One man revitalized downtown Westport with a building project. The other revitalizes lives, providing homeless people with buildings to sleep in.
Both men -- David Waldman and Jeff Wieser -- will be honored as "First Citizens." The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce presents the awards on Tuesday, June 13, at a dinner at the Boathouse restaurant.
Waldman is principal of David Adam Realty. Under his leadership, Bedford Square -- the former Westport YMCA -- has been transformed into a lively retail/restaurant/residential complex.
That's just the latest achievement in Waldman's 26-year commercial real estate career.
David Waldman proudly shows off the Flemish brick used in Bedford Square.
A near-native, he arrived here in town age 1. His father -- a marketer -- moved here because Westport was "the marketing capital of the world." He built buildings to house his business. He sold the company, kept the buildings, and a real estate firm was born.
David attended Coleytown Elementary and Junior High. He graduated from St. Luke's and Syracuse University, then returned to Westport in 1991 -- just in time for a real estate downturn.
Waldman persevered. His initial project -- renovating the Art's Deli block on Post Road West, including apartments above -- provided him with his first understanding of "process, politics and zoning."
He and his wife Yvette -- "the one who grounds me and gets me through life" -- have 3 children: Rachel, Jacob and Ava. He calls them "my greatest accomplishments."
Yet Bedford Square -- created in conjunction with several partners -- is not too shabby either. By developing adjacent Church Lane and Elm Street, Waldman has "tried to make positive change. We're taking the town where the world is moving -- a little more walkable and connected."
David Waldman (center), at the opening of Bedford Square.
He calls himself "blessed to live, work and play in the same town. Sometimes that's difficult. But it's nice to see people enjoy our work."
Now he's turning his attention to nearby Sconset Square, and the former Save the Children site across the river.
"I'm only 47 years old," Waldman notes. "It's nice to have public recognition. But at the end of the day, the product on the ground is what I'm proudest of."
Waldman's fellow First Citizen honoree Wieser represents the non-profit sector. In 7 yearsas CEO and president of Homes With Home -- Westport's supportive housing umbrella -- he has nearly doubled the number of beds, added new services, and engineered a merger with Project Return (the North Compo residence for teenage girls and young women).
Homes With Hope is believed to be one of only 4 such organizations in a town like Westport in the nation.
This is Wieser's 2nd career. A New York banker with stints in Australia and Hong Kong, he and his wife Patricia moved here in 1985.
Their choice of Westport was happenstance -- they just wanted a "commutable suburb" (a town-owned golf course and beaches were added attractions) -- but it soon became home.
With 2 young children, the Wiesers quickly met lifelong friends.
Wieser served on the Homes With Hope board for 15 years. He had not thought of working there. But when founder Rev. Peter Powell retired, and several people asked Wieser to step up, he realized that after 30-plus years in banking, he was ready.
His wife said, "This is something you wanted to do all your life."
She was right. "It's been a wonderful change," he says.
Wieser is proud that his organization has been supported so well -- and so long -- by town officials and private citizens.
Jeff Wieser (Homes With Hope CEO) and a lobster. The event was a "build a sand castle" fundraiser for Homes With Hope.
"Westport cares about our neediest neighbors," he says. "Homes With Hope is a model for all suburban communities."
Wieser hopes to keep it growing. "There's still plenty to do," he notes. "We're getting chronic homelessness under control. The much bigger challenge now is affordable housing."
Waldman and Wieser are not the only 2 Westporters to be honored by the Chamber of Commerce. "Young Entrepreneurs" Aishah Avdiu, Remy Glick, James O'Brien and Phoebe Spears -- from Staples and Weston High Schools -- will be feted too.
Westporter David Pogue -- technology columnist/Emmy-winning TV personality/author/musician/New York Times, CBS News, Scientific American, Yahoo Tech and PBS star -- is the keynote speaker.
We can't all be First Citizens. But it's clear -- and the Chamber of Commerce recognizes -- that Westport is blessed with far more than one.