Sandy Goldstein makes no grand statements when asked about the reasons for her retirement from the Stamford Downtown Special Services District at the end of the year.
“It’s time for me to start the next phase of my life,” Goldstein — a mainstay at the DSSD since 1993, a year after it started — said from her office at 5 Landmark Square. “It was a very difficult decision. I’d been thinking about it for three years, but finally decided that this was the year.”
The district extends from I-95, north to the top of Latham Park. Mill River Park is the western boundary and Grove Street provides the eastern boundary. Its mission is “to manage, enhance and promote the downtown experience,” according to its literature.
Although a Brooklyn native — the accent is a dead giveaway — Goldstein has lived in Stamford for 48 years, building a resume that ranges from joining the Stamford chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women shortly after her move to being elected to the city’s Board of Representatives in 1975, becoming its first president in 1979 and remaining there for five two-year terms.
Defeated in her 1991 bid to become Stamford’s first female mayor by Stanley Esposito — future mayor and Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy was her campaign manager — Goldstein began focusing on a career in real estate before the district began looking for a president.
“Urban planning and urban environment were my prime interests,” she said. “When the job became available, I applied for it and got it.”
Stamford in the early ’90s was nothing like today, Goldstein noted: “When I first took the job, you could fire a cannon from the railroad station to Bedford and beyond and never hit a soul.
“We used to say that we’d be successful when you could see strollers in downtown. Today you get run over by strollers,” she laughed. “The streets are full of people. Even today when I had lunch at a little café the crowds were really big. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
One of her first priorities upon joining the district, she said, was to work to make downtown the city’s main hub. “We worked to get several zoning board resolutions passed, which basically kept Stamford from having other downtowns,” Goldstein said. Competing organizations “would have sucked the life out of downtown as we know it,” she said.
The district was also instrumental in helping create zoning regulations that made it easier to build housing, especially at market rates — something that helped downtown grow over the past quarter-century from around 3,000 residents to over 12,000, she said.
Goldstein also pointed to initiatives such as the summertime Alive@Five and Wednesday Nite Live concert series, the giant balloon-festooned Thanksgiving parade and downtown’s booming club and restaurant scene as proof that the district is delivering on its promises.
“Corporations love that we have stuff for their employees to do,” she said. “You come to Stamford in the summer and you can see fabulous art in our streets and green, flowering baskets all around. If it’s winter there are hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights on all the major streets, and the pièce de résistance of course is the tree in Columbus Park, which has over 100,000 lights.”
“Sandy’s commitment to the city is evident with the thriving business expansions and additions to the economic landscape,” said Stamford Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Heather Cavanagh. “Her dedication and tireless efforts have truly transformed Stamford downtown into a vibrant urban city, making Stamford downtown a destination area not to be missed.”
Goldstein said that while “I have gotten a ton of credit for what we’ve accomplished in Stamford, I work with some of the most incredible, talented and creatively smart people. We’ve all done things to make downtown very attractive, very safe and full of people, and in doing so we’ve increased property values and the grand list.”
She’s particularly proud of two relatively recent accomplishments: the $200 million Stamford Urby residential development project under construction at the infamous, undeveloped “hole in the ground” at the corner of Tresser Boulevard and Greyrock Place, which had stood vacant for some 25 years; and the addition of more student housing for UConn Stamford students.
Although she officially leaves the district presidency on Dec. 30, Goldstein said she will have a one-year contract to help with the transition. She’ll have a role in choosing her successor “and generally be available to help.”
She leaves an organization “that has been a major positive force in Stamford,” Goldstein said. “We’ve changed the face of what happens in downtown and throughout the city, and created a downtown mecca for the region.”