By: Alexander Soule
Ask anyone who lives or works in Stamford, and the top pick for a commercial building face-lift to benefit downtown rolls easily off the tongue. Pose the question in Bridgeport, and several properties are offered up as candidates.
Ask around Greenwich, however, and people consider the question long and hard — and their answer is often couched with a “but” in the next breath extolling one virtue or another of the building they just mentioned.
If Greenwich town planners are zealous in their preservationist instincts for redevelopment of downtown buildings, which is reflective of ordinances protecting historic structures, the sentiment appears to match the ethos of the town’s commercial leaders.
In informal, open-ended queries by Hearst, no clear agreement emerged on any one building where an exterior renovation would benefit not just the building owner and tenants, but those neighboring the property.
If a consensus exists for any one property, several people when prompted agreed with one individual’s take the Greenwich Railroad Station of Metro-North and an adjoining retail strip that lines Railroad Avenue present a comparatively mundane welcome to the base of Greenwich Avenue — particularly compared with the upscale Greenwich Plaza offices opposite the station that were part of the same development.
“The Greenwich train station was built in the 1970s and is not representative of the great architecture in our town,” said Rich Granoff, managing principal of Granoff Architects in Greenwich. “It should be updated and expanded, to become a ‘gateway’ to Greenwich. Vehicular circulation needs big improvement, as there is little space for drop-off and pick-up.”
Speaking last week in Stamford to members of the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce and other local chambers, Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the Stamford Transportation Center faces a similar problem with poor coordination of buses, taxis, shuttles and other transport there.
Redeker pointed to New Jersey’s efforts to center new developments on its transportation stations as sparking economic growth there.
“A bigger part of the strategy long-term is this expansion of rail service and bus service that takes more people, supported by a transit-oriented development strategy in which people just live next to the (stations),” Redeker said.
The town has any number of examples over the years of buildings undergoing renovations to improve their frontages, from storefronts along Greenwich Avenue and its retail side streets to One Greenwich Office Park, which was torn down to the studs and built back up with a new look.
That office complex is a “great example” of how to redesign a building’s exterior, said John Hannigan, principal of Norwalk-based commercial real estate broker Choyce Peterson.
It is a message not lost on commercial property owners in Greenwich, with multiple properties within eye shot of the downtown Metro-North station having undergone renovations or rebuilds, or considering so doing.
“The impression (visitors) get driving in is important to tenants,” Hannigan said.
“The landlords that have been reinvesting dollars into the facade, the window lines, the windows and lobbies — they are the ones that are able to charge higher rents.”