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Trending: Why One City is Booming

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Stamford has eclipsed Hartford as Connecticut’s third largest city, after growing by more than 2,200 residents between July 2010 and July 2012, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday.

“That’s the direction we want the arrows to go,” Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said this week, expressing pride in the fact that his hometown was making moves on the rankings.

In total, Connecticut grew by roughly 13,700 residents, holding steady as the nation’s 29th largest state, the bureau reports.

The vast majority of the state’s growth occurred in the Southwestern corner. Fairfield County as a whole increased by slightly more than 15,000 residents, growing more than five times as much as Hartford County, which was the second-fastest growing. At the same time, Litchfield County’s population decreased by 2,211 residents, while Middlesex and Tolland counties decreased by 40 and 1,205 respectively.

Each of Southwestern Connecticut’s five largest cities and towns – Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury and Greenwich – posted population gains over the two-year period, with the most rapid growth occurring in Danbury, where the population increased by a little more than 2 percent. But among the 25 largest communities in Connecticut, Stamford was the only town or city that shifted its position in the ranking.

“To sum it up in one concise term, I think it’s the ‘value proposition’ that Stamford offers that attracts new residents,” Pavia said. “The jobs that are here, the housing stock that is here and the overall city itself and what we have to offer: Excellent parks; Good traffic flow throughout the city; Infrastructure improvements. There are a number of positive things that people look for when they’re relocating.”

The city has seen a considerable boom in certain areas, including the new Harbor Point development on Stamford’s South End, which is adding thousands of luxury housing units to the existing stock, attracting a younger, more affluent crowd to the formerly working-class section of town. And the development isn’t over yet.

The Census estimates are based on a July 1, 2012 count; at that time roughly 900 of the projected 4,000 Harbor Point units were constructed, meaning most of the area’s growth still lies ahead.

“I think we’re on the lower rung of a ladder that will continue to move upward,” said Pavia, who was a developer and city planner before taking over the reins as Stamford’s mayor in 2009. “I think that yes, what’s taking place right now in Harbor Point and in downtown Stamford, the volume of units being built is probably at the high point, but I think that other development will follow, and that business growth will follow that as well.

“The pace and speed at which the apartment buildings are being built may dip a little bit, though I don’t think it will. But I think you’ll see a second wave,” Pavia continued.

The “first wave” has already taken a toll on the city’s public school system, which has seen an increase of 615 students (8. 6 percent) across 12 elementary schools since the fall of 2009. District officials expect those numbers to increase by another 300 children when the 2013-2014 academic year begins, a reality that caused the school board to add 20 elementary school teachers to the district’s payroll for next year, including seven kindergarten positions. But that’s just the short-term fix.

Five of Stamford’s 12 elementary schools are now brimming over their recommended capacity, and the Board of Education recently commissioned an analysis of the city’s future growth and the physical demands it will place on the district, in an effort to begin planning for the possibility of additional schools.

“We basically have next year to really be in a place where we have to reassess all the information, and the Board is going to have to find a short-term and long-term goal to address where the population spurts are happening,” Schools Superintendent Winifred Hamilton said this week.

Planning for the growth is taxing, but Hamilton remains optimistic.

“It’s an exciting time, I think for the Board, the community and our schools,” said Hamilton.

The Avon Theatre is the center of a vibrant night life area just south of Latham Park on Bedford Street. Trafffic flows by leaving trails of tail lights and patrons of the movies and restaurants hurry along the sidewalks in the cold. by Paul Desmarais/ Staff Photo

The Avon Theatre is the center of a vibrant night life area just south of Latham Park on Bedford Street. Trafffic flows by leaving trails of tail lights and patrons of the movies and restaurants hurry along the sidewalks in the cold. by Paul Desmarais/ Staff Photo

Much of the growth in Stamford student population is attributed to the fact that a large share of the city’s new residents are young professionals or young families, drawn to the city for proximity to jobs at the various global businesses, like UBS, RBS and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, that have moved in over the past several years.

As the first Connecticut city on the train route from Manhattan, Stamford’s proximity helps boost its appeal to young New Yorkers ready to begin the next stage of their lives in the suburbs, said Stamford’s director of economic development, Laure Aubuchon.

“There are a lot of shoreline communities, but Stamford is more than that,” she said. “We also have North Stamford, so we have a wide swath of land mass with golf courses, parks and beaches, and compared to other cities in Connecticut, we have restaurants and a night life.”

Just look around, said Pavia.

“If you go downtown, or to Harbor Point or Chelsea Piers, you’ll notice there are a lot of young people, and they visit the restaurants and the stores and they spend, creating jobs wherever they’re spending,” the mayor said.

That comes in two parts.  There’s the single, yuppy invasion, which can be witnessed along Summer and Main Streets on a Saturday night, as the music and laughter permeate the walls of bars and restaurants like bartaco and Tiernan’s. And as indicated by the school burst, there’s also a flood of young families.

“If we’re attracting young people from New York City to come out here and work, then they like Stamford, and when they come to settle down with their families, they think of us,” Aubuchon said.

Both Aubuchon and Pavia said they see this current population growth merely as a predictor of future surges. And Aubuchon said she thinks Stamford could overtake New Haven to claim the No. 2 spot within the next few years.

“If you just do a pure mathematical equation, I would say you can almost take New Haven in five or six years, assuming the same growth rates,” she said.

If all things were equal, and the rates of growth for both cities were to remain steady – with Stamford growing by 1.85 percent every two years, while New Haven grows by 0.76 percent – the two cities would be just about neck-and-neck in 2020, with New Haven up by roughly 100 people. By 2022, Stamford would take the title of Connecticut’s second largest city with a little more than 137,000 residents, about 1,300 more than New Haven would have. And Bridgeport’s crown as the state’s largest municipality would be safe in its hands, with more than 156,000 residents.

But all things aren’t equal in the lifecycle of a city. While Stamford has grown steadily since it sat at the fifth-largest city, just behind Waterbury, in the 1990 decennial census, New Haven’s population dipped by about 7,000 residents between 1990 and 2000, before growing in the following decade.

“Who knows? It makes me feel good that our growth rate is at a faster rate than New Haven,” Aubuchon said.

Regardless of if and when Stamford assumed the role as the state’s second largest city in the coming years, the mayor, who has opted out of running for a second term, said he thinks Stamford could be a city of more than 150,000 people in time.

“I think it has all the components of a great major city,” he said.

maggie.gordon@scni.com; 203-964-2229; http://twitter.com/MagEGordon; http://facebook.com/TrendingWithMaggieGordon

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Maggie Gordon

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