Today marks the middle of Restaurant Week. Rowene Weems had “a lovely dinner outside on a beautiful night at Harvest. The atmosphere was magical, with lights and a full moon. There is also something cool about being next to the train station.”
For more on the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce event, click here.
Sure, Westport is filled with families with school-age children. They may not all have come from Manhattan or Brooklyn, though most did.
But they’re not the only Westporters. Many more people grew up here, stayed or returned, and still live here even after their own kids have grown.
Those folks remember another group of Westporters: the parents of the boys and girls they knew back then. Those men and women are now in their late 80s and 90s.
They too still live here. But many of their sons and daughters do not.
One 60-something resident looks up to that “Greatest Generation.” (And they earned the title not just for helping win World War II. After moving here, they poured their energy and talents into making Westport a great place for us to grow up in too.)
That man — who asked for anonymity — has taken it upon himself to invite some of those older Westporters out for dinner.
They often live alone. Most no longer drive.
He and his wife always pick them up. They head to Pane e Bene, Horizon, Rizzuto’s, Rive Bistro — nice, friendly places with good food.
They have a leisurely meal. They reminisce about old Westport, discuss current events (locally and around the globe). They talk about their own kids (who, in the case of the older folks, are the host’s contemporaries).
“I remember the first time I made enough money to take my parents out to dinner,” the man says.
“It was a rite of passage — and a not insignificant way to say ‘thanks’ at that young time in my career.” Both his parents have since died.
Now he enjoys spending quality time with his parents’ old friends and acquaintances.
“It’s so much fun. I’ve known these people all my life. They were the mentors of my youth.”
He adds, “They are as sharp as ever! And the battles we have over paying the bill are hilarious!”
The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.
It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.
With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.
It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.
Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.
It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.
All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.
An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building) is at left; the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Luciano Park is at the bottom. Click on or hover over to enlarge.
LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.
Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.
A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.
Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.
A closeup of the rendering above. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.
Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.
Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.
It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.
The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti’s. The buildings in the artist’s rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings. The Charles Street office building is on the far right.
The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.
But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.
Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.
Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.
The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.
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