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.
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 — 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.
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.
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