An interesting development is taking shape in downtown Darien that is set to reshape the riverside town’s landscape.
Several blocks of downtown will be rebuilt and re-imagined by Art Lucas, owner of Lucas Properties LLC, to include a mix of uses, including condominiums, commercial space and a boutique hotel. It is a development that seems to be, for the most part, seen as a positive thing for Darien, as long as tabby ruins and an oak tree are not damaged or removed in the process.
With construction set to begin in the coming year, we wonder if Darien will see this new development come to fruition before Brunswick gets the conference center that has been in the works for nearly two decades.
We will also be interested to compare the long-term impacts of the two projects in their respective cities. Darien is getting a privately funded, multifaceted project that will lead to more people living downtown who will have more options for dining, shopping and working.
Brunswick will eventually get a publicly funded, 20,000 square-foot conference center capable of hosting around 400 people. If things go as the Urban Redevelopment Agency leading the project plans, a roughly 90-room hotel will be built to accompany the conference center. A recent draft feasibility study suggested the hotel is needed to make the conference center successful.
A hotel might help the conference center do better financially, but that same study suggested it would be several years before a profit would be possible, and that relies on filling the center regularly.
The project in Darien is a wiser long-term proposition. It involves multiple uses for the space being built that includes people living in downtown Darien. Our bet is that in the long run, the city of Darien as a whole sees better return on investment than the city of Brunswick government does from a conference center that is now $5 million over budget and will likely require taking on debt to complete.
It is not too late to change directions and draw back plans on the conference center into existing empty space in downtown Brunswick and find a developer willing to build a multi-use space that includes new residences and commercial space where the center is currently planned.
In the mean time, we will watch as downtown Darien is transformed and Brunswick gets meeting space it doesn’t truly need.