Westport Arts Center moving to Norwalk border
Details are still being hammered out but, if all goes well, the Westport Arts Center could sign a lease and formally announce a move within the next month.
“We’re not actually announcing our move yet,” said arts center Executive Director Amanda Innes. “We haven’t even signed lease yet.”
The Westport Arts Center, currently on Riverside Avenue, will move — if everything goes as planned — to 19 Newtown Turnpike, on a property that straddles the Westport/Norwalk line.
As architect Howard Lathrop said at a Jan. 16 Zoning Commission meeting, “The building is in Norwalk but the driveway is in Westport.”
The Norwalk Zoning Commission approved unanimously the application at a Feb. 7 meeting. A public hearing brought a few questions but no outright opposition.
“We had a neighbors’ meeting back in December and it was really a very friendly meeting,” Innes said. “They’re very welcoming to the idea of us being there.”
The arts center’s current location is very visible, close to downtown Westport and on the way to I-95. But Innes said moving to a bigger, if somewhat less accessible location was a matter of necessity, common to similar organizations.
“The reason arts organizations need to be out of the way is because they can’t pay retail prices per square foot,” she said. “We’re in that same boat.”
Over the years, the building has served many purposes. Built in 1922, Innes called it an old armory and a warehouse, but children’s books were also manufactured there at one point, and it later housed Martha Stewart’s TV studio.
What it has for the Westport Arts Center is more space and higher ceilings.
Innes said the current location is about 3,000 square feet with 7.5-foot ceilings.
“We hold concerts where we sell out with 100-some-odd people,” she said. We’re bursting at the seams.”
The new building, which the arts center will rent, is three-stories high, with 16-foot ceilings.
There’s still some work to be done. After a lease is signed it will take about a year until the arts center can move.
The building needs to be brought up to code, the parking lot and drively need some work and there’s landscaping to be done. To make the building museum-quality, the heating and air conditioning must be significantly improved.
“It’s been kind of sitting fallow or for about eight years,” Innes said.