One of three firms vying for downtown planning job is eliminated
Striking a cooperative chord, members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Downtown 2020 Committee agreed Monday morning that two Connecticut-based design firms are the finalists for the job of preparing a master plan to coordinate development of major capital projects downtown.
Norwalk-based RBA Group and Milone & MacBroom Inc. of Cheshire will be asked to make a final pitch next Tuesday morning before a joint meeting of the zoning commission and the Downtown 2020 Committee. Peter J. Smith of Buffalo, N.Y., was eliminated from contention, largely because of its geographic distance.
The committee hopes to make its selection at that meeting and recommend that firm's proposed contract for review and votes by a series of other town boards and commissions. The meeting next Tuesday is tentatively set for 8 a.m. in Town Hall.
"All three were excellent," said Downtown 2020 Committee member Ken Bernhard. "It was our collective concern that (Peter J. Smith) weren't going to be as available as we'd need them to be. This process is going to be a very needy one, a very interactive one with input from all of the community, and sustaining relationships is going to be important. I think their geographical distance was the impediment to their selection."
The Downtown 2020 Committee was appointed last year by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and charged with hiring a firm to prepare a master plan that would coordinate and consolidate downtown planning.
The P&Z and the Downtown 2020 Committee have previously been at odds over the perception that the 2020 group might unduly influence development decisions under the legal purview of the zoning commission.
But Monday's meeting -- which was called by the P&Z -- had a decidedly positive tenor.
"We have appreciated everything Downtown 2020 has done," zoning commissioner Chip Stephens said. "It has been a rocky road, but when you get to the end it's always a rocky road as you try to play together."
The impetus behind the downtown master plan is the number of current and future capital projects all planned for the town center, including:
• Redevelopment of the Westport Weston Family Y's property as the multi-use complex known as Bedford Square.
• Construction of a senior residential complex at Baron's South.
• "Transformation" of the Westport Public Library's building.
• Construction of a movie theater adjacent to the Main Street restaurant Tavern on Main.
• Construction of a new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts on the east bank of the Saugatuck River.
During its presentation late last month, representatives of RBA said that they envision the Saugatuck River as a focal point of a nascent arts district on the east and west sides of the river, which flows to downtown on its way to Long Island Sound. Construction of a new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts on the east bank of the Saugatuck River will begin soon, and there is a proposal to relocate the Westport Arts Center to Jesup Green. Several new restaurants on both sides of the river -- including in the redeveloped National Hall property on Wilton Road -- will complement this arts district, RBA representatives said.
Milone & MacBroom was the third firm to present its proposals for a master plan to the public and members of the Downtown 2020 Committee.
Despite past work with the Downtown Merchants Association, representatives of Milone & MacBroom said they would be deferential to all downtown stakeholders if they are selected for the job of preparing a master plan to coordinate development of major capital projects in the town's center area.
The firm said broad community involvement -- including a 400-person telephone survey -- would be instrumental in devising a plan that's sensitive to the needs and wants of a wide range of stakeholders.
"Once we have some initial guidance from the community, we build on that and create strategies," said Milone & MacBroom project manager Vince McDermott.
Bernhard said there is no favorite between the two finalists.
"They both have strong engineering and traffic components to their expertise," he said. "We think the engineering and traffic studies are going to be the most important part of what we hope to have delivered to us. They're both contenders at this point. It'll be a close vote, I'm sure."
The submitted plans for the two finalists are fairly similar in cost -- $178,500 for RBA and $185,000 for Milone & MacBroom.