Reimagine Greenwich process looks ahead to a post-COVID-19 pandemic era

Photo of Ken Borsuk
Greenwich's Charlie-Andre Jolly, left, and Brentwood, N.Y.'s Brian Torres dine outdoors at Bistro V in Greenwich in November. Outdoor dining on Greenwich Avenue is considered to have been a lifeline to local businesses over the summer and fall and now the Reimagine Greenwich committee is looking ahead to possible next steps.

Greenwich's Charlie-Andre Jolly, left, and Brentwood, N.Y.'s Brian Torres dine outdoors at Bistro V in Greenwich in November. Outdoor dining on Greenwich Avenue is considered to have been a lifeline to local businesses over the summer and fall and now the Reimagine Greenwich committee is looking ahead to possible next steps.

File / Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

GREENWICH — Outdoor dining along Greenwich Avenue sprang out of the COVID-19 crisis, and it proved to be a big hit. Now a group with some of the town’s top leaders is looking at other initiatives to boost businesses and bring new energy to the town.

The Reimagine Greenwich committee, co-chaired by Selectwoman Lauren Rabin, is looking at a future partially inspired by the changes on The Avenue.

“The mission is to make sure, starting with Greenwich Avenue, that our business districts remain vibrant,” Rabin said. “How do we create an experience for people to come to Greenwich Avenue and how do we make sure the merchants remain economically viable?”

The group will also be looking at Old Greenwich, Byram and other business districts, she said.

Reimagine Greenwich held its first meetings last September, as it builds on the private efforts started by the nonprofit Think Greenwich campaign that began in 2018, Rabin said. That independent campaign sought to promote Greenwich as a premier destination.

The new committee brought together people who had never worked together before, including Rich Flood, who was part of Think Greenwich.

“I heard about the work the Reimagine Greenwich committee is doing and it seemed to me that we could combine our efforts here to really bring about some meaningful change,” Flood said. “Our efforts can be used to support the community’s needs both during the pandemic and post-pandemic.”

Reimagine Greenwich, which is co-chaired by Sara Savov, includes Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Margarita Alban, Board of Estimate and Taxation Chair Mike Mason and Josh Brown, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, and others.

The committee is making good on a goal put forward by First Selectman Fred Camillo and Rabin during their successful run for the Board of Selectmen in 2019.

“We have this big idea of a new pedestrian-friendly Greenwich Avenue, leading to a new waterfront through a new area where the train station is,” Camillo said. “All of that is coming. It’s all in the works now. And we have to start to transition from reimagining Greenwich by completing these tasks and starting to do it.”

Gateway to Greenwich

The committee is focused on those ideas, with discussions expected this summer on redeveloping Greenwich Plaza and the train station, which is owned by The Ashforth Company, and a request for funds to start designing improvements for Roger Sherman Baldwin Park on the waterfront.

“We were able to reopen Greenwich Avenue in a different way than it had been prior,” Rabin said of the work last summer to block off parts of the roadway and add space for shopping, dining and walking. “So our thinking is, now how do we take this new reality and use it to reimagine what Greenwich Avenue could be?”

The effort has the support of Greenwich Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Marcia O’Kane.

“The Reimagine Greenwich committee is working very hard to take a look into the future in order to make the changes necessary to update, enhance and revitalize our town,” O’Kane said. “In a unique way, the pandemic has allowed everyone to slow down and decide on those changes that will refresh our overall town, including the commercial sector, for the better.”

The work could use both taxpayer and private money for projects that could include buying new barriers for the dining “nodes” along Greenwich Avenue. Reimagine Greenwich will also look at parking solutions as parking spaces disappear from the Avenue.

One idea is to find parking for employees to open up spaces for visitors, Rabin said, which could build on a pilot program started last year by Deputy Police Chief Mark Marino, director of parking services, that provided employee parking permits in designated lots.

The committee will also look at the results of a private valet parking pilot program that operated during the holiday shopping season.

Public-private solutions

To fund some of the ideas, Rabin said they were looking to “reconstitute” part of Think Greenwich, which was formed as a nonprofit 501(c)3 and could accept donations.

That organization would exist separately with its own board, Rabin said, but it would be a funding source for Reimagine Greenwich as a public/private partnership. The details must be finalized, but Flood said the town’s legal department was looking at it.

Camillo said he has seen an “overwhelming” interest from many, including real estate agents, in taking part in these efforts.

At last week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Rabin spoke about putting together an advertising policy as part of the committee’s efforts.

Banners have been placed across the Avenue’s intersection with Lewis Street to promote nonprofits as varied as the Greenwich International Film Festival, the Transportation Association of Greenwich and Neighbor to Neighbor. Previously, Think Greenwich signs had been placed on lampposts along Greenwich Avenue, but there were some objections to their appearance.

Rabin said they are working on the Reimagine Greenwich efforts while taking into account public sentiment. She hoped to address those issues at a still-unscheduled public hearing, with an advertising policy in place by April.

Camillo said he believes progress can be made in the coming months.

“I think good things are going to happen if the committee keeps going in the direction it’s going in,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces and a lot of approvals that are going to be needed. … We’re working on all of this right now. There are a lot of ideas out there and we can build upon the outdoor dining experience that started last summer. This committee is really the driver of that.”

Other efforts to beautify Greenwich Avenue are on the table. Camillo said, such as creating an “arts district” around the Senior Center building, which also houses the Greenwich Arts Council, and adding a “middle America” feel by placing American flags up and down the Avenue.

“This is something Lauren and I talked about in the campaign in 2019,” he said. “It’s about having great respect for our past and a bold vision for our future.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com