For Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, new construction and the renovation of vacant properties will help erase the city’s regional reputation of standing out for all the wrong reasons.
“The shtick was that if you lived in Fairfield, you knew, in an unflattering way, when you were in Bridgeport because you would see things that just weren’t really appealing to the eye. There was graffiti on the buildings and buildings that were empty,” Ganim told those attending the recent 2017 Economic Development Briefing sponsored by the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce.
Ganim pointed to Manhattan-based Exact Capital Group’s restoration of the vacant Majestic and Poli Palace theaters and the former Savoy Hotel, and Live Nation’s renovation of Harbor Yard baseball stadium into a music amphitheater as evidence of new urban vibrancy. He touted the installation of a thermal loop system in the downtown area as a high-tech innovation that would “put Bridgeport on the map, not just nationally but
“People have got to begin to realize that something is happening in Bridgeport,” he said. “It is a city that is fast growing and looked at by others, either in whispers or loud voice, as a place that’s on the move.”
The briefing included updates from three developers of major projects across the city.
Stephen Tyliszczak, development director at Bridgeport Landing Development LLC, highlighted how his parent company, RCI Marine Group of Miami Beach, was breathing new life into a shipyard property that lay dormant after Derecktor Shipyards filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was evicted from its facility in 2012 for failing to pay rent.
J. Goodison, a Rhode Island marine maintenance and repair company, had hoped to take over after Derecktor left but was unable to reach a long-term lease agreement with the city.
“The new Bridgeport Harbor shipyard is to be completed soon, but it will not build mega-yachts,” Tyliszczak said. “We’ve got travel lifts on order for 70-ton and 200-ton, so it’s not going to be the big 600-ton vessels that Derecktor had, but it is going to be what we think is necessary to change the waterfront in Bridgeport from an industrial to a recreational waterfront.”
Tyliszczak said his company was waiting on approval from the state Traffic Commission before moving on a planned retail and residential development on Seaview Avenue. At his PowerPoint presentation he flashed a rendering of the proposed MGM Bridgeport casino resort, and quipped, “And then we have a Plan B, which you probably heard a little bit about.” But he offered no further update on that possible $675 million addition to Steel Point.
Moving the focus to downtown, Brett Wilderman, principal at Forstone Capital LLC of Darien, gave an update on the McLevy Square development spanning four addresses on State Street. Wilderman said the 7,000-square-foot Harlan Haus Beer Hall at 155 State St. will open on Dec. 15, while work is underway on The Stress Factory comedy club in the 167 State St. space once occupied by Playhouse on the Green. The 177-189 State St. mixed-used property has six of its 32 apartments leased, while discussions are being held to bring tenants into the property’s two
Wilderman derided an urban renewal approach where “you can go in here and put Band-Aids on things, and they’ll look good for a little bit of time before they fall apart.” Instead, he sees McLevy Square as a magnet to attract new people to Bridgeport.
“We have to give people reasons and opportunities, whether it is from a retail standpoint or restaurants or entertainment venues, that people want to experience,” he said. “This is a real opportunity to create a 24/7 live-work-and-play type of development in downtown.”
In a third presentation, Gary Flocco, principal at Corvus Capital Partners LLC, noted his company’s efforts to transform a dilapidated 19th century gramophone factory off Interstate 95 into the Cherry Street Lofts residential complex. “When we first came here, it was occupied, but not with the residents we preferred,” he said. “But we saw this location as being a positive because it created an
exclusivity for us.”
Flocco touted the project’s energy efficiency and the use of smart-home technology in the units, and said it was opportunity to build a new residential environment that encouraged positive interaction.
“This site lent itself a nice exterior courtyard,” he said. “So, it was not only important that we create units, but that we have a place for people to meet their neighbors, have activities in the summer and have pride in their own community.”
Flocco said the development is creating jobs for Bridgeport residents. “It is 100 percent union jobs,” he said. “We have about 30 percent of our workforce come from Bridgeport. There are about 175 people on site right now and 30 percent of them are our local neighbors.”