Work begins on West End redevelopment in Bridgeport
BRIDGEPORT — When first proposed more than three years ago, plans to convert former factory buildings on the city’s West End into a mix of apartments, retail spaces and a school were met with skepticism.
Community leaders worried the project would focus heavily on low-income housing in a neighborhood striving to improve its image and become more attractive to businesses. Then financing the $120 million development proved to be a complicated process involving numerous private and public partners.
Despite a number of financing announcements, and even a groundbreaking in late 2015, little progress had been seen on the project to transform the derelict structures along Interstate 95 — until now.
Union workers, who will make up 100 percent of the workforce on the project, have been working on the site for the past two months under the direction of general contractor Construction Resources. On Tuesday, the development team welcomed students and staff from its future tenant, the Great Oaks Charter School, as well as local and state officials to the site to celebrate the start of redevelopment.
“I have to pinch myself,” said Gary Flocco, head of developer Corvus Capital. “Over the last three years, it’s been about solving problems. Now it’s coming to fruition.”
Flocco’s vision for the Cherry Street Lofts includes the creation of 157 residential units and a home for the Bridgeport charter school in phase one, which is expected to be completed by fall 2018.
While some of the apartments will rent at market rates, 80 percent, or 126 units, will be set aside for those making no more than 60 percent of the area median income. Some units will also be set aside for tutors at the school.
The second phase would rehabilitate the oldest buildings on the block bounded by Cherry Street and Railroad, Hancock and Howard avenues into a mix of housing and retail. A grocery store is also part of the plan.
Mayor Joe Ganim noted this is the first major development project launched since he returned to office in 2015. He said he has been waiting decades to see progress on transforming the factory buildings into something Bridgeport can be proud of, especially considering their derelict state leaves drivers on Interstate 95 with a negative impression of the city.
“When I left some 12 years ago, it was on our agenda to see something happen here,” Ganim said. “We’re seeing that change today.”
Evonne Klein, commissioner for the state Department of Housing, said the project has the potential to be “transformative.” Klein, who chairs the board of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, said the authority is committed to the project.
CHFA in September approved $40 million in financing for the project, which is also financed in large part by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust Fund, which is investing $35 million.
Cynthia Petruzzello, who deals with brownfields around the state and was speaking on behalf of Tim Sullivan, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said it was great to see progress on a project Flocco has been working on for a long time.
“As things come up we’re always here to help or there to assist,” she told the developer.
At this, Flocco replied, “I promise we will try to keep the problems to a minimum.”