Category Archives: Organizations

New SoNo Mall Looms Large

If you drive through Norwalk on I-95, it’s impossible to miss.

A 700,000-square-foot mall is rising inches off Exit 15.

Artist’s rendering of the SoNo Collection mall.

It won’t open until October 2019. But — with its size, its freshness, and its retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s — the SoNo Collection seems to pose a direct threat to Westport’s Main Street.

Matt Mandell disagrees.

The executive of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce told the Fairfield County Business Journal, “We offer an open-air experience instead of an enclosed mall. People come to Westport for a change of pace.”

Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson adds that the mall offers “opportunities” for our town.

“They are focusing on mid-tier to aspirational retailers, and only 6% devoted to food service which will most likely be fast-service casual (chains like Olive Garden).”

That will “further accentuate our opportunity to provide a more upscale, specialty, open-air and experiential shopping, dining and living district that will complement this offering.”

Main Street is open air — not enclosed.

But, Herbertson says, to attract new merchants and downtown residents — and continue drawing investments like Bedford Square, the new Elm Street property, Belden Place, the former Save the Children complex, and the building that’s replacing Bobby Q — “we need to prioritize stronger cooperation and co-investment between our town and commercial interests.”

It’s already started, he says, through a constructive meeting he attended with First Selectman Jim Marpe and his team, Mandell, and area developers, landlords and merchants.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks down toward October 2019.

(Click here for the full Fairfield County Business Journal story. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

College Art, Summer Arts Camp Scholarships Available

Westport has long been known as an arts community.

The Westport Arts Center is doing its best to make sure that’s true for many years to come.

The organization will award a $5,000 scholarship to a graduating high school senior who plans to attend an arts-based college program this fall.

Scholarships are also available for the WAC’s Summer Camp program. The week-long workshops are for ages 4 to 7 (mornings), and ages 8 to 12 (afternoons). Themed week topics include painting, clay and 3D art.

The high school and summer camp scholarships are made possible through the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center Foundation. The Main Street landlord and founder of the Downtown Merchants Association left $500,000 in his will to  help fund that group.

Scholarships are based on financial need. To begin the application process, call Westport’s Human Services Department (203-341-1050). Questions? Email

Having fun with masks, at Westport Arts Center’s summer camp.

Home Energy Solutions $ave $$$

First Selectman Jim Marpe did it. Human Services director Elaine Daignault did it. Over 2,000 Westporters did it too.

“It” is offer up their houses for a Home Energy Solutions Assessment.

They learned whether their doors, windows and ductwork were leaking air. They found out if their insulation made the grade, and if their appliances were wasting energy and money.

When air leaks were found, they got caulked. Light bulbs were replaced with LEDs. Low-flow shower heads were installed, and pipes wrapped with insulation.

A blower test discovers leaks in your home you never knew you had.

The average yearly savings in Connecticut from a Home Energy Solutions Assessment is $200 to $250. This being Westport — where homes are larger, more filled with “stuff” — that figure can be much higher.

It’s a win-win: You help the environment, and save money.

But wait! There’s more!

The Home Energy Solutions Challenge is now underway.  The first 50 Westporters to complete an HES assessment pay only $74. If you’re not in that group, the cost is still quite low: $149. There are rebates on certain appliances and installation of new windows and insulation, too.

And if you’re an income-eligible resident — including renters — there is no cost at all for the service.

The catch — and you can’t even call it that — is that the service is paid for by everyone, through a small surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills.

During the Home Energy Solutions Assessment, a nice guy will even check your bulbs.

The program is promoted by Westport’s Green Task Force and New England Smart Energy Group. The latter organization helped Westport win the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge in 2013. We had the most number of HES visits and upgrades in the state.

Interested? Click here, or call 203-292-8088 for an appointment.

Not interested? The only acceptable excuse is that — like Jim Marpe, Elaine Daignault and 2,000 other Westporters — you’ve already had it done.

Maker Faire Makes Top 5%

There are Maker Faires all over the world.

New York has one. Rome, Paris, Beijing. Hong Kong too.

Westport’s got a Maker Faire — and a damn good one.

But what we also share with those much bigger cities is that all of them are in the top 5 percent of attendance globally.

That’s right. Of the 772 Maker Faires in 44 countries, only 37 had more than 10,000 attendees.

Our “little” event on Jesup Green drew 10,500.

In addition to 10,500 attendees, last year’s Maker Faire drew plenty of robots.

That should give organizers a smile. And it may push you to apply to be part of this year’s Maker Faire. It’s Saturday, April 21.

The deadline is this Thursday (March 15). They’re looking for the usual: “artists, musicians, engineers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, businesspeople, comedians, and creative people of all ages and backgrounds to inspire attendees with what we as humans can do.” Click here for more information.

And if you’re not creative, but have a company that wants to sponsor this very popular (top 5%!) event, contact Mark Mathias (, 203-226-1791).


Over 1,700 Westporters are still without power. Restoration continues slowly.

Wednesday’s storm — the 2nd in 5 days — took its toll on much of New York and New England.

But as we’re recovering from that double whammy, let’s realize how good we actually have it.

Our public officials and town employees really earned their pay this week. In no particular order, we owe huge thanks to:

Westport Police Department. They’ve been vigilant in responding to calls, assessing damage, helping work crews, and keeping the town safe and secure. They’re stretched thin — but every man and woman on the force responded. (NOTE to impatient citizens: Those traffic barricades are up for a reason. Click on the video from New Jersey below — but beware. It’s gruesome.)

Westport Fire Department. At the height of the storm Wednesday night, they answered literally hundreds of calls. From live wires and fallen trees to actual fires, they covered the town. They were often the first eyes on an incident, and they coordinated expertly with other town offices. On Thursday and through today, they’ve kept going. Their red trucks — and the firefighters on them — are a truly welcome sight. And they seem to be everywhere.

Public Works Department. They’re the guys who are actually out there, working all day and night. They plow the roads, remove the trees, and do all the other dirty work that enables the rest of us to carry on with our lives. It’s tough, demanding, physical work. And they haven’t had a break in days.

First Selectman Jim Marpe. He’s the man at the top. His calm, efficient yet commanding presence has inspired everyone else — at the emergency operations center, and in the field — to do their jobs. Jim believes in public service, and he makes sure every public official serves the town well.

Everyone else in emergency operations too. I don’t know everyone’s names. But quietly and effectively, they managed back-to-back storms with professionalism and care.

Superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer. She had to make difficult, irrevocable, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choices about closing school.  That comes with the territory. But she went above and beyond, communicating often and clearly about how and why she made those decisions. Today she threaded the needle — opening school, but not penalizing students for absences, and postponing all tests and quizzes. She “weathered” criticism with grace — and kept thousands of youngsters safe.

School maintenance staffs. They shoveled tons of heavy snow, and did all the other work, to ensure that schools could open today. They were there at the height of the storm. No one saw what they did — but today we noticed how much they did.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten other key men and women in town. If you know anyone I’ve missed, click “Comments” below.

Public Works takes care of downed trees. Police put up barricades. It takes a village to help our town weather 2 storms since last Friday. (Photo/Janette Kinnally)

Pop Up Goes The Art Show

A few hundred Westporters thronged the Westport Arts Center last night.

They were there for the delayed-by-one-day opening of the Westport Artists Collective pop-up art show.

Okay — maybe some of them headed to the warm, welcoming Riverside Avenue gallery because they had no power electricity,  heat or internet at home.

Whatever the reason, they enjoyed a great show.

All 150 Collective members were invited to showcase one work of art. The result is an intriguing display of works, ranging from photographs and mixed media to sculpture and paintings.

Three works at the Westport Arts Center pop-up show (clockwise from bottom left): Trace Burroughs, Cindy Wagner and Jay Petrow. (Photo/Tammy Winser)

Westporters often debate whether this is still an “arts community.”

Stop by the WAC. The pop-up show answers definitively: Yes, it is.

But you’d better do it soon. The show is open until 5 p.m. today (Friday). And it ends tomorrow (Saturday) at 2.

Needed: African American Artifacts

In May, the Westport Historical Society will sponsor an exhibit about African American heritage in history here, and the surrounding region.

It should be educational, inspirational and fascinating.

It won’t happen, though, without actual stuff to show.

There is good material in the archives. But the WHS is seeking more documents and objects. They’re especially interested in original artifacts, from the earliest settlement of town to the present.

If you’ve got anything — letters, artwork, photos, property information, newspaper clippings, video or tape recordings, or anything else — please send an image and brief description to

And if you have any contact information for anyone who would know anything about Westport’s African American past, please send that along too.

A photo of the maids at the Laurence family home, around 1880. Part of the Laurence estate later became Longshore. The back of the photo identifies 5 white people who could possibly be in the photo — but does not even attempt to identify the black woman.

Johanna Rossi Turns New York Purple

Johanna Rossi is a senior hedge fund trader.

She’s one of the top women on Wall Street. And she’s doing all she can to change that.

Not that she wants to lose her position. She just wants other women to join her.

In her spare time, the Westporter is a leader of Securities Traders Association of New York — Women in Finance.

Last year, Johanna asked the Durst Organization to shine a light on International Women’s Day. The real estate giant quickly agreed to light One World Trade Center purple.

One World Trade Center, on International Women’s Day 2017.

This year — thanks again to Johanna — Durst is adding purple lights to One Bryant Park and nearby 4 Times Square.

In addition, Durst is allowing STANY-WIF to use the coveted Spire app. It allows users to change the color of spires from their cellphones.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress. The goal is to “motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”

It’s something Johanna Rossi has been doing for years.

(For more on Johanna Rossi and her pioneering work with women on Wall Street, click here. For more on International Women’s Day, click here.)

On International Women’s Day 2016, Johanna Rossi helped ring the NASDAQ bell to celebrate gender equality.


Parks & Rec Spring, Summer Signups Begin March 14

Back in the day, registration for Parks & Recreation spring and summer programs — including Camp Compo — meant driving down to Longshore, standing in line in a grungy office, going back home for whatever documents you forgot, then doing it all over again.

Eventually the offices were renovated. Mail-in registration was added. But folks still forgot stuff.

Now the process is all online. You know immediately what you’ve forgotten.

So mark your calendars. Online registration begins Wednesday, March 14 at 9 a.m. NOTE: Many programs fill quickly.

A login and password are necessary. Parks & Rec advises taking care of that now, if you don’t have one. Click here to create an account. Questions? Email before March 9.

If you still like the old ways — walk-in, mail or fax (!) — it begins Monday, March 19.

That’s the same day (March 19) that beach stickers — or “emblems,” as Parks & Rec calls them — go on sale online (and in person).

Usually that’s a ho-hum affair. But with fewer stickers on sale to non-residents — 350, down from 600 last summer — out-of-towners should mark the date on their calendars.

Otherwise, you might get left out in the cold.

And Parks & Rec employees who work in that office don’t want to feel your heat.

Richard Wiese Explores The Presidency

Richard Wiese was born to explore.

Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, and joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest.

He achieved the first ascent of an unclimbed mountain in Alaska, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.

“Born to Explore” is also the name of the award-winning PBS television series, which also aired on ABC for 5 seasons. It’s produced on Main Street in Westport — and Wiese, a Weston resident, is host and executive producer.

Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.

The Explorers Club is right up Wiese’s alley. Since 1904 the New York-based organization has promoted scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space. Club members have been first to the North Pole, South Pole, the summit of Mount Everest, the deepest point in the ocean, and the surface of the moon.

So it’s natural that Wiese was elected 44th president of the Explorers Club.

It’s his second stint at the helm. He also served from 2002 to 2006.

“In my lifetime, science and nature have never been more under siege,” Wiese says.

“Our world needs scientists and explorers more than ever before. I am proud to say that since 1904, the Explorers Club has stood for innovation, conservation and the value of different cultures. Our members make a difference, and I am honored to serve as its next president.”

Wiese’s honors include an Emmy, a Genesis Award, an AP Folio Award, and the Walter Cronkite Award for contributions to journalism and exploration.