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.
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.
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.
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.