Declaring “We don’t look at what it is, we look at what we want it to be,” the managing partner of the Manhattan-based commercial real estate firm Exact Capital Group joined Mayor Joe Ganim and other officials Monday afternoon to announce a $400 million redevelopment of the shuttered and nostalgic Poli and Majestic theaters Downtown that includes a performing arts center, entertainment and sports venue, preservation of the Savoy Hotel into 200 rooms, two 18-floor towers across the street, with retail and underground parking, that would become the tallest buildings in the central business district, and another 10 floors of housing units on Housatonic Avenue. Craig Livingston, the managing partner, projected a groundbreaking next summer for the first-phase theater restoration.
Livingston characterized the real estate as “a remarkable, transformative project … an amazing location” with unparalleled access to mass transit, highway, rail and ferry. “It is a footprint for an engaging, walkable community.”
Before introducing Livingston to the media and a group of city and business officials curious about the details of the development proposal, Ganim said he viewed the development as “recreating the glory contained in these theaters … a rejuvenation and rebirth” for what he termed as the north bookend of the Downtown to complement the southern tier development that included the ball park at Harbor Yard and Webster Bank Arena constructed during his first tenure as mayor.
Exact Capital’s portfolio includes the ongoing $178 million redevelopment of Harlem’s Victoria Theater, that’s experienced its share of starts and stops. See recent details here.
Sylvester Poli, a renowned sculptor in New York, launched Bridgeport as a respected theatrical community circa 1920 via construction of his architectural treasures that combined for roughly 6,000 seats. The biggest Broadway stars of the era such as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson performed in Bridgeport. The 100-room Savoy Hotel, whose sign is still a feature on the vacant building, was part of the complex.
Shuttered for more than 40 years, a solicitation for development proposals was issued in January of this year. Economic Development Director Tom Gill said advancement of Downtown North redevelopment projects spurred interest in the twin gems. For old-time Bridgeport residents they represent an era when the city was a magnet for Broadway’s theater and pageantry. Others have wondered for decades, what was there and should they be demolished? Ganim on the 2015 campaign trail said he wanted to revisit restoration of the theaters to marry the redevelopment of Main Street’s southern tier that took place during JG1.
The initial plans call for preserving one of the theaters into a multi-amenity performing arts center as well as revitalizing the old Savoy Hotel. If the proposed towers across the street are completed on the roughly three acres owned by the city they will represent the tallest Downtown buildings surpassing the Richard Meier designed 16-story People’s United Bank headquarters that was built under the leadership of the now retired Chief Executive Officer David Carson. Livingston, the Manhattan developer, cracked jestfully, where we come from 18 levels isn’t so high. In all more than 500 units of housing are part of the plan.
Other details, according to the developer and mayor, include:
— The Majestic Theater will be renovated and reopen with 2,200 seats for use by local and regional performing arts groups that will be deeded by the City of Bridgeport
— Rehabilitate 3 first floor retail spaces for goods and services complementary to the renovated Savoy Hotel
— Renovate and restore the former Poli Palace entrance to original historic condition that will serve as an entrance to the renovated Savoy Hotel
— Use a portion of the Poli Palace Theater as gym or healthy lifestyle venue
— Use a portion of the Poli Palace as a ballroom or entertainment venue for hosting banquets, weddings, graduations, galas, conferences, etc.
— Rehabilitate Savoy Hotel to modern hotel standards
— Construct a new residential tower ranging from studios to 3-bedroom apartments with private terraces.
Directly across the street from the vacant theaters that the city does not control is the shuttered building that once housed the Ocean Sea Grill. Gill said it remains to be seen whether the parcel is incorporated into the redevelopment vision. Gill said the city is discussing future use with the building’s owner.
When asked how the project will be financed Livingston said funding will come from a variety of potentially private and state sources. Will Exact Capital Group seek a tax abatement from the city? Livingston parsed his response, saying they will be paying a lot in real estate taxes. Afterward, Ganim said “I don’t think there’s any talk of a property tax deal.”
Bridgeport Regional Business Council CEO Mickey Herbert attended the event. He was part of the initial 1998 ownership of the Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team that plays at Harbor Yard. When asked where this development ranks on a scale of 1 to 10, if it happens, he said “a 22.”