The century long multigenerational history of the Gault family and the Saugatuck River continues with a multimillion-dollar development at the heart of the historic neighborhood.
“This is the start of something big,” said Gordon Joseloff, first selectman of Westport. “We are really watching as Saugatuck becomes rejuvenated. This is part of a jumpstart in the neighborhood and sets the pace for moving ahead in improving Westport’s downtown.”
The Saugatuck Center plan, which has finished it first phase, is bringing a variety of office and retail tenants as well as creating some of the first new residences in the town in years.
“Before I-95 had really cut it in half, the Saugatuck neighborhood was the center of the working-class history of Westport,” said Sam Gault, president and owner of Gault Energy and Stone and Hamilton Development L.L.C. “We are really trying to transform this community from what it has become, a gritty industrial area, into a thriving village.”
The project is the most recent development project for the Gault family’s real estate business, Hamilton Development company. The Saugatuck Center property was bought by Robert Gault in the early 1920s. The development’s courtyard features a large train car filled with coal, a nod to the family’s history. Since the 1920s, the land has housed various businesses as well as Gault offices and as recently as last year a 365,000-gallon Gault Energy oil tank.
“We always knew this land could serve a better purpose,” Gault said. The Saugatuck Center plan began five years ago, when he and his father, then CEO Bill Gault, began to consider the spaces future.
The $4.5 million first phase of the project is completed and has two 10,000-square-foot buildings called Tide and Marsh, which are on an acre site on the Saugatuck River side of Riverside Avenue at the corner of Ketchum Road, tucked in the corner of a raised portion of I-95. The space is currently welcoming tenants to the new locations.
In the new tenant mix are three financial industry companies:
• Finisterre Capital, a London-based emerging markets specialist that will be moving from Stamford;
• Dock Street Capital Management, an independent investment adviser company that is moving from Greenwich; and
• New York City-based investment firm Carl Marks, is opening a new office at the location.
“We also have a kayak and water sports company, an organic butcher and a restaurant,” Gault said.
The names of the restaurant and butcher shop have yet to be announced, but the kayak shop, Downunder, is already moving into the 2,000-square-foot street level space.
“Other than the Westport Rowing Club, not a lot has been done in town to open up the community’s great coastline and make use of the water.”
Downunder owner and Australian-national, Kim Beaumont, said in addition to kayaks, the shop will sell stand-up paddle surfboards as well as surfing equipment, and offer rentals and lessons.
“We thought it was important to have a tenant that was going to make use of the water in their business,” Gault said.
Beaumont said she really lucked out in the position and timing of the Saugatuck Center project.
“They are very committed to the community here and making the waterfront accessible,” she said.
The development will also include a marina and 20 boat slips that are all open for sale, as well as a visitor docking, and a walking path that parallels the river and is open to the public.
Gault said creating a functioning community is core to the goal of the Saugatuck Center project. In the existing buildings there are six residential units, five of which are already rented and one of which is affordable housing. The affordable housing unit was awarded in a lottery and will cost $1,100 per month in rent while the other units will charge $3,000.
“We have a strong element of mixed-use here, the idea is to be able to live, work and shop within a small area, but all very close to 95 and the train station,” Gault said. “When people talk about rational, smart growth, this is the kind of project they mean.”
Gault said the neighborhood has recently attracted a variety of independent restaurants and cultural elements, headlined by the new restaurant of celebrity chef Mario Batali, Tarry Lodge Enoteca and Pizzeria on Charles Street, set to open next month.
Gault said in phase two of the Saugatuck Center project there will be additional opportunities for commercial and residential tenants. “We hope to have a community of artisan stores there, whether it’s a cheese shop, bakery, or florist,” he said.
The phase two portion of the project will include 4,000 square feet of retail space in two buildings being called Port and Starboard as well as three buildings of 21 flat and townhouse style apartments, four of which will also be affordable housing. The second phase of the project will be on the opposite side of Riverside Avenue and will see the closing of Docs Café.
Gault said that portion of the project would begin in the fall and most likely last between 13 and 18 months.
There is also a third stage of the Saugatuck Center development plan, called Saugatuck Mill, which will have a strong residential component, though details have yet to be announced.