Departing Y will alter downtown
Editor's note: This article is the latest in a series that is looking at the changing face of downtown Westport.
Many long-time Westporters bemoan the changes that have been occurring in downtown over the years. Favorite stores have been shuttered, popular restaurants have closed but since 1923, one location has remained a fixture of the area -- the Westport Weston Family Y.
It's not certain when, but the Family Y will be leaving its current spot in the heart of downtown at 59 Post Road E. The building has already been sold, so it's just a matter of overcoming some lawsuits, raising enough money and finalizing design plans for the new building at Camp Mahackeno.
The move was and still is a controversial topic, but people on both sides can agree on at least one thing: the face of downtown will change forever. What the future will bring is still up in the air.
One of the main points opponents of the Family Y move made is that it's a keystone of the downtown area, and that by keeping it in its current location, a more vibrant downtown can be maintained.
Iain Bruce, president of the Family Y's board of directors, disagrees.
"I frankly don't think the Y is important to downtown," he said. "I think it's important to the community as a whole, but the location isn't that important."
He added, "I don't think we're any more essential to the
downtown as any other thing, but I think the essential thing to downtown is to have a diversity of attractions."
Plans for the building aim to provide that diversity of attractions. The 110,000-square-foot structure was purchased in 2006, prior to the economic collapse, in the hope of creating a mixed-use building with a blend of luxury condos, office space and restaurant and retail space.
The building was purchased in excess of $20 million by Bedford Square Associates, a company formed for the purchase and redevelopment of the building. The owners are David Waldman of David Adam Realty, B. Lance Sauerteig of BLS Strategic Capital and Paul Brandes and Daniel Zelson of Charter Realty & Development Corp.
Details of the contract are kept confidential, but sources say that the final price of the building will be determined when the nonprofit organization leaves the building.
Waldman is no stranger to downtown. The developer owns various buildings in the area, including the Patagonia building across the street from the Family Y. He and his associate, Saurteig, also have offices downtown. Waldman declined to comment about the redevelopment of the Family Y, but in the past he has publicly revealed the group's intentions of creating a mixed-use building.
"The project involves demolishing additions to the original building and constructing a new mixed-use complex, which includes restaurants, retail, office space, and townhouse condominiums," according to the description of the project. "The complex would surround a piazza with pedestrian connections from the north, south and west activating forgotten alleyways and transforming an existing pedestrian right-of-way into a lively pedestrian main street."
The description continued: "The enlarged sidewalks and sunken courts provide views and access to lower level retail and sandwich shops. The condominiums will occupy the third floor and fourth floors and have gracious roof gardens to the southeast and trellis-lined rooftop decks to the west, overlooking the piazza. Resident parking would be provided below grade."
Although Waldman declined to comment on the building his group purchased, he was willing to speak as a member of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association (WDMA) and the group's efforts to revitalize the area through a capital improvement campaign that aims to widen sidewalks, make parking more convenient and have the area become a more enticing place for visitors.
"Obviously the Y will impact that," he said.
The group Y Downtown is awaiting the result of lawsuits filed against the Town of Westport and the approval of the new Family Y by both the Conservation Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission. Indy Goldberg, co-founder of the group, believes that the Y's departure will have a negative effect on downtown.
"Part of our feeling is that the vibrancy of downtown will be affected when the Y leaves because it is a community center. [The Family Y brings] ... everybody to the downtown area, where people shop and get a snack afterwards."
She's only heard the basics of the plans for the building once the Y leaves and she remains skeptical.
"I don't think we need to add more shops downtown. I think we need to keep our sense of a small town community," Goldberg said.
Bruce, however, thinks that the plans Bedford Square Associates has made public could resonate with people.
"The kind of things which they talked about is what a lot of people ... have said they wanted downtown," he said.
He added, "I think there's a whole bunch of things that can be done to that space and downtown that will make it more attractive than it is. Downtown is already an attractive place."