The City of Stamford applied for and received a Community Connectivity grant from the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) to facilitate improvements to both the layout and to the aesthetics. The CTDOT’s Community Connectivity Grant Program is an infrastructure improvement program that provides construction funding for safety and accessibility improvements to community centers. The Boxer Square Park and Intersection Improvement Project became one of the first projects to receive award of this smart grant, being awarded $400,000 (the maximum grant award) to improve transportation options and create a safe, pedestrian-friendly, community space in the historic Boxer Square intersection. The City contributed an additional $100,000 to transform this antiquated intersection with challenging vehicular turns and a lack of pedestrian amenities into an inviting, safe, and community-reflective district.
The Boxer Square intersection had major problems regarding pedestrian safety, cyclist safety, and overall cohesiveness into its surroundings. It has been theorized that the area may have been a trolly turnaround at one point, which may explain its unique and challenging original configuration. The streets were not aligned, which resulted in an excessive amount of asphalt, and pedestrian crossings were long and disconnected. This created unsafe conditions for pedestrians utilizing the community center. Landscape, streetscape, hardscape, and lighting features were also lacking, which was detrimental to an area that supports many local businesses. This area was teaming with promise,
but lacked sufficient infrastructure to realize its full potential.
One special feature of this neighborhood is a bronze statue depicting two boxers. It was created by a local welder named A.D. Richardson and was found at a refuse company in the late 1970s. Many believe the artwork depicts the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match between Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but some locals believe that perhaps one of the boxers is Chico Vejar, who was born in, and lived in, Stamford. Vejar was a welterweight who boxed professionally from 1950 through 1961, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, starred in two Hollywood films, and was a volunteer board member with the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Fairfield County. If the artwork is of a local hero, this makes it an even more important community showpiece. After the statue was found, it took almost an additional 20 years for it to find its home in a small traffic circle outside of Pellicci’s restaurant on Stillwater Avenue.
Bringing the statue to the traffic circle was a community effort in 1995. The name Boxer Square was given by the community in which it is located, but no real dedication or ceremony ever officially established the site. Over time, as the neighborhood developed, the small park area became disconnected from the sidewalk areas, which created an incoherent aesthetic that prioritized vehicular traffic and made access
to local businesses and other amenities challenging.
The Boxer Square intersection certainly had problems, but it also had potential. Boxer Square is an important community space, is home to many local businesses, and is a major bicycle and pedestrian route at the center of the West Side. Recognizing this potential, the City of Stamford commissioned a corridor study in 2009 to create a new future for this area. The Community Connectivity Grant was awarded during the winter of 2018 – 2019 and the design proposal was submitted in February of 2019. The design focused on creating a beautiful community park space, restoring and relocating the Square’s namesake statue, and reconstructing the intersection of Stillwater Avenue and Smith Street to create a safer environment for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. The 100% design plans were approved in early June of 2019 and the intersection reconstruction
was completed in September of 2019.
The revitalized Boxer Square improves traffic operations, provides safer connections to alternative transportation options (biking, walking, and public transit), and highlights the Square’s namesake boxer statue. The project improved the existing lane arrangements, reduced the overall size of the intersection, decreased crosswalk lengths, eliminated the median island, relocated the Boxer Square statue, and increased the size of Boxer Square Park, establishing a welcoming space for the community to congregate. Regarding streetscape amenities, the area was brightened by new benches, trees, and streetlights, creating a space that feels safe and inviting. The safety improvements are especially important as they create safer paths for students, parents, and school staff to access the Stamford Charter School for Excellence, which is two blocks away. The scope of services included production of final design plans and construction documents for the intersection improvements associated with the realignment of Stillwater Avenue, relocation of the southern curb line and sidewalk, removal of the center island, installation of ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps, necessary modifications of the drainage system, relocation of pedestrian ornamental lights fixtures, the furnishing of new pavement markings and signs, and grading of turf establishment and topsoil. The final construction costs were $550,000, with design costs of $45,000.
Boxer Square was transformed into a community showpiece that simplifies traffic movements, provides a pedestrian-friendly, walkable area with safe, easy access to local businesses, and provides an expanded park for its now restored famous sculpture, which received a new granite base. A ribbon cutting and statue dedication ceremony, long overdue, were held in September 2019. In attendance were Mayor David Martin, City representatives, the City’s Transportation Department, CTDOT, our design team, local press, and many appreciative neighbors and business owners (Pellicci’s Italian Restaurant, Jose’s Barber Shop, and Fanny’s Beauty Salon). Over the past year, Boxer Square has brought a renewed sense of pride to the neighborhood. Storefronts have been renovated and business owners have taken it upon themselves to maintain the landscaping and park area. This potential was realized and businesses have seen increased patrons because of the improvements and ease of connection. This project truly epitomizes the purpose of the Community Connectivity Program, and, perhaps more importantly, is a standout project that is reflective of its district, its needs, and its people.