Last Thursday, Bedford Square Associates took ownership of the former Westport Y. The complex — including the 1923 Tudor building — will be transformed into a retail, restaurant and residential center.
Today, the iconic Kwanzan cherry trees in front of the Bedford building were chopped down.
The spacious new parking lot was filled. Y members, staffers, volunteers and friends gathered to celebrate the move from the 90-year-old downtown facility, to the one off Wilton Road.
Longtime benefactors were honored at a pre-dedication reception inside. The Gault, Mitchell and Tauck families headed the list.
Robin Tauck enjoys one of the Y’s new group fitness studios.
Then the group assembled outside the west-facing front entrance. Replicating the work of his predecessor 91 years ago, Reverend Jeffrey Rider of Greens Farms Congregational Church delivered a prayer that invoked the first chapter of the Bible: Rather than dwell alone, mankind should be part of a community.
1st Selectman Jim Marpe continued the theme. He said the Y makes the community more whole, more healthful and more connected.
State Senator John McKinney — a Bedford descendant — described his family’s 5-generation support of the Y.
Board president Bonnie Strittmatter and trustees chairman Pete Wolgast thanked many people. So did Y CEO Rob Reeves, with a special shout-out to principal designer Kevin Smith.
Y CEO Rob Reeves, and the crowd outside the new building.
After the ribbon was cut, 250 people poured into the new Y. The adults ate, talked and toured, while the kids romped in the new gym.
It was a great start. But it’s premature. Until final inspections are done and permits are issued — hopefully within a few days — the downtown Y will linger on.
Enjoying the evening (from left): Ruth Sherman, who has taught aqua fitness at the Y since the 1960s; former CEO Helene Weir, and Patty Kondub, a popular Y spin and aqua teacher. (Photos/Scott Smith)
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Paul Schott of the Westport News called the 60,000-square foot mixed-use complex planned for the site of the current Westport Y “arguably the most far-reaching commercial real estate project planned during the last generation in downtown Westport.”
There’s no “arguably” about it. This is The Big One. A true downtown game changer.
The proposed Bedford Square plan, looking northwest. The new buildings (shown) would replace the current YMCA Weeks Pavilion, and 35 Church Lane.
The development — announced Tuesday — would keep the original Bedford Y. The old Tudor building at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street has, since 1923, defined downtown.
But the Weeks Pavilion — the hideous 1978 addition that, in part because of its unwieldiness, has driven the Y to Mahackeno — would be torn down.
So would 35 Church Lane, an 1890 Queen Anne-style house. That will arouse a lot more sentiment than the lumpy, leaky Weeks Y.
The block — extending out to Elm Street — will be the site of a new “Bedford Square.” Retail, residential, restaurant and office space would ring a large public plaza. Public walkways will tie the entire area in with adjacent downtown areas.
The 30 residential units include 550-square foot studio apartments, on up to 1,800-square foot 2-bedroom homes.
Also planned: a 100-car underground parking garage.
A view of Church Lane, looking east. The current firehouse portion of the Y is at left; Patagonia is on the right.
Construction could start in the fall of 2014 — assuming (a big “if”) the new Y is ready then, and the lengthy town board review process goes smoothly.
Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months. That would be a chaotic time downtown.
But — judging from the initial rendering — Bedford Square could be a handsome, well-planned, creative and unifying addition to downtown.
Coming as it does while Lou Gagliano’s 2020 Committee is also working to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, the timing seems right.
We’ve seen what the addition of one restaurant (the Spotted Horse) and one retailer (Urban Outfitters) can do to Church Lane. Imagine what an integrated, block-long plan could accomplish.
The Bedford Square plan is definitely — not arguably — “the most far-reaching commercial real estate project planned during the last generation in downtown Westport.”
Let’s hope it works out better than a previous, similarly touted project 60 years ago: Parker Harding Plaza.
Then again, it can’t turn out worse.
Part of the courtyard that would be ringed by new buildings on Church Lane and Elm Street.
An alert “06880” reader — a man who works in downtown Westport, and has a keen sense of the area’s past, present and future — wandered down Church Lane. He gazed at the Federal-style Sherwood House across from the Y — now being renovated into a restaurant — and sent this along:
I’ve been wondering about the worth of totally gutting a “historic” building in the name of preservation, when the fact of the matter is there’s hardly anything original about the building once the renovation is complete.
The future home of the Grey Goose restaurant is a case in point. There’s more daylight in this old building than wood.
As I was snapping this photo and thinking “what’s the point?” the builder came across the street and asked what I was doing. He seems like a nice guy.
When I mentioned to him that it seemed a costly sham to just leave a few timbers up, he said there was actually a lot of original timber left in the building — and a lot more of it just lying around.
He said there are some cool pieces, including mantels, that he doesn’t know what to do with. I’ve seen some of it — hand-hewn beams with ax marks plainly visible. The wood’s got to be 200 years old.
I told him I’d mention it to you in case you wanted to ask your readers how best to recycle these vintage — and historic — pieces of Westport’s past.
Okay, “06880” readers: Game on!
You’re a creative bunch. You respect yesterday, while looking forward to tomorrow. Click “Comments” to let the Grey Goose builder know exactly what he can do with his timber.
You never know what’s inside a letter with no return address. A complaint? Something crazy from a former lover? Anthrax?
The other day, the Westport Y got an anonymous letter. It read:
To whom it may concern,
About 20 years ago I was a kid and a friend and I stole money from the lockers at your Y.
As kids it was a lot of money but as adults it is not that much. $1-$5 here and there over a period of a few weeks. One time we did take a $100 dollar bill.
I only feel it is right to give back what I had taken. I am including a money order for what I feel is my portion of what was stolen from these innocent people just using the locker room at the local YMCA.
Feel free to utilize it in any was possible as I am sure you would not be able to personally give it back to any of the victims.
Surprised and grateful Y officials have earmarked the donation — a money order for $150 — for their annual “Strong Kids” campaign.
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