Developer plans renovated Bridgeport theaters, hotel, 18-story residential towers
BRIDGEPORT — Rehabilitating and reopening Main Street’s long-dormant Majestic and Poli Palace theaters and the old Savoy Hotel would be accomplishment enough.
But Exact Capital Group, the Manhattan-based real estate developer that Mayor Joe Ganim has chosen to revitalize the historic structures at the northern gateway to downtown, does not want to stop there.
The company’s plans include two 18-story residential towers on public land across the street plus another 10-story residential building on another city-owned slice along Housatonic Avenue — the former Dolan’s Bar and Grill.
Eighteen floors would make Exact’s development the tallest downtown.
An impressed Economic Development Director Thomas Gill called the vision “mind boggling.”
“If you’re gonna do it, do it big,” said Craig Livingston, Exact’s managing partner. “Eighteen stories is not really such a big building where we come from.”
Livingston was in town Monday to, with Ganim, Gill and most of the mayor’s top aides — even the police and fire chiefs — tout the $400 million-plus investment that Exact wants to make in Connecticut’s largest city. They gathered outside of the theaters, where the only current construction activity is the ants building their hills in sidewalk cracks.
Ganim — who is exploring a run for governor in 2018 while simultaneously raising cash for a 2019 re-election bid — called it, “The most exciting development project in Bridgeport and, I daresay, anywhere in Connecticut.”
It was talk typical of such announcements. Lots of promises and back-slapping, echoing words spoken over the years at various building sites around the city
Councilman John Olson, who was on hand, said in his experience sometimes the plans become a reality, sometimes not. He hoped the revival of the theaters and the Savoy will be among the former.
“This sounds very good. Sounds like a reputable thing. We shall see,” Olson said, adding: “We gotta give Ganim credit. I don’t care if it’s good for his statewide campaign. I’ve been here since ‘66. Nobody has ever come up with an idea for this place.”
Ganim is pushing Olson and his 19 council colleagues to review and approve a “memorandum of understanding” with Exact in 30 days, arguing the company has committed to begin construction a year later.
That memorandum outlines a three phase development. First would come the renovation and reopening of the 2,200 seat Majestic Theater for local arts groups; turning the Poli Palace into a banquet ballroom with a “family friendly indoor recreation venue or indoor fun park” and a sorely needed downtown gym; and reopening the Savoy and doubling its existing 100 rooms for guests.
Phase two includes the two 18 story residential towers with a total of 340 mixed income apartments, ground floor retail and below ground parking. Then Exact would wrap up with the 10-floor, 110 apartment building.
Livingston said if the council approves the deal, Bridgeport would be Exact’s second theater renovation. The company is currently working on the Victoria Theater on 125th St. in Harlem.
Livingston was not concerned that there would be a glut in the hotel market. The Holiday Inn is just a few blocks away and a hotel is also planned for the waterfront Steel Point redevelopment on the other side of I-95.
Councilman Scott Burns, who also attended Monday’s event, said of the aggressive approval timeline: “If they have their financing lined up and we know everything we need to know, sure, they can get their shovels in the ground in 12 months.”
Where the $400-plus million to get all three phases built will come from was not quite clear, though Ganim in a brief interview insisted it will not be in the form of local property tax breaks — something he has criticized in the past.
“I don’t think there’s any talk of a property tax deal,” Ganim said.
Downtown developer Phil Kuchma, who has revitalized much of Fairfield Avenue, stood quietly and listened to Ganim and Livingston. Kuchma afterward said he welcomed the news, but questioned whether a slimmed-down city staff can move quickly enough on all of the paperwork necessary.
“To be in the ground in a year is a lot of work,” Kuchma said. “The city needs to staff up.”