CREATIVE CAPITALISTS: Not the Retiring Type
(6/7/2010) (from Conntact.com)
June 7, 2010 by Karen Singer
A distaff developer with a radical vision for the Quinnipiac
Fereshteh Bekhrad is spending her "retirement" working eight to ten hours a day on a project to revitalize a part of Fair Haven overlooking both sides of the Quinnipiac River near the Grand Avenue Bridge.
"I believe we have a real jewel here, the best hidden jewel of New England," says the Iranian-born architect and developer, who is
financing her Oyster Harbor Village project privately with a partner.
The Quinnipiac Avenue side is completed. It consists of a 15-unit townhouse complex she acquired from another developer and a seven-unit luxury condo complex she designed, built and lives in, on the site of two antique fisherman's houses.
Her units feature river views, open floor plans, Jacuzzis, marble and granite countertops and bamboo floors.
Across the river, Bekhrad wants to add 15 upscale units to the Oyster Cove condominiums on Front Street and construct 25,000 square feet of commercial space with underground parking, restaurants, groceries, boutiques, a health club, a convenience store with a pharmacy and a bread and breakfast.
She also envisions a pedestrian walkway along the water, a 28-slip marina with coffee shops, water taxis and a dinner dance boat.
Before she can begin building, Bekhrad needs approval from the state's Department of Environmental Protection to replace a dilapidated seawall and remove contaminated soil. As soon she gets the go-ahead, the Regional Growth Partnership may lend her $400,000 in brownfields funds for the clean-up.
"We're really excited to be involved with a woman so dedicated to reviving the Quinnipiac River in a mixed-use project that will generate between 400 and 500 jobs," says RGP executive director Ginny Koslowski.
"I think she has a real vision of what the area could be," adds New Haven Economic Development Director Kelly Murphy.
Bekhrad brings decades of experience to her project.
She came to the U.S. in 1970 with a bachelor's and master's degree in architecture from Tehran University, and later earned a master's degree in urban design and architecture from Washington University (St. Louis) and a certificate in project management from the Wharton School of Business.
Bekhrad says she has planned, designed, constructed and managed "14 million square feet" of residential and commercial space "all over the world," including Canada, Europe, Iran, Bermuda and the Bahamas. Along the way, she started and ran several companies, most recently Elmhurst Inc., the New Haven design, development and management firm overseeing her Oyster Harbor Village project.
Bekhrad first came to Connecticut in 1974 as chief land use planner and project director for the city of Bridgeport.
Nearly two decades later she began working in New Haven "because a friend got me in a corner and said, 'There's a building that needs your attention,'" she recounts.
The building, the Carewell Rest Home on Dwight Street, was in foreclosure. "I bought it and revived it," she says, adding she subsequently bought several nearby apartment buildings and moved into the neighborhood.
Several years ago, while shopping for lobster in Fair Haven, she spotted a rundown 1790s fisherman's house and began imagining what she could do with it and the surrounding area near the Grand Avenue Bridge, which Bekhrad said reminded her of Ponte Vecchio, the famous Italian bridge with shops.
"I thought this needs to be done, and done right," she says.
The plan mushroomed into her current vision.
Once she receives DEP approval, Bekhrad says she will spend several months constructing a new sea wall and cleaning the site. After that she will begin construction, starting with the commercial space and completing the project in around three years.
Bekhrad acknowledges some might consider her project foolhardy but she believes "Everybody has to have a vision" and should not rely on others to get things done.
"I am crazy, yes," she says, with a laugh. "I am doing my own design. I am a non-profit organization, using my own money when I could travel around the world, or take it and do some other things. But I decided to change this area and bring it back to life.
"Later on, since I don't have any children, everything left is going to an organization to help battered women."
Bekhad has no doubt about the outcome of her project.
"Oyster River Harbor is one my last goals," she says. "So far, whatever I have said I want to do, I have done."
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