With its delayed groundbreaking finally taking place on July 12, it’s smooth sailing ahead for Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard Amphitheater.
Or is it?
The $15 million project, originally scheduled to open next spring, is now looking at a summer 2019 debut, according to Harbor Yard principal Howard Saffan — and that depends on whether or not the area has to endure another harsh winter, he said.
Declaring the amphitheater “part of the renaissance of Bridgeport,” Saffan said plans are for the end result to be “iconic. It’s going to be 120 feet high — 12 stories — which is 50 percent higher than the (next-door Webster Bank) arena.”
How the 10,000-seat arena will be affected by the 5,500-seat amphitheater being right next door has been a bone of contention, as some observers have questioned the wisdom behind having two concert venues within walking distance of each other. Saffan said that he hoped to “work collaboratively with the arena to create an entertainment district.”
“We hope the city will be put on the map with the amphitheater,” added Jim Koplik, president of concert promoter Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York. “And we expect the arena will benefit too.”
Attempts at obtaining comment from Webster Bank Arena were unsuccessful.
Mayor Joe Ganim also touted the amphitheater’s visibility from Interstate 95 as a potential draw for curious motorists into Bridgeport’s downtown. “This should be something where great things should happen,” Ganim said. “It will benefit not just the city but this part of the state and well beyond.”
Bridgeport City Council President Aidee Nieves echoed those remarks, saying that Koplik and Saffan had both recognized that “Bridgeport has the capacity for change” and that the city “is the place to build something like this.”
“This has been a dream of mine,” Koplik said, “building a boutique amphitheater that’s based in a city.” Following discussions with the Ives Concert Park in Danbury and the mayor of Middlebury, “We came across the ballpark,” he said.
Harbor Yard was until 2017 home to the independent baseball team the Bridgeport Bluefish. After 20 years, the last several of which saw steadily declining attendance, Ganim — widely credited with helping bring the team to the city — declined to renew its lease.
Although that move was viewed unkindly by Bluefish supporters, the mayor told the Business Journal that Bridgeport “didn’t have a problem” with the team.
“When we broke ground on the ballpark, we expected the Bluefish to be here for about 10 years,” he said. “That turned into 15 and then 20. After two decades we wanted the type of entertainment that could kickstart a renaissance here.”
The amphitheater will “bring a whole new level” of family-friendly attractions to the city, Ganim added.
The new facility is expected to draw 250,000 people to between 50 and 75 events a year, with an average concert ticket costing about $65. The site will also host community events and private functions. All told, officials said the amphitheater’s local economic impact will be $18.3 million.
“We will have a great opening act,” Koplik said. “I’ve already been talking to a few people.” He and Ganim invoked names like Fairfield native John Mayer and Beyonce as possibilities, although the latter especially usually plays much larger venues.
Luck could also play a part: Koplik noted that when he opened the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford in 1995 the opening act was Hootie & the Blowfish. Expecting a crowd of about 3,000, the group — then riding a wave of momentum — ended up drawing 20,000, he said. That kind of excess won’t happen in Bridgeport, he noted, as it’s an enclosed venue unlike the Xfinity, whose lawn area can hold 22,500 people.
Corporate support is already strong for the new Harbor Yard, according to Saffan, who said that commitments have been made to 18 of its 22 suites.
“This is huge,” Ganim said. “It’s part of one element of $1 billion worth of new investments happening in Bridgeport.”
As for Bridgeport’s other possible major addition — the much-discussed downtown casino — the mayor said that MGM Resorts International remains committed to building a $675 million venue on the city’s waterfront, which he said would result in some 5,000 jobs. Despite strong support from Ganim and a host of area state legislators, the project will likely have to wait until next year to be approved in the statehouse.