Update, Video: The ninth floor of the University of Bridgeport’s duPont Tower Room greets visitors with an exquisite expanse of Long Island Sound, a visual gem in Connecticut’s most populous city, what university president Neil Salonen describes “the pearl of the Connecticut coastline” and the “safest college campus in the state.” Tuesday night Mayor Joe Ganim greeted more than 100 local and international students, faculty, city stakeholders and residents declaring that the once-ignored brain power of the South End will help create a gateway with Downtown for a commerce, education and quality of life partnership.
UB communications Professor Susan Katz, a seasoned political strategist who designed several of Ganim’s direct mail pieces on his way to a comeback victory last year (full disclosure: Katz designed the OIB website), organized the event in Ganim’s continued embrace of the university following predecessor Bill Finch’s myopic disregard for an institution that educates roughly 5,500 students, half from Connecticut and the rest from about 80 countries.
Salonen joined Ganim in predicting the South End neighborhood, anchored by the school and P.T. Barnum’s waterfront gift to the city Seaside Park, will feature a brighter face in several years led by new housing, a major federal grant for flood control and infrastructure improvements initiated under Finch, a coal-fire power plant transitioning to natural gas, and a gateway in the design stage linking Downtown and the South End via Park Avenue. On the eastern side of the campus new housing is underway on the site of the former Remington Shavers plant also initiated under Finch. The South End factories are not coming back, declared Salonen, but the future is bright with hundreds of new housing units, a growing university and a working partnership with a new mayoral administration. He added that collegiate institutions are among the highest job generators in the state.
Ganim, an alumnus of UB law school that relocated to Quinnipiac University during the financial struggles of the early 1990s, discussed the challenges his administration faced taking over from Finch whom he defeated in a September 2015 Democratic primary.
He fielded a number of questions from the diverse audience, several that were not softball observations. A visiting scholar from China extolled the city’s waterfront park but lamented the trash she sees along the way, a university alumna wondered what he will do to keep taxes down and attract young people in the city, another student asked what he will do to promote entrepreneurship.
Ganim reiterated his focus has been on public safety and negotiating a thorny budget season that relies on many variables regarding the state budget. He said if his proposed budget is adopted by the City Council, about 60 percent of residential homeowners won’t receive a tax hike and some will experience a cut in a revaluation year. But so much of that depends on what happens in Hartford in the closing days of the legislative session.