Downtown Development Needs Dedication


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Aaron Hendel ’14
Staff Writer

Downtown Westport's Saugatuck River, surrounded by parking and office buildings, could be one of the key components to the downtwon rejuvenation. | Photo courtesy of lauriecrouse.com

Boring. Dull. Plain. Full of banks.

This is the continuous status of downtown Westport. This could easily change, but it needs one very important thing. The biggest necessity is that “we need a dedicated effort,” said Jonathan Steinberg, state representative of the 136th district of Connecticut, which is most of Westport. Steinberg is also one of two RTM representatives of the Plan Implementation Committee, which also chairs the Downtown Sub Committee.

Robert Orr, an architect, came in and “offered us a way to achieve the objectives and priorities we’d been working on for two years,” Steinberg recalled.

However, to achieve this, people would have to be willing to pay for parking meters, or for space in a parking deck in or near Parker Harding Plaza, which is conveniently town owned.

Additionally, the speed limit would probably be decreased. “I’m often in a rush when I’m in my car as well,” Steinberg noted, “but we want downtown to be a pedestrian friendly place, where people get out of their cars and are actually face to face with each other, and to get people used to getting around more slowly and on foot, rather than rushing through downtown.”

Hopefully, a friendly environment will be the result of this project and “reel people” into what would be a true community.

Another aspect of the downtown plan would be to go green. Steinberg is planning on “beautification and efficient use of energy” in order to maintain this friendly idea. This is not just for the kids looking for hang out spots.

However, teenagers will definitely benefit. “The plan would hopefully facilitate several good places where teens could hang,” said Steinberg. Yet this will also be a place for families to spend quality time with each other.

There will be “big reasons for everyone to come down,” and even live, with small, affordable apartments potentially being put up.

Main ideas of the plan consist of a river walk along the picturesque Saugatuck River, which has parking nearly everywhere near it. This is also the biggest reason for the parking deck.

Additionally the plan includes art centers, a movie theater, and of course the Westport Public Library.

Another big factor in transforming the downtown area, would be to support more diverse retail stores.

As for nightlife, performance locations for concerts and things of that nature could be implemented, as well as a movie theater. This will not be easy, because some areas are land that the town does not own, so it would really be up to the real estate owners. But again, this represents part of the dedication that is needed.

People should want to go downtown, to walk around, and to buy the ice cream cone or Westport sweatshirt, or look around the art gallery.

Realistically, development will possibly begin in three years, or more according to Steinberg, and this is assuming the developers and town officials are satisfied and agree to the plan. This is certainly not a given, especially that a lot needs to go right for all this to be put in place, like cooperation from the real estate owners.

After all, it is only a proposal. However, there are successful models, such as Fairfield, who rejuvenated their unexciting downtown, and mostly importantly, “made the dedication to fix it,” said Steinberg.

Dedication is what the town needs in order to obtain the ideal downtown area Westporters are looking for.

Additionally, the town has not reason to worry about extra spending; the town will sell land to developers, and with the money, the town should be able to pay for things like the parking deck on its own.

But in order for Westport to become a “town asset,” like Steinberg says it should and can be, the town needs to come together as a community, get organized, use the convenient area, and go for it.

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