Stamford City Focus: Moving Forward
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“We’re at 120,000 on our way to 150,000, and we can do that without diminishing the quality of life for residents—in fact, we will be enhancing it,” he says. “There are 30,000 jobs in the downtown that can be filled by those residents. Currently they are held by people who don’t love to commute, but can’t find downtown housing at their price point.”
Bergstrom adds that many of the new housing units could be subsidized, at least in part, by employers, to attract and retain quality employees. Providing concentrated development within walking distance of the train station and other mass transit has Stamford well positioned for the future, Bergstrom believes.
“Stamford’s ready for the world that’s coming, which is about walking and biking to work instead of driving,” he says. “People are going to be increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint, and Stamford will be ready for that population.”
But before looking to the future, a look back at recent successes in Stamford might contain valuable lessons for other cities.
As with any city, the story begins in its downtown. Stamford’s downtown in the late 1980s was a combination of large corporate buildings, ill-designed public housing and the Stamford Town Center mall, which was often compared to a fortress. The then new kid on the block had been constructed without windows, limited signage and few means of entry from the street, giving the structure a monolithic appearance. Compounding the problem were distressed blocks throughout the downtown that were not easy on the eyes or the city’s reputation.
“Twenty years ago, Stamford had a lack of personality—it hadn’t found its identity,” says Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County. “Come 5 o’clock this place emptied out and downtown was a ghost town. Now the nightlife, restaurants, clubs and movie theaters have all made Stamford a place people want to be, and want to live, not just work.”
Stamford Town Center completed an expansion in 2007 in which it added what was said to be the largest Barnes & Noble in the state, as well as restaurants accessible from the street that include P.F. Chang’s, Kona Grill, Mitchell’s Fish Market and The Capital Grille. The bookstore and restaurants, which went into the space formerly occupied by Filene’s, and before that JCPenney, gave the mall a new entrance and helped reverse the fortress look and reputation.
“This gave us a new front door and was a huge change for us,’’ says Michael McAndrews, the mall’s general manager. “Over these last 10 years, Stamford has changed from a city with a small-town flavor to a city that has grown up and matured. We feel the changes we made helped us grow and mature at a similar pace.”
That growth has brought an influx of younger workers and a growing entertainment industry. The Jerry Springer solution for SCA, though not to everyone’s taste, does dovetail nicely with other entertainment properties in the city. The city is now home to the YES Network (The New York Yankees’ cable network), the cable network Versus (which airs NHL hockey), NBC’s Olympic offices and most of its online jobs. Anyone who passes through the city on I-95 can see the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) headquarters on the city’s East Side.
Nobody will ever mistake Stamford (the self-proclaimed “City that Works”) for Hollywood or New York, but the city also increasingly serves as a backdrop for films and television. Since the creation of the Stamford-based Connecticut Film Center in 2006, the state has hosted over 60 film productions and numerous TV ventures. With studios and offices in Stamford and Norwalk, the CFC has helped bring movies to the state, in part by helping secure tax credits for filmmakers and linking them to local businesses. Recent films to call Connecticut home include Revolutionary Road with Leonardo DiCaprio and Everybody’s Fine with Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore, while Showtime’s “The Big C,” with Laura Linney and Oliver Platt (both state residents), is now filming in Stamford.
“When a film production comes to town, it has tremendous positive effects on the state, the region and local businesses,” says Kevin Segalla, CFC president. “Connecticut is one state that realizes this value. And we are fortunate to have Stamford, because of its proximity to New York City and because it offers a variety of backdrops for a production.”
That proximity to New York City has long caused Stamford to be seen as part of the New York market rather than as the independent, vibrant Connecticut city it has become.