Tag Archives: David Waldman

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.

Famous Westport Building Bites The Dust

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.

Not.

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.

… and a closeup. (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Friday Flashback #83

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.

Photo Challenge #161

Three “06880” readers thought it looked like the old YMCA pool.

They were close. But last week’s photo challenge showed tile that was uncovered when 36 Elm Street was torn down. (Click here for the photo.)

That’s the downtown building a few feet away from the Y. Most recently, it housed Villa del Sol restaurant.

The demolition was part of a land swap between the town and David Waldman — the Bedford Square developer who took the photo challenge image.

David said his photo showed the floor of “the original Brasserie St. Germaine — I think.” Was that the first restaurant? I don’t know. I do remember Werner’s, which occupied that spot for many years.

Chip Stephens was the only “06880” reader to identify “the remains of Villa del Sol.” Perhaps he recalls Werner’s too — or Brasserie St. Germaine.

Now, chew on this week’s photo challenge:

(Photo/Ed Simek)

If you know where you’d find this guy, click “Comments” below.

Pic Of The Day #269

36 Elm Street was demolished yesterday. The building — most recently Villa del Sol — housed many previous businesses, including for a number of years Werner’s restaurant. It’s owned by David Waldman, who will build a retail/residential complex across the street behind Lux Bond & Green, in exchange for expanded parking next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)

1 Wilton Road

1 Wilton Road — the little building huddled beneath the massive Wright Street office complex, at the traffic-choked intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue — has a long history.

Built in 1830 — before Westport was even incorporated, when horses watered at a nearby trough — it’s a reminder of days gone by. Originally a home, it’s been in recent years a liquor store and yarn shop.

1 Wilton Road, circa 1975. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Now it’s home to Vita Design Group. The modern design firm’s projects include the Geiger development across from Greens Farms Elementary School, and the new glass house on Compo Beach Road near the Minute Man monument.

Alert Westporters recently noticed scaffolding around the 1 Wilton Road site. Some wonder whether it’s coming down.

Nope.

Lucien Vita said his company spent its first years roaming around Westport. After starting in his home, Vita Design Group moved to several locations, including Main Street.

As a small business, they saw the 1 Wilton Road spot — with plenty of traffic (and everyone stuck at the light) — as a marketing opportunity. They bought the property 4 years ago and planned a renovation, showing off what they do best.

Permits took a while. Just before renovation was to begin, David Waldman and Greenfield Partners approached Vita with a plan.

Together they own the former Save the Children property, across the street down Wilton Road. They planned a retail/residential complex there. To mitigate traffic concerns, they wanted to purchase 1 Wilton Road. They’d reconstruct that building on the Save the Children site; in return, they’d give the 1 Wilton Road land to the town, for a much-needed turning lane onto Post Road West.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed new office building (center) and condos (right) on the former Save the Children property, as seen from Parker Harding Plaza. The Post Road bridge and National Hall are on left.

It took 2 1/2 years, but finally the Planning and Zoning Commission said no.

Though Vita was paying carrying costs each month for the property, they still wanted to help the town. They had a new idea: rebuild the office further back on the land. They’d keep its historical identity, yet still provide room for drivers to turn.

However, it could take 2 years to work out funding. And if that came through, a town or state body could deny permission for the plan.

It’s not feasible for Vita to wait. So — as the scaffolding shows — they’ve begun to renovate 1 Wilton Road for their new home. Plans include rebuilding the 1-story portion with a steeper roof, and putting new siding and details on the 2-story wing, integrating its historical features with a slightly modern touch.

Scaffolding at 1 Wilton Road. The building is dwarfed by the Wright Street office complex. (Photo/Jeff Manchester)

The inside will be gutted. Its original post-and-beam structure has been covered up. That will be exposed again, in a nod to its nearly 200-year-old past.

“We want to make the building solid, and bring it into the 21st century,” Lucien Vita says. “We want to help it live another 100 years.”

That’s still not the end of the story. Vita says that even after renovation, he’s open to moving the building back — so long as that’s a practical, cost-effective solution.

Dream about that the next time you’re stuck at that interminable light.

Adios y Hola, Villa Del Sol!

Villa del Sol has served its last margarita.

At its longtime Elm Street location, that is.

The interior of Villa del Sol, as seen from the outside steps.

The popular downtown restaurant is moving to 170 Post Road West. The former site of Peachwave has been vacant for over 2 years.

David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square — is purchasing the Mexican restaurant, adjacent to his new complex. It’s part of a land swap. He’ll demolish the old Villa del Sol. In return, he’ll construct a retail/residential building across Elm Street, behind Lux Bond & Green.

The old Villa del Sol on Elm Street. On the left is the new Bedford Square. The restaurant will be demolished, and used for parking.

(Hat tip: Steve Stein)

First Citizens Of Westport

One man revitalized downtown Westport with a building project. The other revitalizes lives, providing homeless people with buildings to sleep in.

Both men — David Waldman and Jeff Wieser — will be honored as “First Citizens.” The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce presents the awards on Tuesday, June 13, at a dinner at the Boathouse restaurant.

Waldman is principal of David Adam Realty. Under his leadership, Bedford Square — the former Westport YMCA — has been transformed into a lively retail/restaurant/residential complex.

That’s just the latest achievement in Waldman’s 26-year commercial real estate career.

David Waldman proudly shows off the Flemish brick used in Bedford Square.

A near-native, he arrived here in town age 1. His father — a marketer — moved here because Westport was “the marketing capital of the world.” He built buildings to house his business. He sold the company, kept the buildings, and a real estate firm was born.

David attended Coleytown Elementary and Junior High. He graduated from St. Luke’s and Syracuse University, then returned to Westport in 1991 — just in time for a real estate downturn.

Waldman persevered. His initial project — renovating the Art’s Deli block on Post Road West, including apartments above — provided him with his first understanding of “process, politics and zoning.”

He and his wife Yvette — “the one who grounds me and gets me through life” — have 3 children: Rachel, Jacob and Ava. He calls them “my greatest accomplishments.”

Yet Bedford Square — created in conjunction with several partners — is not too shabby either. By developing adjacent Church Lane and Elm Street, Waldman has “tried to make positive change. We’re taking the town where the world is moving — a little more walkable and connected.”

David Waldman (center), at the opening of Bedford Square.

He calls himself “blessed to live, work and play in the same town. Sometimes that’s difficult. But it’s nice to see people enjoy our work.”

Now he’s turning his attention to nearby Sconset Square, and the former Save the Children site across the river.

“I’m only 47 years old,” Waldman notes. “It’s nice to have public recognition. But at the end of the day, the product on the ground is what I’m proudest of.”

Waldman’s fellow First Citizen honoree Wieser represents the non-profit sector. In 7 years as CEO and president of Homes With Home — Westport’s supportive housing umbrella — he has nearly doubled the number of beds, added new services, and engineered a merger with Project Return (the North Compo residence for teenage girls and young women).

Homes With Hope is believed to be one of only 4 such organizations in a town like Westport in the nation.

Jeff Wieser

This is Wieser’s 2nd career. A New York banker with stints in Australia and Hong Kong, he and his wife Pat moved here in 1985.

Their choice of Westport was happenstance — they just wanted a “commutable suburb” (a town-owned golf course and beaches were added attractions) — but it soon became home.

With 2 young children, the Wiesers quickly met lifelong friends.

Wieser served on the Homes With Hope board for 15 years. He had not thought of working there. But when founder Rev. Peter Powell retired, and several people asked Wieser to step up, he realized that after 30-plus years in banking, he was ready.

His wife said, “This is something you wanted to do all your life.”

She was right. “It’s been a wonderful change,” he says.

Wieser is proud that his organization has been supported so well — and so long — by town officials and private citizens.

Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope CEO) and a lobster. The event was a “build a sand castle” fundraiser for Homes With Hope.

“Westport cares about our neediest neighbors,” he says. “Homes With Hope is a model for all suburban communities.”

Wieser hopes to keep it growing. “There’s still plenty to do,” he notes. “We’re getting chronic homelessness under control. The much bigger challenge now is affordable housing.”

Waldman and Wieser are not the only 2 Westporters to be honored by the Chamber of Commerce. “Young Entrepreneurs” Aishah Avdiu, Remy Glick, James O’Brien and Phoebe Spears — from Staples and Weston High Schools — will be feted too.

Westporter David Pogue — technology columnist/Emmy-winning TV personality/author/musician/New York Times, CBS News, Scientific American, Yahoo Tech and PBS star — is the keynote speaker.

We can’t all be First Citizens. But it’s clear — and the Chamber of Commerce recognizes — that Westport is blessed with far more than one.

(Tickets for the June 13 dinner are $80 each. Tables of 10 are also available. For more information, click here.)

Sconset Square/Post Road Redevelopment: The Sequel

Sunday’s post described a new vision of downtown Westport.

It explained that David Waldman — the Westport-based developer who conceived of and completed Bedford Square — is under contract to buy both Sconset Square and 155 Post Road East. They’re contiguous properties: Sconset is the small shopping center off Myrtle Avenue with stores like Bungalow and Le Penguin restaurant, while 155 Post Road is the cement building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

(Though the Westport Pizzeria building may at some point be part of some deal in some way, don’t worry: It’s open, and will be for the foreseeable future.)

If Waldman buys #155 and Sconset Square, parking areas behind them could be utilized more efficiently. And #155 could potentially house organizations like the Westport Arts Center and Westport Cinema Initiative

155 Post Road East, across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

That story generated a decent number of comments. But because Sunday was Easter — and the most beautiful day of the year — it may not have reached every “06880” reader.

And not everyone with an opinion might have responded.

A few town officials asked if I thought the comments posted — generally positive, some not — reflect the feeling of most Westporters.

I have no idea.

So here’s another opportunity to respond. Click “Comments” below.

This is far from the final word, of course. But on a matter like this, the more voices, the merrier.

Sconset Square. Redevelopment of the area could open the backs of the existing stores to shoppers too.

Bedford Square Is Complete. Another Intriguing Project May Come Next.

Since it opened 2 weeks ago, Bedford Square has become Westport’s newest destination. Folks flock there to shop, eat, and hang out in the courtyard.

David Waldman’s project — which took many years to conceive and sell to town boards, and another 2 years to construct — seems like the end of a long process.

But it may be only the beginning.

Numerous sources say that the Westport-based developer is under contract to buy both Sconset Square and 155 Post Road East. They’re contiguous properties: Sconset is the small shopping center off Myrtle Avenue with stores like Bungalow and Le Penguin restaurant, while 155 Post Road is the cement building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office). Eyeglasses.com is a current tenant; it used to house the Tack Room and Christian Science reading room.

155 Post Road East is a tired-looking building across from Design Within Reach (the old post office).

With Bedford Square, Waldman re-imagined the way we use Elm Street/Church Lane/Main Street. If he acquires those nearby properties — and, rumor has it, the Westport Pizzeria building too — he could redesign that section of downtown as well.

And tie it together with Bedford Square, which is much closer physically to Sconset Square than most of us now realize.

Sconset Square has been in Westport for years. Originally called Sherwood Square, it was the site of the original Sport Mart.

Word on the downtown street is that Waldman could reorient Sconset Square, opening up the backs of those stores to anyone using a redesigned walkway from the Post Road to Church Lane.

Removing the Westport Pizzeria building could create a pedestrian walkway to Church Lane — and enable merchants to utilize the backs of their stores, as well as the fronts.

He could also consolidate several of the parking lots on Church Lane — like the one behind SoNo Baking (soon to be Aux Delices) — making them more accessible and practical.

Right now there’s a hodgepodge of small parking areas off Church Lane, and behind Sconset Square. It’s tough to walk there from the Post Road.

Other rumors are flying, including the possibility of the Westport Arts Center and/or Westport Film Initiative moving into 155 Post Road East. That could give those organizations great visibility — and bring more people downtown.

The synergy between arts, retail, restaurants (and the new Bedford Square rental units) sounds exciting.

Of course, Bedford Square did not happen overnight.

It took many long nights of meetings.

Followed by 2 years of construction.

Westporters have so far voted with their feet. They’ve poured into Bedford Square.

There are sure to be many votes ahead for this next phase of downtown development.