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It takes a village: Gaults' project reinvigorates Saugatuck

Published 4:20 pm, Thursday, June 27, 2013

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  • Saugatuck Center -- the mixed-used community that includes apartments, restaurants and retail space -- is nearly complete. Photo: Cameron Martin / Westport News
    Saugatuck Center -- the mixed-used community that includes apartments, restaurants and retail space -- is nearly complete. Photo: Cameron Martin

 

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Michelle Weber has a distinct interest in the ongoing revitalization of the town's Saugatuck area.

Not only is she an area business owner -- she owns Cocoa Michelle's coffee shop on Railroad Place and is opening a new gourmet market in the Saugatuck Center mixed-use complex on Riverside Avenue in August -- but she lives in Saugatuck on Treadwell Avenue.

With phase two of the Saugatuck Center project nearing completion -- 21 apartments and 4,400 square feet of retail space, including Weber's new establishment, CM Gourmet Market -- the long-term vision of a village-type atmosphere is coming to fruition after several years of planning and development.

"I live there, I love it," Weber said. "It's very neighborly down in Saugatuck, but we were just lacking the things that bring us together."

The first stage of development, finished in May 2011, included the construction of two anchor buildings on the east side of Riverside Avenue, which now house Downunder Kayaking water sports store, Saugatuck Craft Butchery, The Whelk seafood restaurant, several financial-services firms and six apartments.

The phase one work also included construction of a boardwalk, the opening of a 20-slip marina and a 35-space underground parking garage -- part of an overall plan to create a tightknit community where people could live, eat, shop and commute by train.

Of the 21 new apartments in phase two, the two-bedroom apartments rent for $3750-$5500 per month, the one-bed room apartments rent for $2750-$3500, and the affordable units rent for $1100-$1300.

Saugatuck Center represents one of the most ambitious and far-reaching development projects undertaken in Westport during the last 20 years. Hamilton Development, which owns and oversees development of the project, is an arm of the Saugatuck-based Gault businesses.

Gault Energy President Sam Gault said making Saugatuck Center a mixed-use area -- as opposed to a dedicated collection of office buildings -- was the right move.

"It has something for everybody," Gault told the Westport News. "One of the main goals of the project was to be able to open up the river for the community. It's fun to see 15 people out there on paddleboards when you drive over the bridge on your way home."

Kim Beaumont, owner of Downunder Kayaking, said the businesses in that area complement each other well. The opening of CM Gourmet Market will bring her additional business, Beaumont said.

"That's probably a clientele that I don't already have," Beaumont said. "Certainly we need beverages and food for people who go on the water. They need to be hydrated, and they're hungry when they come off or they take food out and go for a picnic. The symbiosis is really beautiful."

Saugatuck Craft Butchery has done so well in its 1,000-square-foot business at 575 Riverside Ave. that it's moving to a space that's twice as big -- across the street to 585 Riverside Ave., the second retail outlet in the phase two development.

Co-owner Ryan Fibiger said the larger accommodations will allow them to build a full commercial kitchen and to offer prepared foods.

"The whole area has just changed dramatically and it's been awesome," Fibiger said. "There's so much more traffic down here, there's so many more places to shop, the food scene is incredible. What we're doing and what Whelk is doing is a big part of that. To see the other side of the street go up, you can see the whole vision -- the housing, the retail, the restaurant space -- it's all coming together how we thought it would."

Sam Gault said he has not found a new tenant to replace the butcher shop at 575 Riverside Ave.

When it's completed, phase two will consist of about 35,000 square feet of new development in a block that is framed by Riverside Avenue to the east, Ketchum Street to the north and Franklin Street to the west. The second-phase development replaced a group of buildings that housed tenants such as Doc's Cafe -- which closed in November 2011 -- and also included garages for Gault Energy and Gault Stone.

Fairfield-based Walker Construction performed excavation work at the site of the second-phase development to prepare it for the new buildings. The Norwalk-based A. Pappajohn Co. took over construction.

On the other side of Ketchum Street -- in the so-called phase three project -- Hamilton Development opened a new office park. The office complex contains a renovated 20,000-square-foot building at 20 Ketchum St., that houses several tenants, including Revere Capital, Resnick Investment Advisors, the marketing firm Madison | Mott, and Energi, a risk management and insurance brokerage company.

Adjacent to 20 Ketchum St., a pair of buildings at 16 Ketchum St. and 25 Franklin St., also provide office space.

"I always said that once the second phase gets built it becomes more dramatic because it pulls the whole project together," Gault said. "As a family we're very proud of the project. We love the idea of creating a mixed-use project right in a transit-oriented district down in Saugatuck."