As it ramps up planning and public outreach efforts, Westport's Downtown 2020 Committee has identified hiring a consultant to help write a town center master plan as a top goal.
Since it was formed in March by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Downtown 2020 has focused on developing strategies and initiatives to revitalize Westport's town center. Its work encompasses issues such as the creation of a "green necklace" of riverfront access, open space and extending walking and bike paths in the town center; improving traffic flow and parking availability; support of a vibrant mix of retailers; greater downtown patronage in the evening, and facilitating more "trans-generational" residential use in the center.
"This group is really an economic development function for the downtown area," Lou Gagliano, Downtown 2020's chairman, said Thursday. "It's an early laboratory stage for developing the concepts of how to develop a more vibrant downtown."
Six months after the committee's creation, drafting a "master plan of development and implementation" for downtown has become a top objective for the panel. If implemented, a master plan could serve as a framework to coordinate the planning of major capital projects planned downtown, such as redevelopment of the current site of the Westport Weston Family Y into a mixed-use complex and building a new movie theater next to the Tavern on Main restaurant on Main Street. A consultant could figure prominently in the development of a master plan.
"He's going to be in essence our contractor to help us take this base work we've done, validate the assumptions and priorities that we believe are important, tie them together and then to help us develop a master plan of development," Gagliano said of a consultant's prospective role.
Downtown 2020 members are scheduled to meet with a candidate for the consultant role at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Town Hall.
Including the hiring of a consultant, preparing a master plan for downtown Westport would cost approximately $150,000, Gagliano estimates. A public-private partnership consisting of 50 percent private funding and 50 percent town money could fund the master plan project, Gagliano said. Downtown 2020 Committee members suggest in a new status report that elected town officials consider allocating $50,000 in next year's town budget for the committee's work.
"I think if it's put together well and presented well, all the pieces are there and we can understand the value of it, I think people will be open to it," Dewey Loselle, a member of the Representative Town Meeting's Long Range Planning Committee, said of the possibility of town funding for Downtown 2020 during a Thursday meeting of the committee.
Downtown 2020 is also seeking approval from the Internal Revenue Service to create a nonprofit organization for the committee's fundraising work.
Since its inception, committee members have also sought to garner the support of key downtown stakeholders such as the Downtown Merchants Association. Gagliano, meanwhile, has been instrumental in putting together the town's application for an approximately $500,000 grant from the state's new Main Street Investment Fund for sidewalk construction and improvements in the downtown area.
Downtown 2020 hopes to complete its master plan sometime in 2013, Gagliano told the Westport News. Adopting a downtown master plan of development would make Westport eligible for more economic development grants, according to Gagliano.
"It's a little bit like saying, `Do you want to spend $150,000 to open up the door to getting greater potential use of grant money?' " Gagliano added. "And the answer is, `sure.' "
A downtown master plan would need approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission and probably the RTM as well, according to Gagliano.
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