The drizzling rain and gloomy skies Tuesday failed to dampen spirits downtown as the development partnership for the multi-faceted Bedford Square project, realizing a decade-long dream, kicked off the construction phase for the $100 million endeavor with a ceremonial groundbreaking.

After 10 years of planning and securing a lengthy series of town approvals for the development rising on the former site of the Westport Weston Family YMCA, as well as several months demolishing some of the buildings on the site, the ceremony marked the start of intensive construction on the property bordered by Post Road East, Main and Elm streets, and Church Lane.

"When the project first started my son was an infant and I thought it would be done by the time he was 10," said David Waldman, project developer and president of David Adam Realty, one of the partnership's principals. He said his son is now 11 and will be 13 by the time it is scheduled to be completed, he said.

The project involves completely renovating and re-purposing two historic structures -- the 1924 Bedford Building, which was built for the YMCA 90 years ago and housed its operations up until last November, as well as the adjoining firehouse.

Bedford Square is a collaboration between two local real estate development firms -- Waldman's company and Charter Realty & Development Corp., led by partners Dan Zelson and Paul Brandes.

"This will be a historic transformation of downtown Westport," said Brandes. "The downtown commercial district is already one of the most successful in the nation and our project will enhance the community's enjoyment of their local shopping and dining experience, as well as adding much-desired residential units in a way that fits seamlessly with the unique historic nature of Bedford Square."

Zelson said the project would provide 70,000 square feet of retail space, 24 residential apartments, office space and more than 100 underground parking spaces.

"We really respected the Bedford mansion and firehouse, taking into account the architecture," he said.

That will also be the case when Anthropologie, the anchor store, moves to the project, most likely by Thanksgiving. The retailer of high-end clothing and home goods will occupy 40,000 square feet.

Zelson said the developers expect to sign other tenants in the next few months.

Wade McDevitt, whose firm, the McDevitt Co., has represented Anthropologie for more than 25 years, said the retailer is "bullish on Westport."

"It's clearly a market we respect," he added. When they were re-imagining the upscale store, he said Westport was the obvious choice to launch it.

Anthropologie will greatly increase the size of its Westport operations with the move to Bedford Square. Its current store at 1365 Post Road East is encompasses about 7,000 square feet.

The new store will include Anthropologie's traditional clothing store as well as a home store, beauty store with a salon, BHLDN merchandise (the store's wedding line) and a café/restaurant in the base of the historic firehouse.

"This has not been an overnight success," First Selectman Jim Marpe about the Bedford Square project. He credited his predecessor as first selectman, Gordon Joseloff, for his role in helping moving the project along.

Marpe said the developers have been able to develop something new, while maintaining the small-town character of downtown, something, he said later was "the biggest desire" of those taking a survey during the Downtown Master Plan process.

Joseloff, attending the groundbreaking, said the project will be transformative to the downtown area. He agreed it did take a while to get to this point. "But in Westport things take a little longer and 10 years is right on schedule," he said.

"This is another step in the progress of downtown," said Lou Gagliano, who chaired the non-defunct Downtown 2020 Committee. "Waldman deserves a lot of credit for staying with the project and saving these buildings, much like he did with the Gunn property," Gagliano said, referring to the historic Kemper-Gunn house which was located on a portion of the property where Bedford Square is being built. The house was relocated last year to the nearby town-owned Baldwin parking lot.

"I'm delighted this beautiful building is being preserved," Selectman Helen Garten said of the Tudor-style Bedford mansion. She led the committee that helped guide the relocation of the Gunn house.

Waldman called the Bedford Square project "a vision for Westport's future." He said it was made possible "through the collaboration and cooperation with our team, the town of Westport and our downtown neighbors."

He added that "by preserving and re-purposing these historically significant structures into a thoughtful and architecturally beautiful, mixed-use addition," the developers are "not only opening the gateway and connecting it to the town's future, but anchoring it with a retailer who will draw shoppers downtown, which in the long run will benefit everyone."