The City Council Monday night approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and developer of the proposed $400 million transformation of two shuttered Downtown theaters paving the way for the legislative body to weigh a more detailed Land Development Agreement now in its hands. The LDA was referred to the Contracts Committee for action. It’s possible the full council could act on the LDA with Exact Capital in September.
Prior to the vote, City Council candidate in the Black Rock/West End 130th District Pete Spain had some questions and words of caution during the public speaking portion of the session. His remarks follow.
We all want success for our city–especially in terms of economic development.
We need it.
We need our city to be an incubator for economically viable projects and businesses … that can provide good-paying jobs, grow the grand list faster than the city’s budget, and make Bridgeport a place that people want to come to, to move to, … and that companies want to stay in and/or relocate to.
The CT Post reports … for this MULTI-BLOCK PROJECT with the old theaters …
— 46 total stories of new buildings proposed,
— the restoration of the Majestic Theater with 2,200 seats,
— the conversion of The Poli Palace …
— as well as turning the Savoy’s 100 derelict rooms into 200 new hotel rooms.
AND all by one REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY. (CT Post: Developer plans renovated Bridgeport theaters, hotel, 18-story residential towers. June 19, 2017)
And, according to a story in last week’s CT Post, someone in City Hall characterized such an incredible project as “simple and straightforward” (in last week’s CT Post Aug 2, 2017).
Is that person here tonight? Would that person please stand up?
Now, in speaking with community members–and some professionals in development, including one who helped oversee the restoration of The Palace Theater in Waterbury–I find there to be growing interest in this massive project … as well as … growing concern. There are many questions:
HOW MANY OF YOU ON THE CITY COUNCIL have PHYSICALLY ENTERED the MAJESTIC AND POLI THEATERS?
And how many of you have visited the restored Waterbury Palace? Also designed by Thomas Lamb in the Twenties.
I hope that all of you have or soon will.
I’m told that the Waterbury Palace restoration cost approximately $25 million around 2003. And some of the costs were offset by the construction of an adjacent Waterbury Arts Magnet High School. Is that a possibility for this project?
So far, has Mayor Ganim’s Office of Planning and Economic Development (OPED) made public ALL proposals received? In getting behind Exact Capital’s proposal, has OPED enlisted the professional help of
— A historian?
— A historic preservationist?
— A city planner?
— A registered architect?
— A theater restorationist?
— A theater manager?
— A theater-programming manager?
According to the July 11th meeting minutes of your Contracts Committee, a city employee from OPED who addressed the committee claimed that a RESTORED Majestic Theater, which would have more than 2,000 seats, could be (QUOTE) “MORE OF A black box experimental community theater ….”
Since when has there been a 2,200-seat black box theater? Most black box theaters are simple, unadorned bare bones performance spaces with about 200 seats.
The same city employee said at the same meeting that the restored theater won’t compete with the Klein. How can he know that?
What I’m pointing out is that we need SERIOUS expertise for this big project. Cross-disciplinary expertise.
Someone who comes to the City Council to push things through … is NOT part of the due diligence process we need.
And why would we not seek HELP from specialists and experts who don’t have a conflict of interest? There are such relevant experts, no? Some of them surely are right here in Bridgeport.
Another question for you: Who is deciding that the MAJESTIC THEATER is the theater to RESTORE to a 2,200-seat theater … while the larger POLI PALACE will be the theater to get chopped up and converted into (QUOTE) “a family friendly indoor recreation venue or indoor fun park?”
We need expertise and time. And yes, time is money. But, let’s not forget lessons learned from the new parking meters.
Think back to when WE first heard about the great new parking meters. They were supposed to be so simple and straightforward.
One of you on the Council mentioned at a Bridgeport Generation Now meeting recently that you’d been led to believe that the new parking meters were just going to allow cash or credit card payments. You weren’t told about the cameras, the timers, the auto-penalties BEFORE you voted. So then who did know?
Please, City Council people, do not fail to provide the right conditions for our city to have the due diligence that this project requires.
Yes, building bridges and a consensus are key. In my business too.
But, so too is assuring that the terms are fair, financially sound, and, to the greatest extent possible, beneficial to all involved.
There will always be competing interests, but for this PROJECT and for all the Council’s business our citizens’ interests must come first.
Be our advocates.
Before we can make this project succeed, we must do the hard work of understanding the projected costs and benefits in detail … and our city’s share of them–over the entire lifecycle of the project.
$400 million for what?–A veteran in development in the NY Metro area advised me today that we should conservatively add 25% to that cost.
So we’re up to $500 million.
Where’s the money coming from? All at once? Phases?
Another question: What concessions is the developer getting from city?
When? How much? Any tax abatements? NONE? Well then will the developer sign a document indicating that it will never seek a concession or tax abatement?
What will the projects add to our grand list? How much? When?
Careful! Once our city enters into land transfer agreement, the city is bound by it, I was told by a veteran project manager at the state.
We must insist on transparency every step of the way now and throughout the review process.
And if such fair and basic information isn’t forthcoming, we must wait until it is.
Show US the costs, benefits, known and potential risks, and provide milestone dates.
Be specific in terms of the VALUATION of what WE are giving … and what WE must get in return … by predefined dates.
Lessons from the Waterbury Palace restoration prompted many questions:
Do we know today if the frame structure of the theaters and Savoy Hotel is sound?
Who’s on the hook if it isn’t? What about remediation? Who’ll cover cost overruns? What are the limitations on our city’s responsibility?
For the theaters, at what point will the risk of loss be transferred from the city to the developer? What are the contingent liabilities? The Insurance costs and limits, etc.
Who will ensure there’ll be no cutting corners? If the developer says they’re going to use existing wiring or pipes, your alarm bells should go off.
Yes, all this will take time and effort if done right.
Who is the expert we’ve hired who can look at these questions and the numbers in the proposal and know that they are realistic today and into the future?
For the Waterbury Theater, the state provided a grant for such an expert–to assist the team creating and negotiating the contract.
Perhaps the state can’t do that in today’s economic climate. Has anyone asked?
HOW ABOUT we in Bridgeport get a written commitment from the state for a grant for an expert? Get that BEFORE we sign off on the LAND DISPOSITION AGREEMENT (LDA)?
Do folks in the City Attorney’s office know all the ins and outs of this kind of agreement? They may not; this is highly specialized. Can the City Council go out and properly hire a lawyer who specializes in this kind of agreement?
That’s what the state does. To assist the team creating and negotiating the contract.
The contract should tells us at what point the risk of loss will be transferred from the city to the developer. What are the contingent liabilities. The Insurance costs and limits, etc. …
There are many moving pieces it seems.
Do we know how many pieces there are?
Wouldn’t knowing THAT–and keeping all the pieces in public view–be the responsible thing to do?
Keep on it, City Council.
Don’t let something so simple and straightforward fool us.
Make this something Bridgeport will invest in wisely and be proud that it did–for years to come.