Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Finance Board Hears Plans for New $6.7 Million Levitt

By James Lomuscio

A request for an appropriation of $6.7 million—$1.1 million of it to be paid by the Town of Westport—to construct a new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts got a generally favorable reception from the Board of Finance tonight.

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A model of the new Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

The consensus was that the Levitt, which for the past 39 years has provided free, outdoor evening concerts and performances throughout the summer, is a valuable town asset that enhances the quality of life and is key to maintaining a vibrant downtown.

Under the plan submitted by the pavilion’s executive director, the town would appropriate the full $6.7 million via bond and note authorization, but only pay $1.1 million with the rest coming from private donations. Janet Plotkin, who heads the pavilion’s governing committee and is co-chair of its capital campaign, is one of the project’s key benefactors.

The full Board of Finance will vote on the authorization at its Aug. 1 meeting, said Avi Kaner, finance board chairman.

“If I were to vote tonight, I would vote yes,” said Kaner. “I do think it’s an exceptionally good investment for the town.”

Finance board member Brian Stern called the request “an extraordinary good deal for the town” since the town would take possession of the new facility on town property located behind the Westport Public Library.

“For every dollar we put up, generous people are putting up another five,” said Stern, adding that the pavilion serves to increase activity downtown.

Board members John Pincavage, Janis Collins, Thomas Lasersohn and Helen Garten all agreed.

“I’m going to support it,” said Garten.

However, Michael Rea, who had served on the Representative Town Meeting before being elected to the Board of Finance, had reservations.

“The angst I have is that we have competing interests in this town,” said Rea, noting that $1.1 million could go to other necessary town projects. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. I’m going to think about it tonight.”

Rea also raised the specter of environmental concerns, noting that the pavilion had been built on a land fill, and that once construction begins, workers might encounter such problems as methane gas and environmental crises that could exceed $6.7 million.

However, Peter Cadoux of Peter Cadoux Architects in Westport, the firm that has been working on the new pavilion’s design and getting town approvals over the past four years, noted that there would be on-site engineers “and constant monitoring would be made.”

“We’ve done boring tests, and we’ve gone down two feet at 80 locations,” he said, adding that Rea and the entire Board of Finance would be invited to tour the property before they vote.

Cadoux, who had been introduced by G. Kenneth Bernhard, Levitt board member and spokesman for the project,  spent much of the evening describing the design that includes a new performance area, restroom facilities, a concession area, new plantings, an extended and widened river walkway.

“We want to open that river up,” Cadoux said, noting that many of the trees currently blocking river views are invasive species.

He also noted that advances in sound technology would reduce any chance of noise pollution coming from the facility.

“It’s now or never,” said Bernhard. “The donations are there. The permits are there, the bids are in, and we’re ready to go in November.

“What an opportunity, and what an opportunity to blow it,” he added.

Bernhard noted that in its 39-year history, the pavilion, named after its initial benefactors Mortimer and Mimi Levitt, has served more than 1.5 million people, attracting more than 50,000 each summer, more than half of them from Westport and Weston.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was the first to address the Board of Finance about the project, underscoring the importance of the Levitt Pavilion with its “50 nights of free entertainment.”

“It’s the variety that the Levitt Pavilion presents,” he said.

Bernhard agreed, adding that the pavilion enhances Westport, making it “one of the most desirable communities in the world.”

“But we can not continue without structural improvements,” he added. “There’s an obvious need for this project.”

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