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Thursday, February 16, 2017

S&P Worried About Proposed Cost Shift Onto CT Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

A major Wall Street credit rating agency has issued back-to-back critical analyses of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new, two-year budget proposal.

S&P Global Ratings warned today that Malloy’s proposals to shift one-third of the cost of the teachers’ pension program onto cities and towns, and to realign other grants, “creates budgetary uncertainty for local governments.”

“If implemented, these proposals will create winners and losers,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Victor Medeiros.

“Although we view the ability of a state to pass budget pressures on to lower levels of government in times of state budgetary stress as a credit positive for the state, the credit impact on local governments could be negative should they not be able to adequately adjust to this new funding paradigm.”

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Comings & Goings: Free People to Post Road East Image
Free People, a trendy clothing and accessories store, opens at 645 Post Road East in March, according to workers on site. Owned by Urban Outfitters, it has more than 100 locations nationwide in more than 30 states. Other Fairfield County locations are at the Danbury Fair Mall and in Greenwich. The new store opposite Mitchells is the former home of (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Special Valentine’s Day at Westport Florist Image
Tina Ahlberg, manager of Westport Florist, 1 Treadwell Ave., today shows off a compact Valentine’s Day floral arrangement. “Our most popular items today were roses and compact floral arrangements like this one,” she said. She said Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year for the store with only Mother’s Day weekend busier. Added Ahlberg: this is an extra special celebration for the store because this month marks the second anniversary of its opening at the intersection of Saugatuck and Riverside Avenues. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Feds Blink on High-Speed Rail Plan in CT

By Ana Radelat

Washington – In the staredown between the Federal Railroad Administration and opponents of part of its plan in Connecticut to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor, the federal government has blinked.

It has agreed to consider additional input from those concerned about the route in Connecticut, and more importantly, the FRA is willing to modify that plan.

The NEC Future plan has been in the works for years. The FRA says it would reduce travel time between New York and Boston by 45 minutes and between Washington, D.C., and New York by 35 minutes and add tracks and railroad cars to a refurbished railroad system in the Northeast.

Other states have lauded the plan. But NEC Future has met heavy resistance from Connecticut, a pushback centered largely on a bypass of an existing rail line along the coastline that would run through Old Lyme and other historic coastal towns.

Click HERE for more of story

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Comings & Goings: New Indie Pharmacy Opens Image
A new independently owned pharmacy, Shoreline Integrative Pharmacy, has opened at 1835 Post Road East at the intersection of Bulkley Avenue North. Owned by Weston residents (l-r) Karen and Phil Hein, pictured with pharmacist Rachel Babineau, the 2,200-square foot facility offers a wide range of health services, including prescription fulfillment, a full line of natural products, supplements, baby and child care products and other health-related products and services. “We’re a homey, independent therapeutic business involved in the community,” said Phil Hein. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

02/13/17 06:05 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Friday, February 10, 2017

Legislators Begin to Push Back on Malloy’s New Budget

By Keith M. Phaneuf

The General Assembly today began its review of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new two-year budget with a strong, bipartisan pushback from the Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers challenged proposals to reallocate local aid, open nonprofit hospitals’ real property to municipal taxation, continue dedicating some sales tax revenues to transportation, and close 40 percent of next year’s deficit with state employee concessions.

Malloy, who met with Capitol reporters at a separate news conference, said legislative resistance comes as no surprise.

The governor, who highlighted several key aspects of his plan in the days leading up to its full presentation on Wednesday, acknowledged there are a lot of difficult choices.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Upfront Payment Puts Land Swap Back on Table

By James Lomuscio

A land swap between the town and a developer that would net the town nine parking space on Elm Street is back on the table, according to Selectman Avi Kaner and developer David Waldman. Image
This building housing the Villa Del Sol Restaurant at 35 Elm St. would be razed and swapped for part of the town-owned parking lot across the street. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Waldman had scrapped the land swap idea in early December, saying the numbers did not work in terms of what the town wanted financially and what was economically feasible for him.

“The economics just didn’t work for me, and as a developer I had to let it go,” Waldman, principal of David Adam Realty who is heading up the nearby Bedford Square Project, told WestportNow on Dec. 5. (See WestportNow Dec. 5, 2016)

Since then, Waldman working with Kaner and Brian Stern, chairman of the Board of Finance, appear to have reached an agreement. It is expected to go before the finance board in April, and if successful, the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Comings & Goings: New Anthropologie Opens March 31 Image
Anthropologie & Co,, the women’s casual fashion store at 1365 Post Road East, will close on March 11 and reopen on March 31 at its new location in the new downtown Bedford Square development, according to a store worker. Installation of the signage above the entrance of the new store was recently completed. The YMCA logo on the former Westport Weston Family YMCA can be seen behind the new sign. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

02/08/17 09:07 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Westport Projected to See $6M Reduction in State Aid Image
UPDATE This graphic provided by the state’s Office of Policy and Management shows Westport will see a $6 million reduction in state aid in the fiscal year beginning July 1. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Office of Policy and Management graphic

02/08/17 11:54 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Malloy Unveils $40.6 billion, Two-Year Budget

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today unveiled a $40.6 billion, two-year budget that closes $3.6 billion in deficits by seeking $1.5 billion in labor concessions, imposing $400 million in annual pension costs on cities and towns, and scaling back tax credits for the middle class and working poor. Image
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addresses the state legislature today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

The plan, which would spend $20.1 billion next fiscal year and $20.5 billion in 2018-19, also dramatically overhauls the financial relationship between the state, municipalities and hospitals. It ends nonprofit hospitals’ long-standing exemption from local property taxation while increasing state payments to the industry, in turn generating more federal Medicaid dollars for Connecticut.

The pension fees and the hospital funding changes were designed not only to close major shortfalls in state finances driven largely by surging retirement benefit costs, but also to shield Connecticut’s financially distressed cities.

The labor savings target, which involves $700 million in the first year of the new budget and $800 million by the second, has an ugly alternative. According to Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, the alternative would be to seek at least 4,200 additional layoffs.

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02/08/17 11:19 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

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. 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

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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02/08/17 09:38 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

GOP, Malloy Offer Plans to Restore Stalled Local Aid

By Keith M. Phaneuf

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

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

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. Image
Westport would be hard hit by the Malloy proposal. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) 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

02/03/17 02:50 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

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. Image
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 Image
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 The 2,000-square feet space was formerly occupied by Healthy Choice Organic Mattresses, which closed in August. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

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

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 Image
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) photo

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

A Peak Inside New Design Within Reach Image
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

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

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

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

By Keith M. Phaneuf

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

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Comings & Goings: Anthony’s Nursery Closes Image
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

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Comings & Goings: Chico’s Closes Doors Image
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

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Westport Sales Tax?

By Keith M. Phaneuf

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

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

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

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

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

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 Image
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

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Chamber Head: ‘Business is Good’ Image
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

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

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