Tag Archives: Matthew Mandell

Unsung Heroes #119

The other day, I posted a story about a long, important RTM meeting. After 3 hours, our town’s legislative body voted narrowly — 18-16 — against a motion to ban recreational marijuana sales in Westport. (Such sales are not yet legal in Connecticut.)

That was typical of our Representative Town Meeting. Once a month they meet to debate and approve town and education budgets, and all town appropriations over $20,000; enact ordinances; review bonds, leases, sales and purhcases of town property; review zoning, recreation and other regulations, and oversee labor agreements with town and Board of Education employees.

They meet much more frequently in committees. Each member serves on several.

It’s time-consuming, arduous and thankless work. And every 2 years, RTM members must run for re-election.

Fortunately, serving on the body is not all work and no play. Last week, 23 members — along with the town clerk and RTM secretary — gathered for lunch at Tavern on Main.

Member Matthew Mandell — whose day job is executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — organized the event. It was a way for everyone to spend time together outside of Town Hall. (And yes, for the Chamber to promote Restaurant Week.)

The RTM lunch at Tavern on Main.

It was the middle of election season. But, Mandell says, “people enjoyed that we could all sit together. Political party means nothing to us” — the RTM is non-partisan.

“It was nice to just BS, and not discuss any issue coming before us, or even around town. The RTM has had some late nights recently. This was a good break.”

(Even though there was a quorum, no official notice was required. “Social gatherings do not constitute an illegal meeting — just fun,” explains town clerk Patty Strauss.)

“The RTM is a collegial bunch who volunteer a lot of time to the town,” Mandell notes.

So, to all 36 members — and all the others, running for a seat — thank you for all you do for Westport. You are our Unsung Heroes of the Week.

We hope you enjoyed your lunch. Now get back to work!

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 

Winslow Park This Sunday: Dog Day Afternoon (And Morning)

Last year’s Dog Festival was postponed — twice! — by rain.

Matthew Mandell — executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, producer of the 4th annual event — has done his due diligence.

He made sure that this year’s rain fell in all of April, and continued through early this week.

Sure, there are a couple of pesky showers forecast for Sunday morning. But Mandell says they’ll clear out in time for every dog to have its day.

The Dog Festival is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Winslow Park. Fido’s favorite playground will be even more dog-gone fun on Sunday, with:

  • Exciting demonstrations (police dogs, guide dogs, agility and training)
  • Goofy competitions (best tail wagger, best dressed, best kisser, best trick, dog that most looks like its owner — all judged by state and local officials)
  • Obstacle course (fastest dog wins a year’s supply of dog food)
  • Kids’ activities (caricatures, face painting, etc.)
  • Vendors
  • Food trucks
  • Adoptables
  • Information about non-profits (including co-producer TAILS)
  • Giveaways, and more.

New this year: a Frisbee catching and agility show, with tips on how to train your dog to do those tricks too.

This guy loved last year’s Dog Festival. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Also new this year: no parking at the Westport Country Playhouse. The lot is reserved for the “In the Heights” audience.

Instead, there’s easy access via the Saugatuck Congregational Church back parking lot (after 10:30 a.m.), private lots across the Post Road (with traffic agents helping to cross), and the Senior Center’s new gravel path to the Post Road (much closer than you think).

Every day — rain or shine — Winslow Park is filled with dogs. Here’s hoping that  on Sunday — their special day — the only thing wet will be their noses.

(For more information, including how to sign up for competitions, click here.)

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.