Michael J. Daly: 35 years on, Steel Point development for real
A generation of Bridgeport residents has had good reason to be skeptical about proposed development in the city.
If half the grand drawings and papier-mâché models that had been unveiled in the mayor’s office at 45 Lyon Terrace ever come to fruition, the city would have tilted into Long Island Sound under the weight of the concrete and steel.
Steel Point, the peninsula bisected by Stratford Avenue just south of downtown, was one of those areas that had become something of a punchline since the first grand proposals surfaced in the 1980’s.
The phrase, “This day has finally come” — and variants of the same — has rung at press conferences dating back more than 35 years when the first inklings of wonders that would come began during the administration of Republican Mayor Leonard S. Paoletta, who served from 1981-85.
False starts, halting starts, scandal and genuine starts progressed through the subsequent mayoral terms of Democrat Thomas W. Bucci (1985-89); Republican Mary C. Moran (1989-91); Joseph P. Ganim, The First (1991-2003); Democrat John M. Fabrizi (2003-07); Democrat Bill Finch (2007-15); and Joseph P. Ganim, The Second (2015-??)
Incremental progress took place, notably the city acquired title to a significant portion of the property, a former power plant owned by the United Illuminating Company, during Fabrizi’s tenure, and Bass Pro Shop, on Stratford Avenue, aka 1 Bass Pro Drive — opened during Finch’s administration.
And I will confess that I was among those expending the Connecticut Post’s ink and newsprint skepticizing — it’s not a word, but should be — about the likelihood of anything ever actually happening there.
For many years, I was right.
Those days are over.
The other day I walked around what developer Bob Christoph Jr. calls The Lighthouse Building, a structure that has turned more than a few heads as it has risen over the last year or so on the shore of Bridgeport harbor across the vast open space of the development area known as Steelpointe Harbor.
He and his father, Bob Sr., are the Miami-based developers the RCI Group — doing business here as Bridgeport Landing Development, LLC.
We walked through what will be the ground-level oyster bar, through the office space on the second and third floors, along the decks outside with views of the expansive marina docks and of the 25-foot wide public walkway that runs around the entire perimeter of the property.
And there is also the view of the city across the harbor, Webster Bank Arena, the amphitheater, ferry dock, train station and the Richard Meier-designed People’s United bank headquarters.
It’s quite a view.
Between The Lighthouse Building and Stratford Avenue, earth-moving equipment was preparing the foundation for buildings that will hold 200 residential units — market-priced apartments, Christoph said — and retail space.
The goal for the retail space, he said, is to bring in new commerce.
“I don’t want to be seen as taking things from the city. I want to bring in new things,” he said.
What’s also important is that the developers have acquired the former 10-acre Derecktor Shipyard, with its cavernous structures built for the shipbuilding and repair. The yard is now being operated as Bridgeport Boatworks.
Bridgeport harbor, like other successful port developments — Portland, Maine, say — should be at least partly a working harbor.
The Christophs’ vision is exactly that: not only a luxury marina with fine amenities, but a full-service facility where large yachts — there were two mammoth vessels in one of the former Derecktor buildings undergoing repair — can come for storage or for work. “This is going to be an active shipyard,” Christoph said.
The wild card, of course, in the continuing saga of Steel Point is the proposal of Las Vegas giant MGM Resorts Intl. to build a $675 million resort and casino at Steelpointe Harbor.
It would be a great thing for all the parties and the city — jobs, revenue, a reputation boost — but whatever the outcome, Bob Christoph said he and his father are all in. It sure looks like it.
Michael J. Daly is retired editor of the Connecticut Post editorial page. Email: Mike.Daly@hearstmediact.com .