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Philip Koether Architects

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Thumbs Up

Preliminary thumbs up to a proposed project that would build rental apartments and retail space at the corner of Tresser and Washington boulevards, a prime piece of downtown real estate that has lain dormant for too long.

We say "preliminary" because it would be jumping the gun to back a project until it is more fully examined. But the concept is a promising one.

We are rather partial to this particular location. Until February 2008, it's where we went to work every day (and night ... often both). But since The Advocate left for our current location in Springdale, the city has struggled to decide what to do with the land.

This plan would provide needed downtown rental housing. An earlier proposal to build housing/retail at the site met with conflicting reactions from officials, causing the developer to pull out. And other recent proposals to build downtown housing have met similar fates in the bad economy.

Furthermore, the design is an intriguing modern/traditional mix that takes into account the very different environments that would face opposite sides of the development. And, as the site is part of the Mill River Corridor, a portion of property taxes generated there would go toward redevelopment of Mill River Park.

A lot would have to happen to make the plan a reality. But at this early stage, the development appears to be a good use for the location.

Thumbs down, however, to the potential developer's plan to get rid of the exquisite copper beech tree that currently lives on the site.

The 80-foot example of arboreal splendor would not survive the building of the new development as plans currently stand. We urge the developers, Greenfield Partners of Norwalk, to change plans to include the tree, and call on government officials who will be involved in the approval process to protect it.

Not only is the tree and its vast purple canopy beautiful, at least one estimate puts it at 120 years old. It's been here longer than any of us has, and according to the species' typical life span, it could still be here long after many of us are gone.

What a shame it would be to cut it down.

When the Times Mirror Co. bought the property for The Advocate's new home in 1978, initial plans were for the tree to go. But the company agreed to change its plans to build around the tree. It was the right thing to do then, and it would be the right thing to do now.


Development firm proposes to build housing on former Advocate site

STAMFORD -- After two years of speculation and a recession that crippled the real estate market, plans are under way to seek city approval to build a residential development on one of downtown Stamford's high-profile corners, the 3.2-acre site at Tresser and Washington boulevards that formerly housed The Advocate newspaper.

Greenfield Partners, a real estate investment firm based in South Norwalk, has met with city officials to propose a roughly 4 1/2-story complex with about 350 rental units of housing, according to two representatives for the project, William Hennessey, an attorney, and Richard Redniss, a planning consultant.

The site is steps away from two of the city's largest and most prominent employers, UBS and RBS, as well as the Stamford train station.

"The location is really fantastic for housing," Redniss said. "We have plenty of office and jobs in the area, but we know we don't have enough housing."

The ground floor would be composed of live-work units, a hybrid category that enables occupants to use the spaces for both professional or residential uses, like a yoga or music studio.

A general development plan is be officially filed in the next two weeks, Hennessey said. The building is to be designed by Philip Koether Architects, of New York.

Robin Stein, the city's Land Use Bureau chief, said he could not comment on specific parts of the plan until it was submitted. But in general, he said, the city was "supportive of more housing downtown" and had been hoping to see projects that would benefit redevelopment of Mill River Park.

Because the site is considered part of the Mill River Corridor, a tax increment financing system dictates that a portion of its property taxes go toward funding park improvements.

The financial mechanism and the boundaries of the corridor were established as part of a broad redevelopment strategy approved by the Board of Representatives in 2001.

But the special designation also means the project will undergo a lengthier approval process. In addition to going before the planning and zoning boards, the project must have its zoning applications reviewed by the city's Urban Redevelopment Commission, which oversees development in the Mill River Corridor.

Greenfield Partners on Friday initiated a critical step in the city approval process by applying to change certain zoning regulations pertaining to the area defined as the Mill River Design District.

The group is asking to increase the required number of affordable units from 6 percent of the total number of housing to 9 percent. It is also seeking to eliminate the requirement that a certain number of those units be affordable to those making less than 50 percent of the area median income, which is $61,150 for a family of four.

Developers in the Mill River Corridor are required to make their below-market units affordable to a range of income groups, from those making 25 percent of the area median income to those making 60 percent of that figure.

The revision to the Mill River regulations would make developments subject to a zoning amendment passed last month, which established a tier system of affordability. Under those rules, developers can build units marketed toward families who earn either 25 percent, 60 percent and 80 percent of the area median income. It uses a formula that weights each type of unit and effectively rewards developers who elect to serve poorer families.

Because these changes affect the 2001 Mill River Corridor redevelopment plan, they must also be approved by the city's Board of Representatives.

Hennessey said that representatives for the developer hope to present its plans before the Urban Redevelopment Commission and the Board of Representatives sometime in May.

The building is now zoned under two different categories: general commercial and residential.

Discussions regarding the prominent downtown corner go back as far as two years ago.

In April 2008, Southern Connecticut Newspapers Inc., which was owned by Tribune Co., sold the property for $15 million to SG Stamford LLC, according to city property records. SG Stamford is owned by Greenfield Partners, Hennessey said.

The three-story steel-frame building was built in 1981 to serve as an all-encompassing working facility for The Advocate.

Before that, an apartment building known as the Ambassador Arms stood on the site for more than 50 years and had been occupied by well-to-do classes.

But the residential complex deteriorated over time. In 1977, it was condemned by city health officials, who said it was unsafe and vermin-infested.


Stamford, once critical of the idea, embraces housing for prominent downtown corner

STAMFORD -- Around 2008, developer Seth Weinsteinapproached the city with a plan to build housing on one of its most prominent corners: the roughly 3-acre site at Tresser and Washington boulevards that once housed The Advocate.

Adding more housing downtown had long been one of the Stamford's missions, and Weinstein was an established residential developer who said he had the funding to start construction immediately. But the plan, involving a midrise building with ground-floor retail, had a mixed reception at City Hall.

"It became clear there was a division of opinion," Weinstein said recently.

Some saw the former residential block, with its proximity to Mill River, as perfect for housing; others said the site should be reserved for commercial development. Yet another contingent complained the design was too small and boring for such a high-profile corner.

In the end, Weinstein decided not to pursue the project.

Now, after the property has remained dormant for more than a year, another developer is pitching housing.

Greenfield Partners, a Norwalk-based developer, has submitted a preliminary zoning application that calls for 350 rental apartments and 10,645 square feet of retail, commercial or live-work space.

This time, city officials appear to be on board. The difference, those involved said, is the building's unique design, along with a scaled-back economy that has all but eliminated the possibility for costly steel high-rises such as Trump Parc, and lessons from a never-realized residential downtown development known as Archstone.

Once city officials embraced housing as a use, the next challenges had to do with finding a suitable design for a site that faces two very different sections of downtown.

"It definitely wants to be a more modern building," saidNorman Cole, the city's principal planner. "Just look at what it's surrounded by: new commercial office buildings in a corridor that's mostly new construction."

But its other frontage is on Clinton Avenue, a residential block near Mill River. There, the city recognized that it had another objective: to create "an in-town kind of feel," Cole said.

On top of all that, marketplace reality required architecture to be constrained to 4 1/2-stories.

As a result, developers came up with a plan that calls for two distinctively different facades that transition from a townhouse feel on Clinton Avenue to a more "edgy and contemporary" aesthetic along Tresser and Washington boulevards, according to Richard Redniss, the project's planning consultant.

Sketches show private, street-level entrances on the ground floor on the Clinton Avenue side, and duplex apartments and terraces along the commercial corridor.

At Washington and Tresser boulevards, the building will be capped by a light beacon that is meant to give the appearance of added height and modernity, as well as enhance the night skyline in a city that has realized one gradually.

"You have many times during the day when you don't think about what a building looks like at night," Redniss said. "The whole lighting element enhances that experience."

The concept had actually first been introduced to Stamford by Archstone-Smith. Up until late 2008, the Colorado-based real estate investment trust had been involved in lengthy discussions with the Urban Redevelopment Commission over a proposed residential development on yet another prominent downtown corner: West Park Place and Washington Boulevard.

In response to the URC's request for an iconic design that would serve as a gateway into Mill River Park, Archstone came up with a tower lantern that rose a story above the building.

Last year, citing the economic downturn, Archstone gave up on the project and wound up selling the property to the city.

Kip Bergstrom, the URC's executive director, said that had it been built, the Archstone building "would have fundamentally redefined the stick product in the East."

Bergstrom said that on the West Coast, developers have been more inventive with midrise construction. The tendency here, he said, has been to construct faux colonial clapboard buildings that lack "interest, texture, urbanity."

He added, "They all tend to look like each other."

Bergstrom said preliminary plans for the former Advocate site suggest a more elegant and street-focused design that would break that east coast trend.

"I think it appeals to a huge segment of the market, which is new workers, new families," he said. "Why not create a product that's appropriate for the people that you are selling it to?"

Yet despite positive early feedback, the project is still far from certain. Because the site lies within the Mill River Corridor, the developer will have to undergo a dual review process. Its applications must be reviewed by both the city's Urban Redevelopment Commission as well as the planning and zoning boards.

Cole said the Land Use Bureau hopes to complete its assessment of the project by mid-July.

On Thursday, the URC is to begin considering the developer's request to redesignate the parcel in the Mill River Corridor Plan, as well as amend its regulations on affordable housing.

There are significant stakes for both parties. For the developer, it represents a chance to develop a prime piece of real estate. For the city, a portion of property taxes from the site, which is part of the Mill River Corridor, would go toward funding redevelopment of Mill River Park.

Redniss, who had represented Weinstein during his failed bid to develop the site, said part of the city's newfound consensus had to do with the fact that several approved residential projects fell victim to the economy and never materialized.

"The thought that we can be really picky has kind of abated," he said. "It's a combination of wanting the housing downtown and capturing that design experience."

Staff writer Elizabeth Kim can be reached at or 203-964-2265.


The Big Screen Project

A real space where people, media and culture connect

The Big Screen Project is an innovative presentation model for video, film, live and interactive content. It consists of a large 30 ft. x 16.5 ft. HD Format LED screen located at the 10,000 sq. ft. public plaza behind a new 54-story multi-use building on Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th Street in New York City. The content shown is eclectic ranging from the best in the arts, cinema, and new media to highlights in sports and video gaming. The vision is to expose the general public to fresh cultural content and to raise awareness for inspirational aims on subjects ranging from the ecological to the humanitarian. Our team of curators collects the best of global cultures in participation with content partners such as art institutions, film festivals, ecologically and humanitarian minded not-for-profits. 

The screen shows a diverse schedule of daily programming organized into conceptual blocks.

The aspiration is for the The Big Screen Project to become an art and edutainment destination continuously evolving with its audience and galvanizing Upper Chelsea with thought-provoking tapestries of contemporary media.