By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)
Westport, CT – The project was years in development, long overdue and much needed, making the groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon a very anticipated and emotional moment for all involved.
The project was a new Halfway House – a shelter, bathroom and food station essentially – at the midpoint of Longshore Club Park golf course, 260 Compo Road South. The groundbreaking, attended by town officials, builders, planners, fundraisers and golf association representatives, signaled the achievement of a $200,000 fundraising goal set by the volunteer task force, the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. The new 750-square-foot, farmhouse-style structure will be dedicated to the memory of Cliff Ross, an avid golfer, longtime member of the Golf Advisory Committee and a key planner in the project who died two years ago from pancreatic cancer.
“The structure will be a place for golfers and users of the park to have something to eat, with a grill for breakfast fare, sandwiches, hamburgers, plus clean bathrooms,” said Mark Holod, chairman of the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. “The building will also be grounded against lightning, providing shelter for golfers.”
A former halfway house burned down in 2003 and, since then, a trailer and small, rundown bathroom facility has been used. “The useful life of the trailer was only supposed to be a couple of years,” said Holod. “You can only get hot dogs and prepared sandwiches and there’s no shelter. It’s dangerous when a storm hits.”
Holod said the new building honors Ross not only because of his planning efforts but because a generous donor stipulated the dedication as a condition. “We will refer to the site as Cliff’s Place, though it will not be officially named that,” he said.
Holod expected construction to begin in the next week or so and building to take approximately 12 weeks. “We’re hopeful to have a ribbon cutting and dedication at the beginning of June,” he said. “The project has secured all approvals – health, zoning and permits. We’re ready to go.”
Gus Papajohn of A. Papajohn is the general contractor and Jim Lothrop of Lothrop Associates is the architect.
Holod hopes the menu, which will be designed by Joey Romeo, the current concessionaire at Longshore, will include a Cliff Burger. “Cliff loved hamburgers,” he said. “He always wished he could have a burger here.”
Ross’ widow, Kathy, was among groundbreaking attendees and said, “I know Cliff would be so happy for this after all the meetings and prep. And the weather smiled on us today. I have a little conceptual drawing Cliff had done, hanging by my computer. Now the day is finally here.”
Had it not been for the help of Friends of Westport’s Parks & Recreation, a non-profit group, the day may not have come. “This has been a long process with a lot of twists and turns,” said Fred Hunter, co-chairman of the 9th & ½ Hole Committee. “We ran into walls and dead-ends until a year ago when the Friends group was formed, allowing us to go out to the public and raise funds.”
Jeff Mayer, President of the Friends group, explained, “We’re citizens doing what government has run out of money to do. There are more projects – schools, parks, beaches – that need our attention. We provide a means for creative citizen groups to fund their plans.”
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who thanked the numerous groups involved, suggested, “This is a great tribute to teamwork and keeping an eye on the ball – the golf ball in this case.”