Bridgeport puts upgrade wish list on paper
BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joe Ganim’s $185 million vision for a downtown arts and entertainment district now has a glossy pamphlet — and jobs estimates — to go with it.
“This is a great job creator,” Ganim said in a brief interview this week.
The brochure that the city is circulating among state lawmakers also gives a glimpse at a possible future for the city’s 20-year-old ballpark as an attraction to host not only for sports, but other outdoor entertainment.
After learning in February that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wanted to invest $250 million in Hartford’s downtown XL Center, the Ganim administration scrambled to submit its own request for $185 million in state cash to upgrade Webster Bank Arena, the Ballpark at Harbor Yard and other downtown attractions.
What was lacking were the details needed to try and sell Malloy and the General Assembly, given Connecticut’s budget crisis. So last week the city’s economic development office printed around five dozen glossy pamphlets with a breakdown of how the state’s investment would be spent, conceptual renderings and an estimate that 1,180 jobs would be created and 107 retained.
An additional 724 spillover jobs could be created locally as a result of the economic investments, according to the city.
Ganim’s Downtown wish list
Webster Bank Arena
McLevy Art Museum
Project investment (in millions); Jobs retained; Jobs created
Barnum Museum; $55; 15; 351
Waterfront Park; $13; 2; 83
Ferry Landing; $14; 15; 96
Harbor Yard; $26; 15; 166
Webster Bank Arena; $15; 33; 96
Broad St.; $11; 2; 70
McLevy Art Museum; $5; 5; 32
Freeman Homes; $5; 3; 32
Parking Garage; $35; 15; 223
Arts Gateway; $5; 2; 32
“It is a visionary document,” said Av Harris, Ganim’s legislative liaison at the capitol in Hartford. “We didn’t print one for every legislator yet. I’d guess maybe 50 to start. We can always print more if we need to.
“Our delegation is having conversations with their colleagues in the (state) House, the Senate,” Harris said. “And the mayor will be talking to people about this directly — legislative leaders and rank-and-file legislators of both parties.”
Ganim said the governor has recognized Hartford’s needs and “hopefully we can make our case.”
The biggest piece of the $185 million — $55 million — would go to the Barnum Museum, which is still recovering from a 2010 tornado, to re-establish “its relevance as a cultural attraction.”
The Ganim administration wants $35 million to build a 1,000-car garage on surface parking lots adjacent to the arena — which hosts live concerts, sports and conventions — and the ballpark, home to the Bridgeport Bluefish Atlantic League baseball team. Both venues were built in the 1990s, during Ganim’s first administration. He returned to office in 2015.
Prior administrations have failed in attempts to build on those parking lots. Ganim’s garage would have space on top for future “air rights development” like an office tower.
The next big chunks of state money Ganim wants — $26 million and $15 million — would go, respectively, to renovate the ballpark and the arena. Ganim’s brochure also indicates what City Hall has planned for the ballpark, given the Bluefish are operating there under a one-year extension to celebrate their 20th season.
In the ballpark
The pamphlet shows a mocked-up photo of a stage set up in the middle of the ball field and reads: “The proposed development is to renovate the ballpark in order to create a multi-functional sports and entertainment center” that “can attract regional and national performances during the warmer months.”
The economic development office recently received three proposals from possible ballpark tenants: the Bluefish, an unidentified soccer organization, and a partnership between developer Howard Saffan and concert promoter Live Nation for an amphitheater.
The balance of the $185 million would: turn the historic Freeman Houses into a museum; establish an art museum at McLevy Hall; build a waterfront park; turn the soon-to-be-abandoned ferry landing (the terminal is moving to Seaview Avenue) into a dock for transient boats; and beautify Broad Street to better connect downtown with the University of Bridgeport in the South End.
Malloy, after his speech Tuesday in Trumbull to the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said of Ganim’s $185 million request, “We have spent a lot of money in Bridgeport, and we’ll continue to spend a lot of money in Bridgeport, particularly on housing.
“When they have projects that are ready to go and meet state funding eligibility, we generally fund those things,” Malloy said.
In recent interviews, some Bridgeport legislators lamented that the Ganim administration did not pitch its $185 million plan sooner, and said it would be hard to get the money given Connecticut’s huge deficit. At least one — state Sen. Marilyn Moore — said City Hall should be focused on fighting for state aid for education and other basic services that could be greatly jeopardized.
Harris said, “It’s not either/or. ... I agree with Senator Moore that yes, there are a lot of state investments to protect. But this also has to be considered in the budget negotiations.”
Ganim’s pursuit of the $185 million also comes as he plots a run for governor in 2018. He might need a few big accomplishments to crow about to statewide voters. Is that what this entertainment district is really about?
“Do we not believe in investing in downtown Bridgeport? We don’t believe in that? That’s what I would ask anybody raising politically cynical arguments,” Harris said. “This is a vision for the future of downtown Bridgeport as a regional center.”
Staff Writer Keila Torres Ocasio contributed to this report.