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Barnumesque Development, This Way To The Egress

June 21st, 2017 · 2 Comments · Development and Zoning

egress

As the Barnum Festival reaches its apex this weekend, city policy wonk Jeff Kohut admonishes government development policy as a lot of razzle-dazzle. Mr. Barnum, for one, kept museum patrons moving along with his signage declaration “This way to the egress.” What they interpreted as a curious exhibit was nothing more than a fancy word for exit. Kohut writes, “Until Bridgeport secures high-employment, high-capital-value development, in the context of a long-term vision and companion plan for long-term prosperity, all that can be said for our future is “this way to the Egress.”

As a life-long Bridgeporter, when I ponder the news of Bridgeport municipal issues–especially issues concerning economic development–I find my mind automatically going to a cynical place.

The current, development-related issues involving the downtown parking meters and the Barnumesque announcement of the resurrection of the downtown Majestic and Poli Theaters are together (along with the continuing Steal Point development saga, et al.) driving my mind deep into that cynical place.

In the former case, the parking meters are both a symptom and metaphor for the lack of any real, coherent vision and well-researched/well-considered, coherent planning for downtown and citywide development. Bridgeport “development” is really a politically based, propaganda-sustained artifice, describable as a free-floating, opportunism-based non-plan. A development non-plan executed by a city government that functions on “autopilot” and pretty much keeps Bridgeport in “natural evolution” mode, where any proposed project that can present a pretense for the granting of long-term tax abatements per purchase of tax-lien/city-owned property (deferred payment, of course) is given promotion and wings by City Hall and added to a development accomplishment list that is largely just a fictional abstraction that would be describable as a “wish list” were it born of actual, active “wishing.”

Truly, there is no city government-conceived, comprehensive, coherent vision or purposeful plan directing development downtown or anywhere else in the City of Bridgeport. City development and advancement is largely on paper and consists mostly of unlikely projects on “flippable” property held by “owners” in receipt of city-owned property sold for promissory notes on tax liens that go unpaid even after the property is flipped, and flipped again. The original and subsequent owners of the old Hi-Ho Mall property (now HCC) and the Remington (“train station”/workforce housing) property (well-known “flippers”) made fortunes off of the city in this manner.

There is no city interest-based rhyme or reason for recent and proposed Bridgeport economic development. A lot of development proposals, and a few actual, functional (albeit, largely dysfunctional) entities constitute the economic development that is hyped in Bridgeport but that represents only present and future tax liability with only the most meager representation of local employment opportunities. The projects recently completed, under construction, or proposed, make no sense at all for a compact city with most of the population below or near the poverty line. And, beyond their individual, stand-alone worthlessness, they are collectively worthless and without synergies of any sort (e.g., we have Bass Pro/Steal Point–tax abated, low employment value, and actually diverting potential downtown visitors away from that area; the costly, long-term taxpayer liability, low employment-value Ball Park/baseball team and Webster Arena).

We can honestly say that indeed, there has been no $positive$ economic development in concrete or abstract form in Bridgeport for the past 50 years.

Essentially all of Bridgeport’s development for the past three decades to the present (and even for the foreseeable-future) is describable as tax-abated/tax liability and “jobless.” The current Steal Point proposals, the downtown enterprises (with only a couple of notable exceptions), and the newly proposed (fanciful/”flippable”) theater restoration proposal are economically inappropriate and unsustainable in the current and future Bridgeport, especially given the declining fortunes of the state and the political emphasis on Stamford- and Hartford-area development. Without a huge infusion of Bridgeport-based, living-wage jobs employing Bridgeport residents, there is no chance that any of the extant or proposed upscale entertainment and retail venues will be describable in the long- or short-term using the terms “successful” or “sustainable.”

Truly, using recent Bridgeport history as an indicator, any development that actually occurs in the cases of recent and proposed Bridgeport development, will, once the sequence of multiple “flippings” has run its course for each involved property, wind up being used as work-force housing (“transit-oriented development”) to accommodate the “regional,” Gold Coast-serving plan for Bridgeport as the “housing hub,” beggar city of Fairfield County. This will almost undoubtedly be the fate of the train station, Steal Point, and the Majestic/Poli Theater properties.

Thus, no thought was given to the parking meter project beyond its use as a way to provide some pocket change for the city in lieu of real, tax-base/job-creating development for which there is no plan by Bridgeport government and only an “anti-plan” for Bridgeport development per the state/regional and federal planning/economic development agencies (which Bridgeport city government has embraced, de facto, in contradiction to stated intentions to grow Bridgeport jobs and tax base).

So, any discussion of the future of Bridgeport is moot until a real vision and plan for a prosperous Bridgeport emerges from City Hall. Currently there is only perseveration with a plan-less, tax-less, job-less course of development established in the politically toothless Bridgeport of the past 50 years (actually, it is perseveration with the state/regional “anti plan” for Bridgeport). The Barnumesque hype of the theater restoration shouldn’t be allowed to divert the attention of Bridgeporters away from our actual economic distress. (The media/City Hall hype and concept drawings of this new, grandiose proposal will fit well with the exhibits of the newly restored Barnum Museum–along with the Mermaid, et al..)

Until Bridgeport secures high-employment, high-capital-value development, in the context of a long-term vision and companion plan for long-term prosperity, all that can be said for our future is “this way to the Egress.”

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Lisa Parziale

    Jeff, another paper-project that has no potential of beginning, let alone becoming a reality. It serves as a needed “red herring” to give the illusion that economic development is coming. Not in the lifetime of most people able to read this post. I don’t say this with any pleasure, but unfortunately I’ve seen this happen more times than I can remember. Jeff Kohut is right, take the time to read the information he’s given. Just a PS regarding the meter fiasco. In March of 2016, shortly after Joey G. was elected, I was privy to a conversation taking place between two City employees, Tiago and Gina. They were discussing the new meters, exchanging images of them, and they were psyched. It seemed like a good possibility, and it could have been if this project was thought out with the due diligence necessary to make it work, along with Council involvement. Instead, in their haste to move this along, it became a disaster to be dismantled and started over with a lot of bad feelings and time wasted.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Consider the individual who puts his money at risk by making a long-term often illiquid investment in a business or real estate project that adds taxable value to the Bridgeport Grand List. This person is a hero when he steps up with a mil rate of 54 and invests for the long term and is taxable.

    How many of these developers do we have? Perhaps a bell should be rung when he project earns a Certificate of Occupancy and is not only usable but also taxable?
    When the “development” is housing there is little long term job development necessary for City residents to meet their needs. And when the new housing is built with loans from government, abatement plans, or PILOT arrangements for non-profit owners, etc. the value equation is lessened because the residents will require all City services but occupy housing that is not paying its way for those same City services.

    That being said, consider the City official, elected or employed who spends or invests taxpayer funds and refuses to be Open, Transparent, over time Accountable and Honest with the reporting? Is this person an American hero? Not a bit, but these folks are paid with photo opportunities that are undeserved. Shall we begin to honor the women and men who operate for profit businesses without fiscal City support? Parking meters are a beginning. Time will tell.

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