By Richard Kaufman
On Tuesday morning on the second floor of the Greenwich train station lobby, First Selectman Peter Tesei and Darrell Harvey, CEO of The Ashforth Company, unveiled plans for a new, redeveloped Greenwich Transportation Center.
The Town of Greenwich and The Ashforth Company, owners of Greenwich Plaza, have held a public-private partnership for over 50 years, ever since the train station, commuter lot and plaza office buildings were built in the 1960’s.
The press conference was attended by several town officials from the Board of Estimate and Taxation, as well as state-elected officials and employees of the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Metro North Railroad.
“This is an exciting day for the Town of Greenwich and for The Ashforth Company and for the residents, citizens and visitors to our Town who pass through these doors on a daily basis,” Tesei said. “I’m excited to be partnering for really the second generation of partnership with The Ashforth Company.”
On either side of the podium sat several renderings of the proposed project, roughly projected to cost $45 million.
Plans include the redevelopment and construction of a new modern transportation center, including the development of an entirely new train station to replace the existing train station on the north side of the tracks; a new train station on the south side of the tracks; expanded and improved drop-off and pick-up areas for both stations; new pedestrian and commuter pathways; a new privately-owned public park on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Railroad Avenue; new luxury movie theaters above the existing parking lot on Railroad Avenue; and modernized retail space along Railroad Avenue.
Architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, the lead designer of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal, is designing the project.
Harvey said the current station has outlived its time, and that several changes over the past 50 years have lead the charge for a new, modernized facility.
Harvey cited an increase in rail travel between cities and towns in the state, as well as an increase in reverse commuting from New York City.
Richard Andreski, Bureau Chief of Public Transportation from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, said the current Greenwich station serves 4,000 people per day. He added that the New Haven Line is the busiest rail line in the United States, with over 130,000 travelers per day.
“It’s the backbone of the state’s economy. We’re looking forward to seeing these improvements come to fruition over the next couple years,” Andreski said.
Harvey said that more people are living in downtown Greenwich, and the area needs to be more pedestrian-friendly.
Harvey also mentioned the growth along Greenwich Avenue towards the train station over the last few decades, and the need for a modernized theater. People can have dinner along the Avenue, reserve seats at the new luxury multiplex, and not worry about getting to their movie on time, he said.
Patrons could also wine and dine at the theater.
Bow Tie Cinemas, the current movie theater on Railroad Avenue, has plans to construct what’s called an “Ultimate” complex, which would feature a luxury recliner seating, full restaurant menu, full bar, with food and drinks delivered to your seat.
“The busy lifestyle led by today’s entertainment consumers often forces a choice between seeing a movie and having a great meal and a cocktail,” said Ben Moss, CEO of Bow Tie Cinemas, in a news release from the company.
“Now at Bow Tie Ultimate locations, our valued guests can reserve a luxury recliner seat in advance, arrive at the theater at a convenient time without rushing and enjoy a great meal and a cocktail during the movie. Bow Tie Ultimate takes the movie-going experience to a whole new level, and we’re delighted to expand the Ultimate footprint in Fairfield County.”
Harvey said the project has received tremendous support from Gov. Ned Lamont, as well as from Joe Giulietti, the former president of Metro North Railroad, and the current commissioner of the CT DOT.
All input on the project was taken to architects at Beyer Blinder Belle. Architect Frank Prial, who has experience working in Greenwich, said the new station will serve as a true portal into Connecticut and the town.
“The original architect of Grand Central Terminal saw that building as a gateway to NYC. We see that similar opportunity here in Greenwich, as well. It will be a generous space. It will be tall, it will be a place of honor and civic grandeur, but it will also be a very functional place where one can very comfortably and easily access trains. It will also be the lobby of an entirely new amenity to the town, a very lovely and extensive multiplex theater,” Prial said. “We’ve been inspired by the architecture of Greenwich. The station itself looks a bit to the future, as we think it should.”
State Sen. Alex Bergstein (D-36) said she was “thrilled” to see the renderings of the station.
“We need a beautiful, fresh modern face to show the rest of the state, east coast and region that we are a thriving community and we’re a thriving state,” she said, adding that she’s especially excited to see green roofing on the facility. “We’re not just a destination for businesses and people who want to enjoy the beauty of Connecticut, but we’re also a forward-looking state with advanced environmental policies and other policies. I think it’s going to unlock tremendous economic growth in our entire state.”
The project coincides with the East Side Access public works project under construction by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City. If the project is approved, it should be completed just around the same time that the East Side Access project at Grand Central is completed as well.
Trains on the Long Island Railroad would come into Grand Central, freeing up space at Penn Station. The New Haven Line could then send trains to Penn Station, making it easier for people to access New York City, and for people to come into Fairfield County.
“There’s a big coordination between what we’re doing here related to rail in Connecticut and what’s going on in the city,” Harvey said.
Tesei said the project is “essential to the future,” and it will continue to be the hub of Greenwich.
“As we look to the future, we want to retain and enhance those business presence here. In order to do that, we have to be able to get people here, and get them off the highway and onto rail, and they have to come through a place that’s desirable,” Tesei said. “That’s why I believe this transportation center needs this modernization, and why we need to create public spaces to have people enjoy the great outdoors, and continue to make Greenwich a destination in which people wish to not only live, work and raise their families, but also visit and recreate.”
Tesei urged his fellow town and state officials to remember the press conference for the future.
“Remember this day as you go forward. 50 years from now, people will be looking back and reading about this and saying, ‘The leaders of 2019 had the foresight to engage in partnership to foster it into carrying Greenwich well into the 21st century, and that’s why it’s thriving in 2050 and 2075,'” Tesei concluded.
Funding for the project will be provided by The Ashforth Company.
The Town will be contributing toward the public benefit improvements portion of the redevelopment by transferring to Greenwich Plaza, upon the successful conclusion of the project, the air rights currently owned by the Town and leased to Greenwich Plaza on the south side of the tracks.
As part of this transfer, the Town also will receive a perpetual easement for the use of all of the A-level commuter lot, including the portion owned by GreenwichPlaza, replacing the license currently held by the Town which expires at the end of the air rights lease.
The initial project was presented to the Greenwich Board of Selectmen on Thursday. It will be presented to the Planning & Zoning Commission on July 30. From there, the financing portion of the project will work its way through the BET, and ultimately the RepresentativeTown Meeting, as it did when the station and plaza were built in the 1960’s.