Photographs: Lauren Stevens
Dan Zelson and Paul Brandes are partners in Charter Realty—one of the developers involved in Bedford Square. The new development in downtown Westport is a massive multi-use project, meant for shopping, dining, living and working. Here, they talk to Westport about the project’s challenges and rewards. (Read more about the project at www.bedfordsquare.com):
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT?
DZ: Paul and I bid on the project in its first iteration over ten years ago along with a larger company, Forest City Ratner. After the first round, when no developer was selected, we and developer David Waldman [of David Adam Realty] realized that it was probably smarter to team up against some of the bigger companies.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO WESTPORT?
PB: Clearly, this is a unique mixed-use project that will change the retail landscape around Main Street. The combination of food, fitness, retail and general, everyday uses for people who frequent the downtown district will make the district a greater attraction.
DZ: It’s important because it connects Main Street with Church Lane and Elm Street and Route 1, and forms “the Golden Triangle” for the retail there. We’ve created a place to live and work and play, and that hasn’t really existed in Westport until now. I think Bedford Square will reinvigorate the downtown as a place to go and do things at night.
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
DZ: In knocking down the old gymnasium and swimming pools, along with a structure built in the ‘70s, we had to respect the height that was in place. That was the real challenge. But in the process we uncovered some cool finds—old beams and some old pictures—that we’re reusing in the project.
PB: Especially challenging was trying to be flexible and creative through several financial cycles, and through so many changes in the interest rate environment, in retailing, in the construction landscape and still have it result in a positive outcome.
HOW IS OCCUPANCY SHAPING UP?
DZ: Anthropologie & Co. is the anchor tenant at 40,000 square feet. But we’ve also signed leases with Savannah Bee, which sells honey and mead and candles, and with M-Eat, a high-end European butcher with restaurant component. And we’re in lease and letter of intent for another 15,000 square feet—a mix of big and small uses.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST REWARD IN THIS FOR YOU?
PB: It’s seeing the vision that began so many years ago actually come to fruition, and to see people in the community actually using it—in this case after so many years and such an enormous effort on the part of the entire team. That’s always the greatest satisfaction.
DZ: And it’s rewarding to build something really special for the town. Hopefully, it will be economically productive for us as well. I think it will be. There’s one office space in the building that we’re taking for Charter Realty, so we’re really proud of what’s there. I think it will be very special for downtown Westport and hopefully be very successful economically for everyone involved. I think by summertime this place should be up and running. We’re excited to see it all in motion.