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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Police and Fire Budgets Show Slight Decreases

By James Lomuscio

Next year’s police and fire department budgets seemed to please the Board of Finance as it pored over Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe’s proposed $79 million 2017-18 municipal budget Tuesday night.

WestportNow.com Image
Police Chief Foti Koskinas listens to Board of Finance members along with First Selectman Jim Marpe and Finance Director Gary Conrad. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The proposed police budget of $8,141,397 represents a 0.5 percent decrease over the current year, and the $9,110,386 proposed fire budget is down 0.7 percent.

The Police Department decrease does not factor in salary changes as contract negotiations continue. Officers have been without a contract since June.

Still the first responder overall budgets seemed on target with Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern’s zero-base budgeting directive as the town girds itself against the state’s fiscal malaise.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

GOP, Malloy Offer Plans to Restore Stalled Local Aid

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Republicans in the state House and Senate and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy both released proposals today to release stalled municipal aid that local officials hoped to receive this fiscal year.

And Republican leaders also said that their Democratic counterparts withdrew support at the last minute from a plan to restore education grants — and to close a small budget deficit as projected by nonpartisan analysts.

Democratic legislative leaders countered that the GOP plan still needed adjustments and that Republican leaders went “rushing into a news conference” rather than continuing bipartisan talks.

“We want to be bipartisan if that is an option,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby said during a late morning news conference in the Legislative Office Building. “We all could have been standing here today moving the state of Connecticut forward.”

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Friday, February 03, 2017

Last in 5-Part Series: When Fiscal Reality Meets Political Spin

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

When state budget director Ben Barnes told reporters Connecticut had “entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis,” he did so just 13 days after his boss, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, had won the 2014 gubernatorial election with a polar opposite message.

While Malloy dismissed a major deficit forecast and pledged not to raise taxes, his Republican opponent, Tom Foley was even more upbeat about delivering tax relief and closing the deficit.

The challenge of wooing voters has taken on new dimensions as politicians increasingly are boxed in by Connecticut’s fiscal realities, and the 2014 gubernatorial campaign isn’t the only example.

In recent years, Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly have accused each other of making unrealistic if not ridiculous promises that fly in the face of the state’s mounting debts.

Click HERE for more of story

02/03/17 09:47 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Malloy: Teacher Pension Proposal to Hit Wealthy Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said today his proposed budget would shift $407.6 million, nearly one-third of the annual cost of municipal school teachers’ pensions, on to cities and towns — a move that would hit the state’s wealthiest communities the hardest.

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Westport would be hard hit by the Malloy proposal. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) CTMirror.org graphic

Malloy also said the two-year budget he will present Wednesday to the General Assembly would propose eliminating the $200 property tax credit within the income-tax system, costing nearly 875,000 middle-class households as much as $105 million per year based on nonpartisan analysts’ estimates.

Unlike nearly all other state education aid, the state contribution to teacher pensions does not factor in a town’s wealth or local taxpayers’ ability to pick up some of the cost. It proportionately funnels the most aid to districts that can afford to hire more teachers and provide the highest salaries.

“At a time when state government is making difficult cuts to services, we can no longer exclude how we pay for teachers’ pensions from this conversation,” Malloy said.

Click HERE for more of story

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Westport Grand List Grows 1.36 Percent

In an indication of Westport’s continued economic health, the Grand List for 2016 jumped 1.36 percent or approximately $148 million to $11 billion, Tax Assessor Paul Friia announced.

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The breakdown of the 2016 Grand List as provided by the Tax Assessor’s Office. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed graphic

This compared to a 7.8 percent increase in 2015 (a revaluation year) over 2014, a 1.5 percent increase in 2014 over the previous year, and 1.3 percent increase in 2013.

The specific 2016 amount was $11,024,518,484 compared to $10,876,602,613 a year earlier. The list is the sum of the net assessed value of all taxable property — real estate, motor vehicles, and personal property.

Motor vehicles and personal property are valued annually, while real estate is updated based on the market values determined as of the town’s revaluation date of Oct. 1, 2015.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Comings & Goings: Nefaire Spa Opens

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Nefaire Spa, specializing in facials, massages, chemical peels, has opened at 141 Post Road East, next door to Westport Pizza. Founder Michael Chang (c), pictured with his staff, is a resident of the Danbury area and former analyst at a privately owned financial services company.  More information is available at http://www.nefaire.com. The 2,000-square feet space was formerly occupied by Healthy Choice Organic Mattresses, which closed in August. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

02/01/17 09:48 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Part 3 of a Series: Whether Taxing or Cutting, CT Faces Painful Fiscal Future

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

There is no shortage of ideas on how Connecticut should not solve the fiscal crisis caused by its massively unfunded retirement benefit programs.

There are plenty who say state government cannot tax its way out of a problem expected to last 15 years or more, and to attempt to do so would cripple an already weakened economy.

This camp places most of its hope in slashing labor costs. Unfortunately, the fastest growing expenses in the current budget have nothing to do with present-day workers, whose benefits are very close to the national average. And even reducing expenses tied to present-day workers comes with plenty of complications.

A second approach holds some reductions must be made but there’s no hope deep spending cuts can do it all and that major tax increases are unavoidable. Too much of the budget is tied up in fixed costs, and a slash-and-burn approach only would destroy the state’s quality of life while still failing to balance the books.

Click HERE for more of story

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sign Installation Within Reach

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Today’s snow did not stop installation of a new Design Within Reach sign on the former U.S. Post Office building at 154 Post Road East. As first reported by WestportNow last June (see WestportNow June 8, 2016) the building is the new Westport home of the furniture retailer. It was occupied until a year ago by the Post 154 Restaurant. A worker on site said the store, which formerly leased space on Elm Street, plans to open by the end of February. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) WestportNow.com photo

01/31/17 04:43 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

A Peak Inside New Design Within Reach

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Workers were completing the interior installation today of the new Design Within Reach furniture store at 154 Post Road East. The longtime home of the U.S. Post Office and, until a year ago the Post 154 Restaurant, will see the official opening of the store by the end of February, according to a worker on the site. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

01/31/17 04:38 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Malloy to Propose Mandate Relief for Cities, Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

UPDATE Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today unveiled a plan to ease mandates on cities and towns, led by elimination of a controversial cap on local budgets.

The governor, who is expected next week to recommend a major realignment of aid from wealthier to poorer communities, also proposed: changes to collective bargaining, tightening of prevailing wage standards, granting more flexibility in local property assessment rates and eliminating a requirement for a superintendent in small school districts.

“True partnerships are built on listening to the concerns and responding to the needs of the other party,” Malloy said. “Given the challenges we face in balancing the budget in the next biennium, the state and local municipalities must continue to strengthen our working partnership — and in some respects, begin to redefine this relationship.”

Local cities and towns have complained loudly over the past two years since the legislature established a cap system, with financial penalties when local spending exceeds certain limits.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Previously Denied, Developer Offers New Text Amendment

By James Lomuscio

With his high-rise Riverwalk project denied last March, Westport developer David Waldman has a newly proposed text amendment he hopes will pass muster when the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meets Thursday night.

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The former Save the Children building at 54 Wilton Road. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Elements that remain from the first proposal include a riverfront boardwalk from Bartaco to the end of the Wilton Road property and welcoming to the property a town-sponsored pedestrian bridge over the Saugatuck River from Parker Harding Plaza.

Text amendment 725 to be submitted by his attorney William J. Fitzpatrick is a reworked version of the previous Riverwalk amendment and one Waldman says will be more pleasing to the commission since it is consistent with the 2007 Plan of Conservation and development (POCD).

On March 3, the P&Z by a 5 to 2 vote denied the Riverwalk amendment. (See WestportNow March 3, 2016) It would have facilitated a two-story, 25,000-square-foot office building and a 47-foot tall residential building for between 15 to 17 condominiums at the 2.45-acre former Save the Children site at 54 Wilton Road overlooking the Saugatuck River.

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01/30/17 08:13 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

First In A Series: CT Standing On Its Own Fiscal Cliff

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Connecticut stands on the cusp of an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

The budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will present to the legislature Feb. 8, in an attempt to close $3 billion in deficits over the next two years, is only a portent of a far greater, long-term challenge facing the state.

Simply, the bill is coming due in ever-increasing amounts for the 80-year failure of one of the richest states in the nation to adequately save for retirement benefits promised to teachers and state employees.

Hobbled by debts accumulated by generations of governors and legislators, Connecticut for at least 15 years to come is likely to face a bleak and politically dangerous menu of options that could shape the state’s economy and quality of life.

Click here for more of story

01/30/17 03:14 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Comings & Goings: Anthony’s Nursery Closes

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Anthony’s Nursery and Garden Center, 492 Main St., has closed. Owner Tony Palmer said, “I can’t compete with the big box stores like Stew Leonard, Home Depot and the internet too. The days of the mom and pop nursery business are gone. This business has become a money pit to me, I can’t keep it going.” Palmer said he opened the business in April, 2010 after acquiring it from his uncle Philip who operated the business as Palmieri Nursery from 1942 to 2008. “I’m now fortifying my landscaping business, T. Palmer Landscaping Company, LLC,” Palmer said. “We won’t have a retail site, but will be able to supply all landscaping needs.” In recent years Westport’s other nurseries that closed include Geiger’s and nearby Daybreak Nursery. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

01/29/17 10:56 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Comings & Goings: Chico’s Closes Doors

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Employees of Chico’s, 61 Main St., part of the clothing chain offering women’s fashions, were packing up today. The store, whose lease is expiring, has been subject to repeated flooding on Main Street in recent years, closing four times since 2011 by flood waters. Customers were directed to Chico’s in Fairfield, Milford and Stamford Town Center.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

01/26/17 11:09 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Westport Sales Tax?

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Connecticut’s cities and towns today unveiled a sweeping financial plan that included a major sales tax boost to aid communities, new regionalization incentives and collective bargaining changes.

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Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin today at CCM’s news conference in Wethersfield. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Keith M. Phaneuf for CTMirror.org

The bargaining changes would be designed to ensure new revenue for towns would not be used to boost wages and benefits for municipal workers.

And while the plan the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) unveiled in Wethersfield was aimed at communities of all sizes, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin predicted this approach would enable the capital city to avoid insolvency and would boost struggling urban centers statewide.

The proposal could place Democrats in the General Assembly in a political quandary, leaving them caught between public-sector labor — a strong part of their political base — and a long-established priority of easing property-tax burdens.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Blumenthal, Murphy Back McMahon for SBA Post

By Ana Radelat

www.ctmirror.org

Washington — Introduced by the two senators who crushed her political hopes in Connecticut, Linda McMahon today sailed through a confirmation hearing, placing her a step closer to becoming the next head of the Small Business Administration.

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Linda McMahon after her confirmation hearing today.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Ana Radelat for CTMirror.org

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who both ran against McMahon to win their seats in the Senate, praised McMahon, the founder with her husband Vincent of the World Wrestling Federation, now the WWE, as a savvy businesswoman who would bring good policy and judgment to the Trump administration.

At her hearing before the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Murphy introduced McMahon as “a fellow Nutmegger.”

“This visual is going to be a little amusing and surprising to folks in Connecticut, who saw the three of us duke it out during two long Senate campaigns, but politics can’t work if political grudges never die,” Murphy said.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

CT’s Jobless Rate Falls to 4.4 Percent Despite December Job Losses

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Connecticut posted a mixed jobs report for December as the unemployment rate dropped from 4.7 percent to 4.4 percent, despite the loss of 1,700 jobs that month and the downgrading of November’s job gain, the state Department of Labor said today.

The November report of 2,100 new positions was downgraded by 1,900.

Despite these drops, Connecticut’s unemployment rate for December was one full percentage point lower than one year ago at that time. The state lost 2,000 jobs in the 2016 calendar year.

“Connecticut’s December employment numbers continued the recent trend of mixed signals from the two monthly employment series produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” said Andy Condon, director of the department’s Office of Research.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Granola Bar Expanding to Stamford, Rye, N.Y.

The Granola Bar, the all-day breakfast and lunch café in Westport and Greenwich, announced today it is expanding to Stamford and Rye, New York.

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The first Granola Bar opened in Westport’s Playhouse Square in December 2013. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Founders Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily also announced a growth investment by and operational partnership with Trilynx Partners of Westport.

Its founders, Adam Diamond and Michael Schwartz, have more than 15 years of experience in hospitality brands such as Disney and Starwood Hotels, an announcement said. 

Mountain and Dana Noorily opened the first location in Playhouse Square in Westport in 2013

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Comings & Goings M-EAT to Bedford Square

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M-EAT, an upscale butcher shop, will open in the new Bedford Square development in the spring, according to those involved. “It will be impressive aesthetically and offer non-antibiotic, non-chemical, organic meats with highly affordable prices,” said Tom Febbraio, Staples ’71, restaurateur, real estate broker, and co-owner of Spotted Horse Tavern across the street. Kellie Lehn, vice president, North American operations for M-EAT, a business entity of Southport-based Fair Trade International, said the Westport location is the first of five planned on the East Coast. She said its parent company distributes fine meats imported from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chamber Head: ‘Business is Good’

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Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, told the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston today that “business is good in Westport,” citing expansion of the commercial property grand list. He noted there have been some “bumps in the road,” pointing to the recent closings of Sperry, Chico’s and Neat. However, he said the chamber and the Downtown Merchants Association are working on ways to promote downtown in “new and unique ways.” Looking ahead, he said two pending issues could impact the Westport business community —- construction of a new shopping mall at I-95 Exit 15 in Norwalk and the potential rebuilding of the William F. Cribari Bridge in Saugatuck. Preserving the bridge will keep 18-wheel trucks off Westport roads and is “both a safety issue and one that could harm the businesses in Saugatuck,” Mandell said. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermeyer for WestportNow.com

01/12/17 07:46 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Monday, January 09, 2017

Comings & Goings: Neat Closes

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UPDATE Neat Coffee and Craft Cocktails in the one-time Vigilante firehouse at 6 Wilton Road has closed after little more than two years, according to a sign (inset) today on the entrance door. Owner Rachel Haughey said in an email: “We had wonderful regulars and are grateful to have served them (along with many others!) for the past two years. We’re sorry that we are no longer there for them and that it happened so suddenly, but the numbers just weren’t there. It was a labor of love, and we will miss all of the faces, smiles, conversations, and friendships that came from it. We look forward to continuing those relationships at our founding location in Darien.” Neat opened in Westport in September 2014 and closed for a week last July for renovations. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Deli Under New Ownership Celebrates Opening

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The Winfield Street Deli is celebrating its grand opening at 13 Post Road West in space formerl occupied by Art’s Deli.  Owner Breno Donatti said business has been brisk with 120 lunches a day being served. He said an indoor seating area with a 12-person capacity is in the works. Donatti also operates Norwalk’s Winfield Italian Deli, 69 Winfield St., and, since February 2016, Winfield Street Espresso & Panini Bar, 4 Railroad Place, across from the Westport Metro-North Railroad Station. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Bob Eckman for WestportNow.com

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Many Happy (?) Returns

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Customers line up today at Vineyard Vines on Main Street to return, exchange, or buy items in the post-Christmas rush. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

12/26/16 01:43 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

On Line at Lululemon Athletica

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Customer lines for the checkout counter snaked around Westport’s Main Street Lululemon Athletica store today. A clerk said, “So far about half our customers are returning merchandise and half are buying sale items.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Westporters at NYSE Charity Opening

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Six Westport residents today attended nonprofit Catch A Lift’s New York Stock Exchange opening bell. The charity helps post 9/11 combat wounded veterans and raises awareness of their needs. Pictured are Lance Lonegran, Adam Vengrow, Johanna Rossi, Andrew Berman, David Frost and Tom Dippel. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Staples Grad on Winning Business Team

WestportNow.com ImageGabrielle McNees (r), a 2015 Staples High School graduate, was among a team of six who recently won the prestigious Fordham University Gabelli School of Business 2016 Consulting Cup competition. They were given the challenge of identifying a Fortune 500 company’s biggest problem and coming up with an innovative solution to boost company sales and productivity. The winning team was awarded $3,000 in prize monies and members recognized for their demonstrated business acumen, creativity, teamwork and public speaking achievements. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Report: Trump Considering Westport Hedge Fund Manager for Defense Post

Westport Hedge fund manager and former Army officer David H. McCormick is the front-runner to serve as Donald Trump’s deputy defense secretary, according to Bloomberg News.

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David McCormick: president at Bridgewater.  Contributed photo

McCormick, president of Bridgewater Associates Inc., the world’s biggest hedge fund, was eyed earlier as a possible Treasury secretary, a post that ultimately went to former hedge fund investor Steve Mnuchin, the report on Friday said.

McCormick, 51, moved to Westport’s Greens Farms area in 2010 with his wife, Amy Richardson. In 2014, he moved to a waterfront property in Fairfield’s Southport area.

Bloomberg said the potential nomination earned high praise from retired Gen. David Petraeus, who at one point had been seen as a potential secretary of state pick for Trump.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Malloy: Xerox to Stay in Norwalk

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today announced a partnership with the Xerox Corporation that secures the company’s headquarters and 150 jobs in Norwalk, where it has been located since 2008. 

As part of the project, Xerox may add between 20-40 new jobs over the next four years, the governor’s office said in a news release.

“The Xerox Corporation’s announcement removes all uncertainty regarding the location of the company’s headquarters,” said Malloy. “Today’s news guarantees that Xerox will continue to invest in the state, contribute to the community, and create high-paying jobs where it has called home for nearly five decades.”

The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) will provide a 10-year, $4.4 million low-interest loan to support the project. Xerox, which was at 45 Glover Ave., will use the funding to purchase new equipment and make leasehold improvements in its new headquarters in building 201 in the Merritt 7 Corporate Park in Norwalk, the announcement said.

12/16/16 12:33 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

State Comptroller: Retirement Obligations ‘Eating Our Lunch’

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State Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club today that Connecticut “must create stability and predictability moving forward to get us out of the doldrums.” Mentioned as a possible 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lembo said post-employment obligations are “eating our lunch” and that “prior governors did not negotiate effectively on behalf of the residents of Connecticut, I can’t say it any other way.”  He lauded Connecticut as being one of the most “transparent states” when it comes to reporting what is going on at the state level, to the point that even payroll information can be requested by the public. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

12/16/16 11:25 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Comings & Goings: Main St. Chico’s Closing

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Chico’s, 61 Main St., part of the clothing chain offering women’s fashions, will close on Jan. 25, according to store manager Donna Begler.  “Our lease expired,” she said.  She added that there are three other nearby Chico’s in Fairfield, Milford and Stamford Town Center. Chico’s Westport location closed temporarily four times due to flooding in 2011, twice in 2012, and once in 2013. A real estate source said a number of Main Street stores are considering leaving because of past flooding issues and eyeing a new mall planned to open in Norwalk at I-95 Exit 16.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

12/16/16 10:31 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

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