Roughly two years after its groundbreaking, Bridgeport’s highly anticipated Harbor Yard Amphitheater is expected to finally open this summer.
That being more than a year after what was originally envisioned is, said Harbor Yard principal Howard Saffan, “a combination of Murphy’s Law and the weather.”
Saffan spoke during a tour of the still-under-construction site at 500 Main St. He wouldn’t provide a specific opening date for the joint venture between the city of Bridgeport and Harbor Yard Amphitheater in association with concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment.
The Weston resident also declined to say how much the project has cost so far, though he allowed that “we’re so much past” the original $15 million estimate. “We’ve exceeded that budget dramatically.”
That is due in large part to the condition of the building — formerly the home of the Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball team that exited after the 2017 season — which Saffan described as “horrific.”
The developer said he’d spent $25,000 to test the site “and to discover what the issues were.” Those included severely corroded water pipes, elevators that failed safety inspections — one was used to haul garbage instead of passengers, he said — timeworn restrooms and a general state of dilapidation.
“We spent a quarter of a million dollars just on caulking,” he said.
Rising is a 7,500-seat facility designed to host 25 concerts per season — running May 1 through October — as well as up to 50 other events. Those will range from WWE productions and free performances by the Greater Bridgeport Symphony to a beer festival and possibly a college fair and a mass conducted by Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano.
“The economic impact on Bridgeport will be over $50 million per year,” Saffan declared, “and will involve approximately 1,000 employees on a part-time and full-time basis.”
Under the terms of the joint venture agreement, which runs for 40 years, Bridgeport will receive a minimum rent of $150,000 and $3 of each ticket sold per year. “As the business grows, (the city) grows with it,” Saffan said.
The existence of the 10,000-seat Webster Bank Arena next door at 600 Main St. has led some to wonder if the two facilities will be competing for attractions, but Saffan — who was president of the arena and its ice hockey squad the Bridgeport Sound Tigers from 2005 to 2015 — said such concerns are overblown.
“We are an outdoor venue,” he said. “Not a lot goes on (at Webster Arena) during the course of the summer. Hopefully, we can share the back of the house — the star suites, dressing rooms, and so on — when possible.”
The amphitheater’s stage measures 100 feet wide by 60 feet deep by 75 feet high, protected by a 60,000-square-foot tensile membrane fabric roof that will remain in place year-round. A pair of monitors measuring 25 feet wide by 36 feet long will be in place on either side of the stage to accommodate younger attendees who prefer to wander around a venue rather than remain anchored to their seats, he said.
Such nomads will have plenty of areas to choose from.
Last August, Philadelphia’s Aramark was announced as Harbor Yard’s vendor for general concessions, clubs, suites and on-site catering. Saffan noted that its 150-plus clients include New York’s Citi Field and Boston’s Fenway Park.
There will also be bars and restaurants featuring Corona, Heineken and Blue Point Lager, as well as Stratford’s Two Roads Brewing Co. along with such brands as Stratford’s Donut Crazy, Norwalk’s Knot Norm’s Catering Co., Bridgeport-based Timothy’s Ice Cream, Shelton-based Rita’s Italian Ice and the Fairfield Cheese Co.
The amphitheater has 21 suites — 15 of which have already been sold to the tune of $45,000 a year, he said — that each can accommodate about 25 ticket holders and feature TVs and an exclusive kitchen and chef.
The former baseball stadium’s dugouts are also being converted into beer bars, and various exclusive VIP lounges will be located throughout the venue — including one that will be open to the public called Jimmy’s Lounge, after Jim Koplik, president of Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York.
Restrooms are also receiving major upgrades with marble walls and porcelain floors. Saffan said women’s facilities will outnumber men’s by a 3-to-1 margin.
Twinkling ceiling lights reminiscent of those found at New York City street fairs, and a wraparound video projection system for the lower level, will also be featured. Saffan said that the latter can be used for a near-360-degree experience featuring views of aquatic wildlife or products by sponsors.
Waving at the debris still piled around the site, Saffan said, “We’ve repurposed just about everything we’ve taken down” with the use of a crusher. “That cuts down on the negative effects on the environment, the pollutants, that you have to deal with otherwise,” he said.
Asked if that approach also cut down on expenses, he laughed.
“Not really,” he said. “We’re spending $10,000 a week on the crusher.”