Stamford City Focus: Moving Forward
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When Stamford’s arts organization, Stamford Center for the Arts (SCA), was in bankruptcy last year and faced with the closing of the Rich Forum, one of its two theaters in the city’s downtown, it got a huge boost from an unlikely source: Jerry Springer.
The organization was struggling in a rough economy and, combined with severe cuts in funding from the state, the days of the Rich Forum appeared numbered.
“We had the luxury of a second theater downtown, but we could never get the Rich Forum to work economically,” says Elissa Getto, executive director of SCA. “Yet in this disastrous economy, our board came up with incredibly forward thinking. . . . We had to remember that entertainment means something different to every person.”
That forward thinking resulted in a deal with NBC Universal Television Distribution to rent out the theater, and months later, to bring in “The Jerry Springer Show,” as well as those of Maury Povich and Steve Wilkos (the former Springer bodyguard who now has his own program). Currently, the SCA continues to attract acts across the entertainment spectrum to the Stamford Center for the Arts’ other venue, the Palace Theatre, which also houses several other community arts organizations.
“Nothing is easy, but we are beyond the point of wondering what Stamford might look like without the Stamford Center for the Arts and so many wonderful performing artists,” says Getto. “The arts are a part of most every city, but entertainment is particularly part of the fabric here in Stamford.”
Out-of-the-box thinking, a vision shared by both the city’s political parties and geography have all worked in Stamford’s favor. Despite the downturn that has affected all of Connecticut, Stamford is growing. The state’s fourth-largest city as of the 2000 Census, Stamford has added residents while others have lost. Some estimates put the city second, close behind Bridgeport.
Pivotal in the city’s development has been The F.D. Rich Co., for whom the Rich Forum is named. Almost all the key buildings in the city’s development have included the company; in the 1970s it completed the GTE headquarters, a unique pyramid with upper floors having more square footage than lower ones, as well as the nearby Marriott Hotel.
“Stamford has always enjoyed great leadership and vision,” says Thomas Rich, company president and COO. “The city had enough foresight to choose one developer for its transformation, [which] allowed for one cohesive plan to move forward.”
F.D. Rich today continues its involvement in key projects, including Trump Parc, which opened last fall. Rich has also developed several blocks on lower Summer Street to add movie theaters, a Courtyard by Marriott and a booming “restaurant row.”
Stamford is poised for further growth and remains on track with significant development projects that will boost housing, retail and commercial interests in the city over the next 10 years. In fact, it is possible that the city’s momentum, combined with thousands of new residences, could make Stamford the state’s largest city in just a few years.
With 9,000 housing units built or approved and another 6,000 proposed, the city could add another 30,000 residents in coming years, according to Kip Bergstrom, executive director of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Commission.