The inaugural episode of “0688o: The Podcast” was a hit. I chatted with superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice about how he came here, his challenges and joys, and what’s ahead for the district.
This week’s guest — David Waldman — is a native Westporter. He too has a huge impact on our town. He’s the developer behind Bedford Square, and the new offices and condos on the west side of the Saugatuck River. He’s revitalized Sconset Square, and turned an old bank into Patagonia.
There’s much more he’d love to do, in the town he loves. I asked him about Westport — what works, what doesn’t, and why — and he answered candidly.
We had a great time at the Westport Library’s Verso Studios. Click here to see my interview with David Waldman.
When you’re done, you’ll never look at downtown the same way again.
Screenshot of David Waldman on “06880: The Podcast.”
COVID has caused many organizations to move meetings online.
You can’t do that with a hiking club, though. So the Y’s Men group has adapted. They meet in smaller numbers now. They maintain strict social distance — 8 feet, just to be sure. They wear masks when they assemble.
But they still get their exercise. And their miles.
Twice a week, Chris Lewis leads 10 to 15 hikers. He knows all the trails, throughout the county.
Wednesday hikes are 2 hours long. Friday’s are more strenuous, and can take up to 3. Only heavy rain or extremely slippery conditions stop the Y’s Men.
In addition, “walkers” meet nearly every day. They avoid difficult trail conditions.
This may not be the Y’s Men’s motto. But it should be: “COVID? Take a hike!”
(Hat tip: Michael Hehenberger)
A recent hike at Trout Brook Preserve, owned and managed by Aspetuck Land Trust. Tom Johnson (3rd from left) is a Y’s Men hiker and ALT member. (Photo/Sal Mollica)
Dave Briggs is one of the best interviewers around. He brings out the best in his subjects, in a relaxed, fun and insightful way. His Instagram Live chats are always intriguing.
And I’m not just saying that because I was a recent guest.
Today (Wednesday, January 6, 4 p.m.), he’ll chat with David Waldman. They’ll talk about the commercial realtor’s work developing Bedford Square and the west bank of the Saugatuck River, bringing Barnes & Noble downtown, and much more.
Head to @WestportMagazine on Instagram. You’ll be entertained — and learn a lot.
“Gatsby in Connecticut: The Untold Story” is ready for prime time.
Or at least, Amazon Prime.
The 70-minute movie by Robert Steven Williams — starring Sam Waterston and Keir Dullea, covering F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s formative summer in Westport — is available on the streaming service.
The New Yorker called it one of the best films of 2020. Click here, and judge for yourself. (Hat tip: David Meth)
David Tarqueno died on December 24 at Norwalk Hospital, from complications of COVID-19. He was 61 years old.
His obituary says, “David left behind an incredible number of friends who loved him. His personality was like no other. His presence could light up a room. His smile, his laughter and his humor will remain with every heart he touched.
“David loved fishing — he was out there every fishing season opening day. Nature and animals were an important part of his life. He was devoted to his family and friends. That devotion was selfless, his trust boundless, and love endless.”
The Staples High School graduate is survived by his parents, Joseph and Marianne Tarqueno; sister Lisa Tarqueno-Crawford; brother Peter Tarqueno, and his beloved dog Harry.
And finally … today, the Electoral College meets. Will Vice President Pence do what Joe Biden did as vice president 4 years ago (and Al Gore, George H.W. Bush and many others before him), affirming the legitimate winner of the election 2 months earlier?
Or will American democracy be launched into a parallel universe, one in which lunacy rules and losers’ temper tantrums make us the laughingstock of the world?
To everyone’s surprise, one unintended consequence of COVID-19 has been a sizzling local real estate market.
Tucked into that surprise: A luxury condominium project that was given up for dead has roared back to life.
Bankside’s 12 units will rise soon on Wilton Avenue, at the site of the now-demolished Save the Children building. The design takes advantage of the Saugatuck River location. There is only one residence per floor — and stunning views.
Artist’s rendering of the Bankside condos.
Bankside began in 2013. David Waldman — the developer of Bedford Square, and many other local projects — joined with Greenfield Partners (whose offices are in nearby National Hall) to buy the Save the Children site.
Waldman and Greenfield hired Roger Ferris + Partners — the architectural firm that designed many new buildings on the river’s west bank — to bring their vision of a spectacular new development to life. It included a new office building, and a land swap to create a right-turn lane at the notorious Wilton Road/Post Road West bottleneck.
The office building was built — and has already been sold. But the 7-year residential slog included the town’s denial of the land swap, and a drying up of the luxury condo market.
A year ago Waldman, Greenfield and their investors were ready to sell that building site at a loss.
Then coronavirus struck. Suddenly the suburbs seemed more attractive than cities. The housing market changed dramatically.
Waldman found a new partner. He sold the land to Eric O’Brien — owner of the innovative New Haven building firm Urbane — but stayed on as part of the development group.
Work begins soon on Ferris’ design. Unlike most condos, 10 of the 12 units will share only floors and ceilings — no walls. Windows will look out on the river and downtown on one side, woods and hills on another. Patios of up to 800 square feet front the water.
The condos feature outdoor living on the river.
Ten of the units are 2,500 square feet, including 2 bedrooms and a den. The other 2 units are 3,400 square feet, with 3 bedrooms. Prices range from $2.25 million to $4.25 million.
Completion is scheduled for spring of 2022. Click here for more details.
Alert “06880” reader — and very talented graphic designer/artist/ arts supporter/amazing civic volunteer — Miggs Burroughs writes:
The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center sponsored free art classes last spring and summer for middle school kids in town. They were developed and run by local artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca.
Randy Herbertson — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — hosted the classes at his Visual Brand office on Church Lane.
The most recent class project was a collaborative mural. It was conceived and executed by the students, based on the idea to “Shop Local.” That’s been a mantra of (among others) David Waldman, who developed Bedford Square across the street on Church Lane. Each youngster created a different letter.
When Waldman saw the mural, he asked to display it in Bedford Square. It now hangs in the window of #11.
It’s very satisfying to have some of Westport’s biggest players come together to support art, created by some of our youngest talents.
Food trucks and a band filled the site of the former Save the Children building, on Wilton Road. Next to the real estate firm’s new headquarters, it’s the future site of an architecturally intriguing 12-unit condo complex.
As I sat next to the Saugatuck River — the sun setting, and downtown beckoning just across the way — I thought, “It’s so close. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk there?”
Parker Harding Plaza, from the west bank of the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Dan Woog)
I could have used the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, of course. But the Post Road span is not pedestrian friendly. And it deposits you at the dicey, traffic-filled intersection with Parker Harding Plaza.
Once upon a time, there was discussion of fora pedestrian-only bridge. It was part of David Waldman’s plan to develop that Save the Children site.
Working with Roger Ferris + Partners architects, he wanted to move the house — at that point, a former yarn shop — at Wilton Road/Post Road West — to the Save the Children property. That would provide room for a turning lane at one of the state’s worst intersections.
As part of the plan, Waldman offered $100,000 toward the engineering and design of a pedestrian-only pontoon bridge.
The town rejected the idea. The developer reworked certain aspects of his design. The office portion has now been built. The condos are next.
But the landing area on the Wilton Road side is still available. A bridge could still be built, providing relaxing access from another point between the river’s west bank, and downtown. It could connect to Gorham Island, or perhaps the walkway near Rye Ridge Deli.
The walkway near Rye Ridge Deli could be one end of a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck River.
It’s not a novel concept. The Westport Arts Center once proposed a bridge from its then-headquarters on Riverside Avenue, to the library and Levitt Pavilion on the other side.
There are great spots to eat and shop on both sides of the river. But Westporters and visitors tend to think of them as 2 separate places.
A pedestrian bridge between Wilton Road and Parker Harding would probably cost $500,000 to $1 million.
Is the idea worth pursuing? If not, what’s another way to tie the energy and attractions of the quickly growing west bank to the close-but-sometimes-seems-so-far “downtown”?
What do you think? Click “Comments” below. We want your thoughts!
Downtown drivers and pedestrians wonder: What’s up with the sidewalk by the Elm Street construction project?
That’s the new building rising in the Baldwin parking lot, behind Brooks Corner. It’s part of a land swap, in which Villa del Sol was torn down, to create a larger, more manageable parking lot next to Bedford Square.
It will include stores (and perhaps a restaurant), with 4 apartments above.
Elm Street, looking toward Main Street …
Westporters worry about the narrow sidewalk.
David Waldman — developer of the new project — admits it does look close to the edge of the road.
However, he says, when work is done, “proper sidewalks” will be installed on both sides of Elm Street (similar to Main Street), all the way to Church Lane.
Entrances to buildings will be stepped in, providing additional space for pedestrians.
If a restaurant is a tenant, windows and doors would open up like a Nanawall, creating an inside/outside feel.
… and to Church Lane. (Photos/Jen Berniker)
Upon completion, power lines and poles will be removed, and brick sidewalks and street lights installed.
Waldman has been told the sidewalks should be finished by the end of summer or early fall. The project should be ready for occupancy by next spring.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
First it was world headquarters for the Famous Artists School. Joined later by Famous Writers and Famous Photographers Schools, it made Westport known all over the globe — on matchbox covers and magazine ads — as the place to send your artwork, writing and photos to become, well, famous.
Later it served as world headquarters for Save the Children.
Today, alert “06880” reader (and locally famous photographer) Chip Stephens was across the Saugatuck River, when the 60-year-old Wilton Road building was demolished.
The long view …
The site is being developed by David Waldman into a retail, restaurant and residential complex.
As work proceeds on David Waldman’s latest project — converting the former Save the Children headquarters on Wilton Road into a retail/residential complex — it’s a good time to revisit Stevan Dohanos’ 1965 painting of the site.
Back then, it was home to Famous Artists School. Dohanos was one of those (very) famous artists who helped stay-at-home artists around the world discover their inner illustrator.
This painting — courtesy of Dohanos’ son Anthony — is a bit stylized. The house on Gorham Island is moved south, and Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall) slides very close to Main Street.
But it provides a very realistic view of the days when Westport was the center of the illustration world. Even without Famous Artists, we were a town filled with — and honored by — famous artists.
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