History of Stamford, Connecticut - Twentieth Century - Downtown Development

Downtown Development

By the mid 1950s downtown Stamford had fallen prey to severe urban blight. A once vibrant downtown became littered with vacant storefronts, empty lots, weak economy, unsafe and unsanitary housing. The town leaders at the time sought federal and state funding to launch a revitalization effort that would restore the core of the city to a vital urban center. On January 27, 1960 the City of Stamford and its redevelopment arm, the Urban Redevelopment Commission, entered into a contract with the Stamford New Urban Corporation, a subsidiary of the locally based and nationally active construction contractor the F. D. Rich Company that would lead to a dramatic altering of the face of downtown Stamford. The Rich Company, led by Frank D. Rich Jr., Robert N. Rich and Chief Legal Counsel Lawrence Gochberg, actively building in 25 of the 50 United States at the time, was selected out of a field of 10 developers vying for the opportunity to become the city's sole redeveloper of the 130-acre (0.53 km2) section of the central downtown area known as the Southeast Quadrant. More than $100 million in Federal, State and city funds were invested in a massive property acquisition, relocation, demolition and infrastructure creation program that paved the way for one of the most sweeping urban renewal efforts ever successfully carried out in the United States. The plan, which involved eminent domain takings, the relocation of 1,100 families and 400 businesses, was implemented amidst much controversy and several lawsuits that delayed the start of the project until 1968 when construction commenced on the three round apartment towers, St. John's Towers. These buildings still contain 360 apartments and originally served as relocation housing for some of the displaced residents. Much of the deteriorated downtown was razed to make way for the new downtown, resulting in a lack of historic buildings and a downtown that looks more contemporary and modern as compared to some its New England counterparts.

Although the original plan was more modest in scope, involving light industrial buildings with a motor hotel along Tresser Blvd. and an open-air shopping promenade planned for East Main Street, the city and the redeveloper took advantage of an opportunity to capitalize on corporate moves out of NYC. Although One Landmark Square was completed in 1972, a 300,00 SF office building which for 37 years was the city's tallest, it was the completion of the GTE World Headquarters in 1973 that became the catalyst for downtown office development, setting an example for other corporations seeking a less expensive labor pool, a more favorable income tax structure and lower operating costs. Since then, the downtown renewal area has seen the construction of more than 8 million SF of office space, 1.5 million SF of retail space including the Stamford Town Center Mall and four department stores, 2,500 units of housing, near 80 restaurants have been added, three movie theaters, a branch of the University of CT and two performing arts venues, the Rich Forum and the Palace Theater. In all the city contains almost 17 million SF of office space. The intensely developed central business district is just 3 percent of the city's 39 square miles (101 km2); the rest is heavily residential. Much of the city, especially in North Stamford, remained woodsy.

The few historic buildings include the Old Town Hall (1905, currently unoccupied), the Hoyt Barnum House (1699), and the old Yale and Towne building (1869, part of the Yale and Towne complex was destroyed in a fire on April 3, 2006), which was once a lock company (the city seal has the two keys from it). The Yale and Towne property, owned for many years by Samuel Heyman, was sold in 2006 to a syndicate of investors and developers who are in the midst of redeveloping it into a complex of residential and retail buildings. Stretches of Atlantic and Bedford Streets remain essentially as they were originally constructed.

As noted above, the redevelopment was contentious, with groups of residents suing to prevent the demolition of nine city blocks and the displacement of businesses and families.

After building High Ridge Park, a suburban corporate campus, in the 1960s, the F. D. Rich Company put up the city's tallest structure, Landmark Building, and the GTE building (now One Stamford Forum), both designed by Victor Bisharat. The Stamford Marriott (also Bisharat), with a revolving restaurant at the top, overlooking Long Island Sound, is another F. D. Rich landmark that changed the look of Downtown.

In the 1980s Frank D. Rich III, Susan M. Rich and Thomas L. Rich joined the company playing major roles in the redevelopment of the city. In 1980 F.D. Rich Co. completed 10 Stamford Forum, a 250,000 SF office building (designed by Steven M. Goldberg of the New York office of Mitchell/Giurgola), and throughout the 1980s it built the 1,000,000-square-foot (93,000 m2) Stamford Town Center mall, 4 Stamford Forum (designed by Cesar Pelli), 6 Stamford Forum (Arthur Erickson) and 8 Stamford Forum (Hugh Stubbins), 300 Atlantic Street (Aldo Giurgola) and 177 Broad Street. When real estate prices collapsed in the late 1980s, the company had to sell some of its properties but continued to own the Stamford Town Center Mall, High Ridge Park and key downtown parcels.

Many of the buildings along Tresser Boulevard, parallel to Interstate 95, had little but street-level lobby spaces, garage entrances and exits accessing the street, although they presented a modern, glittering glass facade to travelers along the highway. The Rich family (which still owns F. D. Rich Co. led by President and CEO, Thomas L. Rich) was criticized for creating pedestrian-unfriendly streets, and Tresser Boulevard became notorious among many architecture and urban design critics. Facts that shaped the pedestal design of the office buildings south of Tresser that are little known are as follows. The high water table in that area prohibited the development of multiple levels of underground parking. Therefore parking needed to be supplied in above-ground structures which served as podiums for the office buildings providing the opportunity for a view over the adjacent highway embankment to the south. The lack of retail along the Tresser Blvd. frontage is attributable to a prohibition on retail being developed in this area by the Planning Board of the City who did not want to dilute the retail existing and planned elsewhere in the renewal area.

"The streets were never meant to be for pedestrians," Robert N. Rich, then head of the company, told a reporter for the New York Times in 1999, apparently referring to Tresser Boulevard and the immediate area around it. "GTE came here because they were bombed in New York. Crime was a problem in the city. That's why the buildings were designed to be impenetrable."

Over the years, other developers have joined F. D. Rich Co. in building up the downtown, including Avalon, Archstone-Smith, Seth Weinstein and Paxton Kinol who have developed many four-story rental apartment buildings. Corcoran-Jenninsen constructed Park Square West apartments on lower Summer Street. The Michigan-based Taubman Company partnered with F. D. Rich Co. in developing the Stamford Town Center Mall. UBS and RBS, taking advantage of state and local tax incentive programs, built their headquarters in downtown Stamford. W&M Properties built and owns Metro Center, a prominent building just south of the Stamford train station where Thomson Corporation, officially a Canadian company, has its operational headquarters. Today most of the downtown office buildings are owned by RFR Realty and S. L. Green.

F. D. Rich Co., still located in downtown Stamford, sold or gave up nearly all of its Stamford buildings (including the Landmark) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The company developed and owns the Bow Tie Majestic Cinema building, much of the retail and office space on lower Summer Street. Along with the Kahn Family, they brought Target to their Broad Street location on land they jointly owned. Rich and Kahn own the ground floor retail space under Target facing Broad Street. In 2005, the company opened its 115-room Courtyard by Marriott Hotel at the corner of Summer and Broad Streets, which houses the restaurant Napa & Company. Today F. D. Rich Co. has under construction with partners Donald J. Trump and Louis R. Cappelli, Trump Parc Stamford, a 170-unit, 35-story condominium tower which when completed in July 2009 will be the tallest building in the city, eclipsing One Landmark Square by more than 80 feet (24 m) in height. F. D. Rich Co. and Cappelli Enterprises own a site at the corner of Atlantic Street and Tresser Blvd. which has been approved for twin 400-foot-tall (120 m) towers slated to contain a 198-room Ritz Carlton Hotel, 600,000 SF of condominiums and 70,000 SF of retail space including the restoration of the Atlantic Street Station post office. The Rich Forum, a downtown performing arts center and the Rich Concourse, the main public space at the downtown branch of UConn are both named after the Rich family. Lowe Enterprises controls a site on Tresser and Washington Blvd that has been approved for three 350-foot-tall (110 m) residential towers slated to contain 835 units of for sale and rental housing along with 135,000 SF of retail space fronting Tresser Blvd.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Stamford, Connecticut, Twentieth Century

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