Two of the most intriguing and ambitious commercial real estate projects proposed for Bridgeport involve hotels: the 300-room lodging component of the MGM Resorts Bridgeport at Steelepointe Harbor and the renovation of the long-defunct, 109-room Savoy Hotel as part of the Majestic-Poli mixed-use project in the north end section.
To date, however, both projects appear to be on indefinite hold, with MGM Resorts International stalled by state law from opening a casino with its hotel and Exact Capital, the New York City-based developer on the Savoy project, still scrambling to secure financing for this endeavor.
Thus, Connecticut’s most populous city is home to a single hotel: the 184-room Holiday Inn Bridgeport on Main Street in the heart of the business district. But for Deborah Salsman, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, the absence of lodging establishments is a traditional anomaly of the city.
“We didn’t have hotels back in the day, even with all of the industrial projects that were here,” she said, adding that a Holiday Inn once stood where Bob’s Discount Furniture is now based. Bridgeport’s only other current lodging establishment is the Sunnyside Inn, a small motel in a residential area that gained notoriety as the site of a February 2018 homicide case that was not solved for more than a year.
Salsman noted the Holiday Inn Bridgeport began life in the early 1980s as a Hilton-branded establishment, but ran into immediate difficulties and was sold in 1988 for $10 million to Trefz Corp., which switched the brand to International Hotel Group’s (IHG) Holiday Inn banner. Within a year under its new management, the hotel experienced a new jolt of activity, with occupancy jumping from 25% to 40%.
Downtown Bridgeport’s deficit of hospitality outlets has played to the hotel’s advantage. For example, Salsman noted the hotel’s dining room attracts many people from the courthouse across the street and from offices in the surrounding neighborhood. “Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of restaurants in the area, so we benefit from that,” she said.
Salsman pointed out that the hotel is proactive in its efforts to attract business opportunities. With 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a 6,000-square-foot ballroom that divides into thirds, Salsman aggressively promotes the facilities to multiple audiences.
“We are very competitive with weddings and gatherings for funerals,” she said. “We get graduations, mitzvahs, family reunions. We have a great reputation in the community and the lower Fairfield County area.”
The regional corporate, educational and nonprofit communities are also vital to the hotel’s conference business, she continued, noting the local universities and hospitals regularly hold training sessions there. Bridgeport Hospital’s Center for Sleep Medicine takes up an entire floor at the hotel. On July 24, the hotel will host the National League of Cities’ three-day annual summer conference for Hispanic elected local officials.
“The hotel chain IHG promotes us, so we can get leads,” Salsman said. “Networking is always the No. 1 means of promotion. The best form of advertising is word of mouth.”
As part of the IHG, the hotel has to follow corporate directions regarding its interior design.
“Last year we renovated the entire lobby,” Salsman said. “Working through renovation is always a challenge. We lost rooms that we used for storage.”
Salsman also acknowledged that Bridgeport’s longstanding stigma as being a city with a reputation for criminal activity has weighed on her work.
“I won’t lie. It makes my job harder,” she admitted, adding that the hotel maintains a 24/7 security detail. “But once I bring people in here and they see this facility, their concerns are alleviated.”
As for the high-profile hotel projects that are still in limbo, Salsman predicted the Holiday Inn Bridgeport would face a very different playing field if either or both of those efforts were completed.
“It will hurt us at first, yes,” she said. “But they’re different markets, and it will also help us in the long run because of the different type of business we can get. Eventually, their rates are going to become so expensive … that it is going to benefit us.”