For nearly 100 years, Stamford has dreamed of a Central Park in the heart of its downtown and a greenway along the banks of the historic Mill River. Now, because of the collaborative efforts of city, state and federal government, corporations, foundations, and private citizens, that dream is fast approaching reality. A 31-acre Park and three-mile greenway to Stamford Harbor has begun to emerge, transforming the heart of Stamford and serving as a catalyst for residential development, corporate and commercial growth, and as a new venue for healthful active recreation.

The history of the Park begins in 1997, when Sasaki Associates, on behalf of the City, conducted a study on the park area that resulted in the Mill River Corridor Plan. The intent of the Plan was the reclaim and create an open green space in the heart of Stamford as a gathering place for citizens. The recommendation was to create 19 acres of new open space and restore an existing seven acres. Over the next several years the plan for the park moved along. The Plan was included in the Stamford Master Plan, a new zoning district (Mill River Design District) was created, a project plan was adopted by the Urban Redevelopment Commission, and the City established capital accounts for property acquisition and park development.

In 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers studied the restoration of local ecosystems and endorsed the removal of the historic Mill River Dam. The intent, and actual outcome, was to restore a natural stream channel to encourage the return of anadromous fish, restore wetland habitat, and improve public access to the river, among other sound reasons. In collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, Olin Partnership, a top landscaping firm, was selected in 2005 to design the Park. The resulting design, created in 2007, includes many of the latest advances in bioengineering and contains beautiful plantings on a remarkable landscape perfectly suited for a premier downtown park.

The vision for the Park included a place for children throughout Stamford to exercise and play together, and so the Mill River Playground was born. The playground was the first structure in Mill River Park and was designed in collaboration with Olin Partnership and Leathers & Associates, a firm that exclusively works on designing playgrounds. With corporate, West Side, civic, educational and government groups all pitching in, the pieces were in place to build the playground in 2006. In a true community effort, volunteers Linda King and Adriana Catlett recruited dozens of companies, organizations, and over 1,500 people to work on the playground during a seven day community-build May 15-21, 2006. Led by art teacher Anne Simmons, a group of students, teachers, and parents created five beautiful wildlife murals on 6-inch tiles that are on display at the playground. A number of contributors helped endow the playground, providing funding for its long-term maintenance. The final improvements for the playground include the planting of thousands of bulbs, grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees that give it a beautiful palette of colors and textures throughout the year.

In short, Mill River Park is transformative, providing a new model for redefining urban life and attracting the new, young urban residents who want to work and live in close proximity without compromising quality of life. Mill River Park & Greenway will provide the natural balance to Stamford’s robust built environment that will dramatically improve quality of life for Stamford as a whole and particularly for the many new residents moving into Stamford’s Downtown.

The Story of Mill River Park
On May 2, 2013, Stamford was changed forever by a restored river, a major new park in the heart of the city and a civic success that is creating a legacy for generations to come. This is a real estate and municipal finance story. Over one thousand units of housing and over $4 million in new annual municipal tax revenues have already been generated in anticipation of the park, which is being funded on the City’s part with tax increment financing.
This is the story of a successful civic collaboration in which Mill River Park Collaborative, a public/private partnership, is leading a $100 million project that is changing the urban landscape and economic dynamic of Stamford for generations to come. Mill River Park Collaborative is under contract with the City to develop and operate the park and has raised $15 million toward its $20 million private capital campaign.
This is an environmental triumph in which dams have been demolished allowing river herring to spawn for the first time in 360 years. Eels are migrating upstream and minks are coming downtown every summer to catch them. Acres of land along the river have been reclaimed from invasive plants and restored to native woodland, riparian, and meadow species, bringing back a diversity of insects, mammals, and birds.
This is a children’s story about their design of Mill River Playground and its wildlife murals with a river ecology theme. About the fourth grade science curriculum at Hart School now being taught through the laboratory of Mill River, its watershed and ecology; and how high school Mill River Stewards in their first paying jobs are introduced to environmental careers while helping maintain and restore the river.
This is an urban design story about how a dramatic increase in open space is required to complement the increasing density of the urban core and how improved pedestrian infrastructure has become critical to continued growth.
This is the story of a Japanese immigrant whose legacy was a beloved grove of cherry trees in a park most people only viewed from their cars. Now that grove is restored and is the largest cherry tree grove in New England, where Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom festival, will be celebrated each spring.