldman is a major presence in downtown Westport. Most recently he developed Bedford Square. His current project is a retail/residential complex on the site of the former Save the Children headquarters, on Wilton Road.

A few minutes ago, he sent an open letter to some of the town’s media, politicians and civic leaders. He wrote:

I put you all on the same email because Westport needs your help.

For the life of me I cannot figure out why no one appreciates all the incredible things downtown Westport has going for it: its beautiful architecture and history, incredible businesses and retail stores, world class restaurants. cultural venues and events, the Levitt, library, river, Farmers’ Market, and more.

None of the above seems to have translated into a real (and appropriate) sense of pride and excitement from the residents of Westport.

(Photo/John Videler)

All I seem to hear everywhere and all I seem to read in every publication, blog and news story, is a negative sentiment about downtown, retail and Westport.

Things like:

It’s too hard to get downtown.
Traffic is an issue and we need to address the intersections which are creating the traffic.

There are no mom-and-pop shops.
I am always amazed when I hear this since downtown is filled with many incredible mom-and-pops and small independent stores.

One of Westport’s mom-and-pop stores.

The landlords ruined the street by raising the rents.
I guess no one in Westport knows what supply and demand is.

It floods. 
It does, but it is always quickly re-opened, and measures are being taken by landlords to address and help mitigate these issues. That said, the town has a tremendous amount of infrastructure needs which cannot be pushed down the road again and again.

It is hard to park. 
This too has been improved with the new Elm Street lot and the combination of the Achorn’s lot with Baldwin.

It lost its charm.
I could not disagree more.

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Amazon killed it.
Amazon changed the way people shop but it in no way killed downtown.  Downtown, like all great shopping and dining areas, has begun to change with the times. In the end you cannot eat, live and play in the internet. You can’t go to a library or arts festival in the internet.

The mall will be the last nail in the coffin.
Not everyone wants to shop in a mall. And if the mall is successful, it could be a benefit for downtown.

I miss the movie theaters. 
The Westport Cinema Initiative and other groups continue to try and make this happen.

It’s dirty.
Measures are being taken to solve this going forward through unified maintenance, new pedestrian amenities, unified garbage areas and porter service.

All of this negative commentary has led, in my opinion, to a sense of self-pity from our residents that our downtown is somehow second-rate and not worthy of praise or admiration. I hear this all too often from all too many people. If it keeps happening, the town will continue to lose it luster.

Parker Harding Plaza (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

So, what can we collectively do promote Westport in a more positive way?

In the end we need to start making the stories about the great things that are happening and the great things that will happen downtown. We need our residents to stop feeling bad about their downtown and start seeing just how vibrant and incredible it is.

How it provides a sense of community, how it provides a commercial revenue base which allows us to continue to maintain our lifestyles while keeping taxes lower. Stories about positive developments, incredible events, new stores,  new businesses and the individuals who run them.

We need to change the narrative so the residents of Westport again realize just how incredible their downtown is, and how important it is for the health of our great Town.

You all have control over the narrative.

Thank you for listening. I hope this will begin to start a more productive conversation. Westport never needed a PR person more in its history than it needs now. Westport has to take a more active role in promoting downtown.

Vote!

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge has been the scene of much political activism over the years.

Last night, someone sent a message that every American — regardless of party — should agree with.

(Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Election Day is Tuesday (November 6). Polls open at 6 a.m., and close at 8 p.m.

Westport voters who previously voted at the library have a new location: Town Hall. Those who voted at Coleytown Middle School will vote at Coleytown Elementary.

All voters should be sure to check their polling place. If you’re a Connecticut resident, click here.

Pic Of The Day #565

Loeffler Field — home of the Staples High School boys and girls soccer teams … (Photo/Dan Woog)

… and Saugatuck River reflections (Photo/Nicola Sharian)