Tag Archives: Matthew Mandell

Okay, Downtown Doubters. See You Saturday Night For “Supper & Soul.”

Yesterday’s opinion piece by David Waldman — lamenting all the negativity about downtown, urging Westporters to focus on the many positive aspects — drew plenty of comments.

Among the strongest voices was Matthew Mandell’s. That’s no surprise: As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s got one of the biggest dogs in this fight.

He’s also got one of his signature events to promote. And it’s coming up this Saturday (November 10).

“Supper & Soul” is a clever concept. For one $75 ticket, you get a 3-course dinner, a fantastic show, then happy hour pricing for after-concert drinks.

Mandell has lined up 7 excellent (and varied) restaurants for the meal and post-show festivities: 190 Main, Amis, Jesup Hall, Matsu Sushi, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

All are within walking distance of Seabury Center on Church Lane — where Kasey Tyndall performs at 8 p.m.

Rolling Stone called her the #1 new country act to see last year — adding that she’s “a hard rock-country badass with the best song about a watering hole.”

So, to all of you who complain that there’s nothing to do downtown after dark. Or that downtown needs a jolt of energy. Or whatever.

Buy a ticket to “Supper & Soul.” Eat, drink, and kick ass with Kasey.

(Click here for tickets, and more information on Supper & Soul. There’s even a link to discount babysitters!)

New SoNo Mall Looms Large

If you drive through Norwalk on I-95, it’s impossible to miss.

A 700,000-square-foot mall is rising inches off Exit 15.

Artist’s rendering of the SoNo Collection mall.

It won’t open until October 2019. But — with its size, its freshness, and its retailers like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s — the SoNo Collection seems to pose a direct threat to Westport’s Main Street.

Matt Mandell disagrees.

The executive of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce told the Fairfield County Business Journal, “We offer an open-air experience instead of an enclosed mall. People come to Westport for a change of pace.”

Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson adds that the mall offers “opportunities” for our town.

“They are focusing on mid-tier to aspirational retailers, and only 6% devoted to food service which will most likely be fast-service casual (chains like Olive Garden).”

That will “further accentuate our opportunity to provide a more upscale, specialty, open-air and experiential shopping, dining and living district that will complement this offering.”

Main Street is open air — not enclosed.

But, Herbertson says, to attract new merchants and downtown residents — and continue drawing investments like Bedford Square, the new Elm Street property, Belden Place, the former Save the Children complex, and the building that’s replacing Bobby Q — “we need to prioritize stronger cooperation and co-investment between our town and commercial interests.”

It’s already started, he says, through a constructive meeting he attended with First Selectman Jim Marpe and his team, Mandell, and area developers, landlords and merchants.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks down toward October 2019.

(Click here for the full Fairfield County Business Journal story. Hat tip: Scott Smith)

On The Meeting Docket — And Off

In November, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission unanimously approved construction of a new walkway and bathrooms at South Beach — the no-lifeguard, cookout grill, alcohol-permitted section beloved by picnickers and sunset-watchers.

The walkway will be similar to the one installed 2 years ago, from the pavilion near Joey’s to the cannons. Made of cement, it features wooden railings open to access every 2 cars.

It will connect to the current walkway at the cannons. It continues to the cut-through road near the kayak launch, then joins the gravel marina walkway via a crosswalk.

The current roadway would shift slightly north, to accommodate the new walkway. Several parking spots would be lost.

Plans for the new walkway and bathrooms at South Beach. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The bathroom — to be built on an unpaved area just south of the pickleball courts — will include an outdoor shower and water fountain. The exterior is white with blue trim, and brick accents.

The projected cost for the walkway is $429,643. The bathroom cost is $257,473.

This Thursday (February 15, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss the proposal. The meeting is open to the public.

One meeting that will not be held is the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee. Their study — funded by a $450,000 state grant — was to be presented at a public session this Monday.

According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, “changes requested from the last meeting were so broad that there was no way to get a new draft in time.”

It’s unclear, Mandell adds, whether the public meeting will be rescheduled — or if there will be public comment at all.

He does not even know if the committee will vote to accept the report — which includes parking decks, new housing units, new retail and office play, but did not include a traffic study.

The state has extended the deadline for the TOD report to be filed. It’s now due in late March.

“Supper & Soul” Offers Food, Drink & Music

A dog festival. Slice of Saugatuck. Tuesdays @ the Train.

You can’t say the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce just sits around exchanging business cards.

Now the organization — which takes its mandate to promote local businesses very broadly — announces its latest let’s-all-get-out-and-have-a-good-time idea.

“Supper & Soul” ties together a few of Westport’s favorite activities: eating out, concert going and drinking.

One ticket is good for a 3-course meal at one of 5 downtown restaurants; a concert at nearby Seabury Center, and a stop back at any of those same restaurants for happy hour-priced drinks. It’s all sponsored (appropriately enough) by lifestyle guru Mar Jennings.

“Supper & Soul” comes at a perfect time: the mid-winter doldrums. The first is set for Saturday evening, January 27.

Dana Fuchs

The 5 restaurants are Amis, Boca, Rothbard Ale + Larder, Spotted Horse and Tavern on Main.

Featured entertainer Dana Fuchs heads out soon on a European tour. But first she’ll prowl the Seabury stage, pouring her heart into the microphone like Janis Joplin (or, I’m told, Robert Plant). Many Westporters know her from the Fairfield Theater Company.

Dinner begins at 6 p.m. The concert is at 8. Tickets can be bought online (click here); meal reservations are made on a first-come, first-served  basis through the chamber.

Chamber executive director Matthew Mandell calls the idea “date night in a bottle. Or just a chance to hang with friends.”

I call the idea very, very cool.

Saugatuck Redevelopment Schedule Set

In his twin roles as RTM member and executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Matthew Mandell keeps his eye on the town.

He wants everyone to know what’s happening with redevelopment plans for Saugatuck — the RTM district he represents. Yesterday, he told constituents that the study committee will meet — without the consultants — this Tuesday (December 19, 8 a.m., Town Hall Room 201).

The public may attend, and will be given the option to speak. However, Mandell says, “It might take a bit to get to you. I think the committee will have a lot to talk about.”

He included a link to the Executive Summary (click here to read).

A map in the Executive Summary shows possible developments in Saugatuck.

Three days later — on December 22 — consultants will submit the draft report/plan to the town.

Mandell says, “Personally, I think this might be too quick, figuring there might be a whole slew of changes and requests from the committee. But hey, it’s a goal from the chairs.”

On January 11 (Town Hall, 8 a.m.), the committee and consultants will discuss the plan.

A public evening session is set for January 22 (7 p.m.).

The final draft will be submitted to the town on February 2. Three days later — 9 days before the deadline — it will be submitted to the state.

Mandell says there is one thing he has not seen: when the committee itself votes on the plan.

The previous redevelopment of Saugatuck brought a retail/residential complex that includes The Whelk, Saugatuck Sweets, Downunder and 20 apartments. It is separate from the new redevelopment plan.

Chamber Of Commerce Maps Walking Tours

Westport has long had 2 commercial centers: downtown and Saugatuck. For decades they’ve been engaged in a quiet — but definite — battle for business.

Shoppers and restaurant-goers, meanwhile, have relied on a couple of basic methods to figure out where to spend their money: ads, and word of mouth.

But now both sections of town have collaborated on a project that may help both.

A walking map of downtown and Saugatuck becomes available this week. Colorful and well-designed, it’s a way to encourage foot traffic, serendipitous discovery — and of course business.

The map is the brainchild of Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce executive director Matthew Mandell. He noticed a walking map for SoNo, and wondered why we had nothing similar.

The downtown area walking map.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association provided information and funds for the area bordered by the west bank of the river, Playhouse Square, the Post Road and Avery Place.

(Curiously, the Post Road is also labeled “State Street East.” That name has not been used since we shopped at Greenberg’s and Shilepsky’s.)

Mandell solicited Saugatuck retailers, restaurants and services himself. The other side of the map shows those establishments, in the familiar “slice” shape between Railroad Place, the river and Saugatuck Avenue.

The map will be included inside every Westport Weston Visitor’s Guide & Membership Directory. Like the maps, the new edition is hot off the presses.

Those guides are available at the Westport Library, Town Hall and other public places, along with many businesses and area hotels. Real estate agents buy them at cost, and offer them to clients.

The maps will also be distributed this Thursday (November 2) by Mandell and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe at the Marriott Marquis in New York. That’s the site of a “Fairfield 5” event. Besides Westport, officials from Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and Fairfield will promote Fairfield County as a great place to live and work.

The Chamber of Commerce printed 3,500 Visitor’s Guides with map inserts, and another 3,000 stand-alone maps. Look for them soon.

Then start walking.

The Saugatuck walking map.

Yellow Pages, The Sequel: RTM Reps Help Westport Go Green

Yesterday, “06880” reported that Westporters can avoid the coming Yellow Book plague by opting out.

Today, there’s even better news on the driveway littering front.

RTM representatives Liz Milwe, Jeff Wieser and Matthew Mandell have worked for months to make opting out of phone book deliveries easier, more effective — and environmentally friendly.

Spurred by Westporter Morgan Mermagen’s 200-signature petition, the RTM members started work on a town ordinance. The Local Search Association — the national lobbying organization for companies like the Yellow Pages and Frontier — heard about the plan. They — and members of those businesses from around the country — came to Westport, to meet with the 3 RTM members.

But the talks reached an impasse.

So this spring, the RTM reps moved forward with their proposed ordinance.

The companies reached out again. Finally — with the help of assistant town attorney Gail Kelly, and following months of conference calls — a deal was struck.

There will be no ordinance. However, all phone book distributors in Westport have agreed to follow these parameters:

  • All plastic bags used during delivery will be made with 20% post-consumer recycled content. This will be noted on the bag.
  • A new opt-out notice — showing the website www.YellowPagesOptOut.com — will cover 30% of one side of the bag.
  • A letter to the town, announcing a pending distribution by any company, will be done 90 days prior to any event, and 30 days prior to a cut-off for being able to opt out of that (and future) distributions.
  • All books will continue to have a notice on the front cover about the opt-out, with the same URL.
  • Within 14 days after delivery, the distribution company will return through the route, picking up any unclaimed bags within view.
  • A report will be sent to the town each year, noting how many people have opted out.

“These are serious concessions made by companies trying to stay relevant in a changing time,” says Mandell. “Each side used all of its might to sway things, with First Amendment rights waved around more than once. In the end this is a fair solution.”

“The change in the bags is a success for the environment,” adds Milwe. “It will be a greater success if residents opt out and if they tell their friends to opt out. Let’s make it happen!”

The 3 RTM members will now work with the town and local groups to create a campaign to inform all residents about the opt-out.

For more information, contact Milwe (lizmilwe@gmail.com), Wieser (JWieser@hwhct.org) or Matthew Mandell (matthew@westportd1.com).

Chamber Project Sells Westport To Sherwood Island Visitors

Sherwood Island — Connecticut’s 1st state park — covers 234 acres of Westport’s finest beaches, wetlands and woodlands.

But — except for some very dedicated Friends of Sherwood Island members, and a few folks who make it their own special playground — it might as well be in Westport, Massachusetts. Or Westport, New Zealand.

The isolation cuts both ways. I bet the only bit of Westport that 99% of all visitors know is the brief stretch of the Connector that gets them to and from I-95. The other 1% are people who miss the ramp, and end up mistakenly on the Post Road.

Sherwood Island State Park -- right here in Westport.

Sherwood Island State Park — right here in Westport.

If Matthew Mandell has his way, that will change.

As executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, he’s all about promoting local businesses. He sees 500,000 people get off I-95 each year, with the sole aim of visiting Sherwood Island.

But how to get those potential customers to see Westport?

This week, 40,000 copies of a handsome brochure will be delivered to Sherwood Island. The tri-fold includes a brief history of the park; a detailed map, showing fishing and model aircraft areas; the Nature Center and 9/11 Memorial, bathrooms and more. QR codes take users to a map of Westport, and the Chamber’s restaurant and visitor guides. Park-goers will see there’s far more here than just a highway interchange.

A detailed map forms the centerfold of the brochure.

A detailed map forms the centerfold of the brochure.

The brochures — produced in conjunction with Friends group — will be distributed free. Ads — from Earthplace, realtors, a college counselor, bank and McDonald’s (“only 2 miles from the beach!”) — cover the cost.

Sherwood Island brochure - front and back

Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson did the graphics gratis.

Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection loves the concept. Now they want other communities with state parks to produce their own maps.

It’s a win-win: great for local merchants, and for visitors looking to do more than just drive in and out.

Who knows? If it’s successful, maybe the Chamber can do another map next year — for all the out-of-towners who have discovered Compo Beach.

Town Tells Downtown Merchants: Shut It!

Today is absolutely the most beautiful day of the year — just ask any of the 6 people left in town during the schools’ spring break.

It’s not quite air conditioning weather. But it’s close.

Which makes it a particularly apt time for Westport’s Green Task Force to send a letter. In it, they — along with First Selectman Jim Marpe, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association encourage local businesses to help the town become “a more sustainable and resilient community.”

How?

By keeping doors closed when using air conditioning on hot days. (And heat on cold ones.)

Blue Mercury always keeps doors open, on hot days and cold.

Blue Mercury always keeps doors open, on hot days and cold.

Sounds like a no-brainer. New York City — which has a lot more doors than Westport — actually has a law to that effect.

The letter — addressed “Dear Business Owner/Manager” — says Westport prefers “more of a ‘team’ approach. We believe shoppers will be happy to know that fossil fuels and electricity are not being wasted, and that the air is not being polluted as a result of unnecessary production of heat or electricity.”

Marpe and co-signers David Mann (Task Force chair), Matthew Mandell (Chamber executive director) and Steve Desloge (DMA president) note that Westport is known as “a forward-thinking, environmentally focused community.” It was the 1st state east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags, and has set a goal of achieving net-zero energy, water and waste management self-sufficiency by 2050.

The letter invites businesses to be the town’s “partners on this journey.” It invites them to contribute their own sustainability initiatives and ideas.

The heavy (and open) door at Esthetique.

The heavy (and open) door at Esthetique.

“06880” has been out in front on this issue. Several times — beginning in 2010 — we’ve posted about this selfish practice. (Blue Mercury pops up in every story.)

Heated (ho ho) comments always follow. They’re divided into 3 categories:

  • Warm praise and agreement that this ridiculous practice must stop
  • Icy criticism that it’s a free country; stores should be allowed to do whatever that want, and besides, it’s just a teeny tiny bit of a larger problem
  • Pleas by store owners that they’re helpless. It’s “company policy.”

It will be interesting to see if the town has a little more juice than a blog.

Or if the offending stores continue to blow just more hot air about cold.

Chico's bucked the trend, with this sign. (Photo/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

Chico’s bucked the trend, with this sign. (Photo/Judy Crowley Simonetti)

 

Affordable Housing: Westport By The Numbers

We’ve all heard a lot about 8-30g — the state’s “affordable housing” statute.

But what is “8-30g”? And what does “affordable housing” really mean?

At last Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — where members voted unanimously to deny an application for a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex (including 15 affordable units) — P&Z member Catherine Walsh entered into the record a report on that topic.

She noted that Westport currently has “a diversity of housing stock for low income groups, special needs, the homeless and the elderly.”

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

However, 8-30g counts only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years. Most Westport units that serve lower-income groups do not fall into either category, she said.

But they do exist.

According to the 2010 census, 10,399 dwelling units are used for calculating 8-30g “points.” Of those, 9,860 are single-family homes.

Among “single family” units, there are 1,069 documented apartments. Only 7 are deed-restricted, to comply with 8-30g.

She included other figures, including group homes and approved-but-not-yet-completed units, as well as low-income units that do not fully comply with all aspects, yet still serve low-income citizens.

“Westport has always believed in and encouraged increasing the diversity of housing stock while maintaining our small town character,” Walsh said.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

In recent years the P&Z took action to “further encourage diversity of housing,” and comply with 8-30g requirements. Members enacted legislation covering mobile home replacement units, and created a variety of zones. These range from 15% affordable, to 100%.

Westport has also encouraged legalizing existing apartments in private homes. Over 1,000 units would benefit lower-income residents, but do not comply with the statute. (Most homeowners oppose 40-year deed restrictions.) Over 200 in-home apartments have been legalized.

The old Saugatuck School on Bridge Street has been repurposed into low-cost housing for the elderly. Those 36 units do not count toward 8-30g.

In 2010 the P&Z passed text amendments to allow affordable housing in 8 split commercial/residential zones. There were no applications until 2014. The Geiger project (Post Road and North Morningside) is currently under construction.

In addition, the town — through its Housing  Authority — has upgraded low-income housing units at Hales Court and Sasco Creek. Hales Court (built in the 1950s) now has twice the number of units (78). Sasco Creek also increases the number of affordable units.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as "affordable" by 8-30g regulations.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as “affordable” by 8-30g regulations.

In other affordable housing news, RTM member Matthew Mandell sent “06880” a link to an equation he developed (with help from Staples High School teachers Bill Walsh and David Rollison). Click here to see it.

Inputting a few figures lets you know how many units must be built to reach the 10% affordable figure mandated in 8-30g. It works for any town — not just Westport.

Mandell takes his math one step further. Start with a round figure of 10,000 housing units in Westport. Approximately 270 are deemed “affordable,” by 8-30g standards.

To get to the statute’s target of 1,000 units, you’d think we’d need to build 730 more.

Wrong, Mandell says. It’s more like 3,650.

What?!

Mandell notes that the affordable units being proposed now in Westport are part of bigger complexes. Every unit in a new proposal is not “affordably” priced.

So a developer who builds a 150-unit building with 45 affordable apartments has also built 105 that are not. And the town’s housing stock has increased by 150 as well — meaning more, not fewer, affordable units now must be built. The end number keeps moving further away.

“If we built 3 buildings with 250 units each — all of them affordable — we could do it,” Mandell says.

“But that’s impossible. We can’t get to 10% without destroying the very fabric of our community.”