Woog's World / What stories will fill 2013's blank slate?
Published 9:31 am, Sunday, January 6, 2013
At the end of every year, it's natural to look back. Everything that happened seems pre-ordained. Sure, we had a hurricane; we hadn't had one in decades, and we were long overdue. Of course the Y got its permit to build at Mahackeno; the interminable process finally ran its course. Naturally, the town and school budgets were passed without the bruising battles of years ago; our elected officials now work together, and (unlike their counterparts in Washington) they understand the politics of consensus.
But what seems so obvious looking backward in late December is never the same as looking ahead in early January.
Today -- a few days into the new year -- we stare into the blank space that is "2013." Twelve months from now, all those pages will be filled in. For now, we can only wonder.
One of the things we wonder about is the fate of downtown. Already reeling under the weight of too many mall-like chain stores, and a tired look desperately in need of updating, Main Street got hammered by Hurricane Sandy. Some of those same-old, same-old chains -- which did attract out-of-town shoppers -- took several weeks to reopen. They missed much of the Christmas season. Despite a horse-drawn sleigh, downtown during the holidays seemed to have lost much of its festive zip. (The massacre in nearby Newtown perhaps contributed to that mood.)
Will Main Street regain its groove this year? Will new landscaping near the pizzeria, and the promised light fixtures, make it an attractive destination once more? Will Lou Gagliano's 2020 committee spark serious discussion about greenways and novel traffic patterns, or will it be dismissed as just another feel-good committee?
The good news is that the Church Street revival should continue. In the coming year, the Westport Y will finally begin its move to Mahackeno. The building will still be used for fitness, childcare and swimming -- but if the funding gap is closed, groundbreaking for the new Y may be held this winter. As plans for the old site -- a mixture of retail, office and residential space -- are revised and reformulated, that small stretch of downtown will change dramatically. Perhaps, as 2013 ends -- with the Y a few months from moving -- we'll sense even more new energy coming to that corner of town.
Saugatuck, meanwhile, continues its remarkable renaissance. Phase II is well under way; hump-backed Ketchum Street has already been leveled, and the contours of a new neighborhood have begun to emerge. A couple of years ago, we had to take the developers' vision on faith. This year, it made a lot of sense. A year from now we'll look at the life pulsing from the train station, down Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues and environs, and think of it all as completely natural and normal. It never was, though.
A year from now too, we'll have a better understanding of what Hurricane Sandy did to our real estate market. We were in a slow but steady recovery when the ferocious winds and tidal surge hit. We are just now coming to grips with what it all means. At least one home on Old Mill Beach will be demolished; many more on Compo Cove are probably unsalvageable. Homeowners all around Compo Beach are assessing their options; others on Saugatuck Shores are doing the same.
Will we see scores of rebuilt homes, higher and sturdier than ever? Or will prices in those areas start to decline? If so, what will be the hot new areas in town? A year from now, we will nod our heads and say, "It all makes sense." Right now, none of it does.
A year from now too, we'll have a new first selectman. Jim Marpe resigned from the Board of Education late last year, to prepare for a run. No other Republicans have yet announced. The name most frequently mentioned on the Democratic side is state legislator Jonathan Steinberg, though he has given no indication he'll run. No matter who is involved, it should be an interesting race. The candidates will talk about taxes, budget priorities, zoning, the role of local government, education, transportation, recreation, and of course downtown. When we look back on the winner, his or her election will seem foreordained. Today, of course, it's a total mystery.
There's one more mystery that we hope, a year from now, will be just a memory: disappearing Halloween. The snowstorm of 2011, and the hurricane of 2012, delivered knockout punches to one of Westport's favorite holidays. All around town, little kids can't remember the last time they went trick-or-treating. Let's hope that next January, when we look out at the unknown landscape that is 2014, we will not be gazing back at a third straight lost Halloween.