Thursday, July 11, 2013
By James Lomuscio
Westport officials cheered the news today that the town would receive a $497,595 state grant to improve the commercial infrastructure downtown, including putting in 8,000 linear feet of sidewalk, new curbs and energy efficient lighting.
Administered through the state Department of Housing, the grant is part of $5 million in Main Street Investment Fund (MSIF) grants to 14 municipalities across Connecticut, providing money to develop or improve commercial districts, to attract small businesses and to improve pedestrian access and livability in town centers.
“Main Street Investment grants play an important role in strengthening economic development initiatives on the local level,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “This program is unique in that it builds a working partnership between state government and the smaller communities that are striving to strengthen their commercial centers and attract additional business.”
Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said he was grateful for the grant, especially as the town proceeds with infrastructure improvements while planning for major downtown developments.
“This grant will allow us to more rapidly implement Main Street curbing improvements, energy efficient lighting, and sidewalks that will enhance pedestrian access to downtown,” he said. “It comes at an opportune time when we are considering a master plan to improve downtown.”
Among downtown projects in planning stages are the Bedford Square mixed use retail and residential complex replacing the Westport Weston Family Y, a Main Street move theater, the redevelopment of National Hall, a renovated library, a new Levitt Pavilion, relocating the Westport Arts Center, and a planned senior housing complex on Baron’s South.
Joseloff said the Public Works Department would implement the improvements on a timetable to be determined once details are known about the grant.
Public Works Director Stephen Edwards said that the timetable would depend upon whether the grant is a reimbursement to the town, which would require Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approvals for the town to front the money.
“That could take up to 60 days, and it could go up to 90 ot 120 days if the state has to sign off on the specs,” Edwards said. “I can’t say how long until I know more.
“But this is very good for Westport,” he added. “...It will benefit Westport, no doubt.”
Lou Gagliano, chairman of the Downtown 2020 Committee appointed by Joseloff and charged with planning for major changes in the downtown and its environs, lauded the grant.
“I’m doing handstands,” he said. “We should feel very good about getting every dime of it.”
Submitted a year ago, the grant proposal was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, Edwards, the RTM and the Board of Finance, Gagliano said.
“We saved the taxpayers money, and I think this is a model and an affirmation that if you do good planning, and if you’re precise in what you ask for and provide the documentaion to support it, you get a lot of the infrastructure to pay for these types of efforts,” he said.
Gagliano said that the grant money will be used to build or improve almost 8,000 linear feet of sidewalks on Main Street, Elm Street, the Post Road and Imperial Avenue. This “will lead to a safer downtown walking conditions for members of our community, including our citizens in neighborhoods close to downtown,” he said.
He pointed out that his committee is currently asking the town for $150,000 to hire a consultant to come up with a downtown master plan. He stressed that the areas the grant addresses are independent of the forthcoming plan.
“But doing a master plan improves our ability to get funding,” he said.
According to state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, the grant will facilitate “the pursuit of an ambitious program to enhance our downtown while preserving its historic and aesthetic character.”
“I was glad to assist Westport’s Downtown 2020 Committee in securing this grant,” said Steinberg, former chairman of the Downtown Planning Subcommittee group of the Town Plan Implementation Committee, the recommendations of which led to the creation of the Downtown 2020.
Posted 07/11/13 at 10:13 PM
Lovely grant. I wish it could be applied toward “sidewalking” more of the town. It’d be great to be able to take a walk (outside of downtown) without dodging cars.
Congratulations to Lou, the Downtown 2020 Committee and Public Works Director Steve Edwards for all their hardwork in putting together a high quality submission that resulted in Westport receiving the maximum award possible! Thanks to Jonathan for pushing it in Hartford. Now for the next step the Town governing bodies need to move forward to authorize and fund the Downtown Master Plan. The 2020 Committee has already raised pledges of $60,000 in private funds to contribute to the cost of the plan’s development. Consultant review and selection will start this month in public sessions. All town citizens are invited to participate and ask questions and give input.