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Thursday, June 30, 2011

View Finder: TV Personality Andrea Beaman Visits Fairfield

View Finder: TV Personality 
Andrea Beaman Visits Fairfield
Presents healthy eating talk at Whole Foods
By Mike Lauterborn
(posted to 6/30)

Fairfield, CT – Three dozen people turned out for a visit by TV personality Andrea Beaman to the new Fairfield Whole Foods Tuesday evening. Beaman is a healthy food enthusiast and host of “Fed Up”, which is aired on FiosTV, Dish Network and Frontier network. The object of her talk was to educate about seasonal foods. The stop-in was part of her “Unlock the Taste of Summer” Tour, which started last week in Providence, R.I. and was scheduled to wrap in Cambridge, MA, June 29. Besides Fairfield, the tour included two other state stops – Glastonbury and West Hartford.

While Beaman prepared a protein-packed Black Bean and Quinoa Salad, she spoke about how she came to be the healthy eating promoter that she is. “At 28, I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and told by my doctor that I would need to take radioactive iodine the rest of my life,” she said. “Before I committed, I decided to change my diet, got off chemicals and junk food, and started to eat fresh food – organic, clean. Within four months, my body changed. My nails were stronger, hair shinier and I dropped 18 pounds.”

Beaman returned to the doctor and though she had made improvements, he still recommended she take the prescribed medicine. “I decided to keep on the diet,” she said. “It took two years to correct my condition. Now, at 43, I’m 15 years thyroid issue free.”

She did have one setback during that period, in 2006, when she was part of the popular “Top Chef” production. “Chefs are partiers,” she said. “We would go out drinking, partying, smoking. Within eight months, my thyroid went out again. I had trouble getting out of bed. I went back to the doctor, who said I had to go on the medicine. I was 37. He said, ‘You’re older, dieting won’t work.’”

Beaman went back to her healthy eating regimen and her thyroid went back to normal.

The salad Beaman was constructing is the perfect summer dish she said. “Salad is a cooling food,” she noted. “You will find you’re less lethargic.”

With regard to health overall, Beaman remarked, “When we eat food, it becomes our body – our hair, our skin, our teeth. You need to be careful about what you eat. When we get in harmony with the environment, the body reacts in amazing ways.”

Renovation Inspires Reuse and Recreation

Renovation Inspires Reuse and Recreation
By Mike Lauterborn
(for July/Aug issue Venu Magazine)

Fairfield, CT – The goal at the outset was to renovate a property for retail and office usage. The resulting development was more than anyone could have imagined, and has become one of Fairfield’s greatest assets.

In a recent sit-down at Carabiners, one of many businesses that calls the property home, Harold “Hal” Fischel, the site’s developer, and Deanna Spartachino, Marketing Manager at Fischel Properties, spoke about how Sportsplex@Fairfield, 85 Mill Plain Road, evolved.

“Dupont initially established the complex, which consists of 120,000 square feet of building space on 6.25 acres,” said Fischel, who, in 1970, founded the Fairfield-based development company that bears his name. “Dupont manufactured large rubber industrial parts. Fairprene Industrial Products Co. purchased the site and continued the operation until we bought the property in 2006. Many of the machines were still here and Fairprene was in the process of disassembling. We began to renovate everything – the roof, structural elements, all the utilities – and eliminated a big water tower and an 80-foot chimney. The vision was to convert it to market-receptive usage.”

The hitch with the plan was that the complex was in an industrial zone, restricted to allowed uses like indoor recreation. “We started searching for prospects,” said Fischel. “One by one, we found them, starting with the Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy. Then we came across a chap, Steve Katon, in New Bedford, MA, who was interested in operating his Carabiners indoor climbing facility in Fairfield County and proceeded to build 30,000 square feet of climbing walls. Another fellow was interested in building an ice skating facility and created two real ice/frozen water training rinks that now fall under the banner Fairfield Ice Academy.”

Fischel said that, with those businesses as anchors, others followed, including The Field House, Fairfield Hot Yoga, Crossfit and Get in Shape for Women. “All these recreational-oriented businesses on one site have created a destination location,” Fischel said. “A plus it that it allows children, during vacation or summer camp, to experience different venues on one site. The venues work together to create an experience for the kids.”

The newest additions to the tenant mix include Fairfield Fencing Academy, Fairfield Pilates, two eating establishments, spinning and tae kwon do. “As of April 2010, we were 85% leased and on the way to full occupancy,” said Spartachino.

“Each business benefits from the exposure created by the surrounding businesses,” said Spartachino. “For instance, a climbing customer may notice and become interested in tumbling and ice skating, and vice versa. That’s a very unique situation. I also run into parents that, for instance, sign up their son for hockey and daughter for gymnastics, so they can do one-stop drop-offs. There’s really nothing like this between here and New York City.”

Credit for the complex’s success can be attributed to Fischel’s talent for identifying structures, often historic, that can be saved, renovated and reintroduced. “The theory is that it’s more economical to convert an existing structure than build from the ground up, which might include demolition,” said Fischel.

He compared the project with one his firm completed in the late 1980s – West Cove Marina in New Milford. That site includes boat slips, maintenance services and access to an adjacent lake with waterskiing, rowing and kayaking. “That first gave me the realization that people are appreciative of recreational facilities,” said Fischel.

Of course, location, as they say, is key. “Sportsplex is right off I-95 and a half block from the Post Road, downtown Fairfield and a large commuter parking lot,” he said.

Already, two of the businesses, Carabiners and the Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy, have expanded, taking on more space. First Person Sports, offering Infra-red Laser Tag, has also recently opened, bringing another level of recreation to the complex. Numerous birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and adult get-togethers occur every week across the facilities, pulling families from all over Fairfield County.

The buzz gives people yet another reason to move to Fairfield. “We actually get calls here at the Sportsplex from families that are considering moving here and want to check what we offer,” said Spartachino.

Admittedly, there were challenges along the way to this pinnacle. “As an old building, it took tremendous creative vision to have it all come together,” said Fischel. “We wanted to build a field house for soccer and lacrosse – turf sports. The problem was there was a row of support columns down the center that had to be removed so a high-ceilinged clear span building could be placed in its footprint. Those columns were 100-year-old massive pine timbers. These valuable timbers that we had to move will be reused for architectural features.”

Spartachino said people love the natural brick and loftiness of the existing industrial buildings. “These spaces align well with the activities of the businesses that decided to call this complex home. The magnificence of the site, too, is such that it spans two entire Post Road blocks.”

Fischel has added to the visual attractiveness of the site by adding antique street lamps that complement the charm of the town and planting 250 arbor vitae trees to mask the Metro North train tracks from view.

From a marketing perspective, Spartachino said promotional support has included a Family Fun Day held last June, which offered free access to all the facilities. “It gave people an opportunity to sample everything from ice skating to trampolines. We also sponsor a movie night at Jennings Beach every summer. Last year our presence there included a gymnastics demo and portable climbing tower. We operate a wrapped bus as a shuttle to our facilities, as well, which has gone to several Touch-A-Truck events over time.”

Fischel said that after a certain point, what will carry the business is word of mouth. “I think the various businesses at Sportsplex are able to quantify their success through repeat business,” he said. “As developers, we’re happy to fill the spaces. It’s then the business’ turn to attract customers.”

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Playhouse Marks 80 Years with Cake and Champagne

Playhouse Marks 80 Years with Cake and Champagne
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – She’s come a long way baby, from a country tannery to a humble summer playhouse and now one of the theater community’s most respected grand dames of pre-Broadway entertainment. Wednesday marked 80 years that the Westport Country Playhouse has been in show business and locals, staff and dignitaries toasted her milestone with cake and champagne.

The theater was founded in 1931 by Lawrence Langner, a producer for the Theater Guild in New York, which, in the 1920s and 30s was a big driver of productions in the city. Langner lived in Weston with his wife Armina, an actress and co-founder of the theater.

“His goal was to find a place in the ‘country’ where he could try out shows away from the hubbub of the city,” explained Patricia Blaufuss, publicity manager for the Playhouse. “The site was approximately four acres and featured a tannery which provided leather for a hat maker in Danbury. The original structure – a barn – was converted into a theater and existed that way until 2005, when a major renovation took place. The only remnants are the walls on either side of the theater and at the back. There’s also a little patch of the old stage. For decades, actors have walked on this – if only it could talk.”

“The Streets of New York”, starring Dorothy Gish and Rollo Peters, was the first play performed, in 1931. Langner ran the theater until 1959, when it was taken over by James B. McKenzie, who then led the theater as executive producer for the next 41 years. In 2000, actress Joanne Woodward took over as artistic director. She was very instrumental in the major renovation.

“It really was falling apart,” said Blaufuss. “The building required $18 million in work.”

As to the talent the theater has hosted over the years, it has included the likes of Liza Minelli, Jane Fonda and Gloria Swanson. “Besides these well-known names, there have been so many other talented artists,” said Blaufuss.

Attending the event on behalf of Gov. Malloy, Connecticut State Representative Jonathan Steinberg commented, “When I was growing up, I remember people speaking with such reverence about the Playhouse. Look how far we’ve come in 80 years. It epitomizes Westport’s dedication to culture.”

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was also on hand for the birthday bash. “The Playhouse has always been a focal point for the arts community in Westport,” he said. “We’re very proud of this institution. It puts us on the world stage and has an incredible track record in sending productions to Broadway. Oklahoma had its start here. It’s part of the allure of Westport.”

Perhaps no happier to witness the theater’s 80th was Fairfielder Warren Pistey, who was born two years before the theater was founded and served as a production assistant at the Playhouse from 1949 to 1951. “What a wonderful place,” he said. “Everyone who came here was very talented. I remember meeting Van Johnson, Walter Abel, Claudette Colbert, Mary Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein and Jeanette MacDonald.”

At a midpoint in the celebration, Joseloff and Steinberg joined Playhouse Managing Director Michael Ross and Artistic Director Mark Lamos behind a table, on top of which sat an elaborate cake made to look like the Playhouse, provided by CakeSuite of Fairfield. Each made a few brief remarks and Steinberg and Joseloff read proclamations declaring June 29 Westport Country Playhouse Day, both in the town of Westport and statewide.

Lamos recognized Woodward, Paul Newman and others for helping “a brand new theater rise and confront the future” and thanked Ross and the Playhouse’s devoted staff for their service. He added, “The Playhouse gives back to the community what the community can give to it. Thank you Westport.”

Joseloff said the theater was an anchor of a great community. “Who would want to live anywhere else?” he remarked. Steinberg said the theater is “a very special place with a long association with the arts.”

With regard to the proclamations, Ross joked, “Yay, everyone gets free parking” and “no sales tax today.” Then, as champagne and cake began to circulate, Ross, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, added, “Champagne’s appropriate at 11:15 in the morning, right?”