When the curtain appeared to fall a few months ago on the Downtown gem Bijou Theatre it was like a shot to the solar plexus of patrons who loved live music, comedy, films, community events and theatrical productions in an intimate 200-seat setting. Developer Phil Kuchma says the Bijou never really closed, but has transitioned to a new chapter for the historic venue, one of the oldest movie houses in the country that underwent a renovation several years ago. Kuchma says the venue is alive and well with a number of events on the horizon.
“A new chapter for this historic venue is about to unfold and we want you to be a part of it,” declares the Bijou website. “Join us for classic, foreign, and independent films screening plus concerts, comedy, and variety shows. Or you can stop in for a drink and some popcorn–our lights are always on!”
In July, Christine Brown who managed operations there for five years announced, “All of us at the Bijou have given our heart and soul to this project and we are all devastated. We love Bridgeport and we love the Bijou. We have had the unique privilege of showcasing extraordinary talent on our stage, and sharing this historic and beautiful venue with tens of thousands of people. Our sincere thanks and respect goes out to everyone who has supported the Bijou in any way.”
Kuchma cleaned up a couple of city blocks on both sides of Fairfield Avenue in his Bijou Square redevelopment. Included was the renovation of one of the oldest movie halls in the country into a cool 200-seat venue with a full bar and food options. Brown says she could not come to terms with landlord Kuchma on keeping the place alive. Brown, an attorney who works at Fairfield University, found herself supplementing the continuation of the venue with her personal finances.
Kuchma told OIB the other day the lights are on at the venue with a number of scheduled events with more to come. The website lists a WPKN-featured film on musician Frank Zappa, an event hosted by the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, and events sponsored by the New England Ballet Company in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday Connecticut Against Gun Violence will present a screening, followed by a panel discussion, of the new documentary, 91%: A Film About Guns in America.
Local restaurants such a Trattoria A Vucchella, Joseph’s Steakhouse and the newly opened Milano Wine Bar will also benefit from the economic impact of Bijou events.
For showing the kind of fortitude that enabled it to return to action after a short respite, I nominate The Bijou Theatre as Bridgeport’s Treasure of the day. (Full disclosure: earlier this year I took advertising sales at The Bijou from zero to one–that’s the most difficult part. Then I was fired for insubordination.)
Saving an Historic Location and Venue like the Bijou makes perfect Public and Civic Sense.
Selling out and off a huge Historic Area Steelpointe at bargain prices to create the equivalent of a Walmart-like Bass Pro Shops, Disney-like interior, with et al.: National Eateries and Coffee Chains makes flawed Public and Civic Sense. (I challenge you to find products at BPS without “Made in China” or other countries other than the USA labels.) While you listen to good old boy Country Music piped in to lull shoppers into feeling like they are buying something truly American.
What is the % of Bridgeport residents and demographics of BPS employees, especially upper level management? BPS refuses to release this information because it is nothing to brag about. Like Walmart and other big-box monopolies, BPS is currently facing class action suits across the country for Biased recruiting and hiring practices. Those are beautiful glass aquariums and waterfalls with stuffed critters all over while overhead is the proverbial glass ceiling.
Speaking of further poor City Management and Irresponsible use of Public (City Property) at BPT taxpayers expense. Per: OIB article in July Bridgeport sold the last remaining portion of the prime Historic Steelpointe for a shockingly low $100,317.00 per acre. Without “improvements” or homes included, average Black Rock homeowners’ lots of 0.25 (1/4!) acre are valued on average at $260,000 x 4 = $1,040,000 per acre!!! That sale happened just as Ganim was announcing a $20 million DEFICIT. Had those remaining Prime Commercial 8.8 acres been sold at Black Rock Residential Market Values of $1,040,000 x 8.8 acres = $8,835,200 , which amounts to nearly half the alleged $20 million “missing” funds.
So who is going to be the next former City Department of … Employee to get a plumb job for the developer? Here we go again with the Quid-Pro-Quo at City Ha-Ha-Hall.
That is the challenge of a city like Bridgeport whose downtown area is a shadow of its former self. You must modernize and bring in people who will invest, and we need that. But if the City is to be forward thinking and not just looking for investment then a path must be found that does not force out all the smaller businesses that have found a way to survive, but finds room to bring in big investment which at times can be Disney-esque. Times Square is very Disney, but that is an improvement to what it was in the 1980s.
There were “awards” given for this unfortunate “Deficit in Creativity.” As such, the “Steelpointe Historic Site” becomes yet another “Poster-Site” for the 21st Century “Glut of Historic Proportions” for the Homogenization of American Monoculture supported by the largely “MADE IN CHINA SYNDROME.”
Why are we comparing Black Rock to the Bijou in terms of any dollar values? That is a mistaken argument. The Bijou AND KUCHMA need to create a venue that can succeed, reaching out to intra-Bridgeport communities and Fairfield/New Haven Communities. The Bijou needs to be a FUN place. All in all, a tall order.
A good, appropriate “first big project” for Mickey Herbert in his new role would be elevating the profile and offerings of the Bijou, in tandem with Phil Kutchma’s efforts, with the goal of creating a first-class regional arts venue with first-class offerings.
Jeff, you’re right. I believe Mickey will step in to market and utilize this venue, whenever possible. Bridgeport residents should step up to support events relative to their liking.
Very pleased to hear the Bijou has reopened. Bijou Square has the potential of being a great micro-neighborhood. I suppose when 2000 units of market-rate housing are ready for tenants. The square will prosper. They need a magnetic concept like Brewport.
On another note I find it sad people are still knocking the Bass Pro development. Sad. How about supporting the venue with the hope of better things on the horizon for Steelpointe? I have blind faith the Ganim administration will make their mark as the economy continues to improve. Maybe not.
Even before he arrives, Jeff Kohut makes demands on Mr. Herbert. I hope he ignores them. Those who desire first-class offerings should (somehow) add first-class value themselves.
One moment Steven Auerbach has blind faith; the next moment maybe not. The search for sanity continues.
In regards to the three preceding comments:
Blind Faith in Ganim is what got him elected the first time and later arrested, and back in his old Office again surrounded by political appointees. There are a variety of “theatres,” real and metaphoric, happening in Bridgeport.
The Historic Preservation of the Bijou Theatre is something for everyone to be proud of because of the legacy of INTEGRITY it will maintain for generations to come.
The “Historic Steelpointe” property is now at the opposite end of the spectrum for the reasons I spoke towards. Steel Point was the former site of American Industrial Ingenuity and Labor. INTEGRITY. The fire sale/landgrab by Big Box Corporate Greed with dubious legal histories and unfair labor practices is truly sad. Bridgeport’s desperate and weak bargaining position was in part due to the first Ganim administration’s PAY TO PLAY racketeering that sullied our City’s reputation and hopes for the future.
Blind Faith skirts the edge of fiscal cliffs and often ends in bad falls. In my opinion feeling “sad” about the truth of the matter is misdirected sentiment. “Blind faith” would have never noticed the Emperor had no clothes. Which is why we need astute and qualified leadership on the City Council. Not a an in-over-their-heads Deadwood Puppet Theatre.
Independent fiscal oversight is what the city needs. My analogy between the Bijou and Steelpointe is accurate. I go out of my way to buy America- made products, but they are getting harder and harder to find. BPS’s image is on the surface all American Values including the piped-in music, yet it is fully stocked with Made in China products, which I personally loathe to support. It’s a done deal for sure, but the juicy parts have yet to be pried out.
Most of the hardworking people of Bridgeport shouldered that deal in the form of the highest mil rate in the country. So it was the lashing to the backs of most of the taxpayers that laid the groundwork for the sale of devalued public property by the City and its representatives at well below market value even after the site was established as a working commercial hotspot. And now, it is a fact, some of those “award winning” former city representatives are enjoying their newly gained “reward winning” plumb positions working for the “Developer.” But surely there is no Quid-Pro-Quo at City Ha-Ha-Hall.
We need more qualified John Marshal Lee and David Walker types to keep the City’s feet to the fire and open the books. What is painfully transparent are the actors in the Political Theatre of City Hall. Open and transparent governance is what we need, not willful blindness.
Accountability is another value I have proclaimed for over five years. Accountability with accuracy from City Finance professionals is to be expected. However, when monthly financial reports contain errors that were not proofread in the first place, that are pointed out as to revenue mistakes, and reports reissued to City Council, but errors still are contained in appropriations side because the actual work was not proofed, can we call that municipal accountability?
Accountability of City Council for the several hundred youth in the City who come totally unprepared for the “journey to reading” that is today’s Kindergarten experience, because the alphabet symbols and sounds are unknown to that number of first time “students?” Will you continue to ignore the resources denied (dollars) and resources cut (paraprofessional aides in Kindergarten)?
What about the Mayor’s “thinking?” Will he support Halloween, Thanksgiving and Holiday parties during the next three months benefiting the youth of the City and ignore those who become handicapped or special education candidates on the literacy trail, an unnecessary and more expensive future cost for many in that group?
Will the public stay blind to this topic? Perhaps hard of hearing and unable to voice an opinion? Accountability for the young? TIME WILL TELL.
Mickey was named Director of the Greater Bridgeport Business council, not the Arts Council. So why do you think this is part of his job?
Sure, maybe the BRBC can rent the place out a couple times a year. but beyond that I don’t know what you envision happening.
Bubba, I mentioned Mickey not because it’s his job or burden to do what hasn’t been done in the past, but because Mickey is one who would want to see success downtown plus I believe he has the motivation and desire necessary to jump in.
To quote JML, “Time will tell.”
Bob and Local Eyes: It is kind of surprising to detect skepticism in regard to the real and symbolic value of the Bijou with respect to its ability to play a significant role in catalyzing Bridgeport’s downtown/larger revitalization.
Now, “Bridgeport” being the operant word in “Bridgeport Regional Business Council” would seem to imply the titular (paid) leader of that group should identify ways and means to promote Bridgeport commerce. The Bijou would seem to be a natural and timely focal point in this regard. Maybe when you and Local Eyes return from your sojourns in virtual reality, you’ll be able to see things from a more terra firma perspective, like the real people with real money who need to patronize viable downtowns if they are to be describable as such.
I think Mickey “gets it.” Don’t you, Mickey? (We know his predecessor was a nice guy, and excellent musician, but perhaps wasn’t terribly well suited to be president of the BRIDGEPORT Regional Business Council. I have a better sense of Mickey Herbert in this regard. Maybe he can hire Bob Walsh and Local Eyes in virtual capacities to provide virtual advice and issue them virtual paychecks for virtual services rendered.)
Don’t act like you are friends with him. Because you insulted his predecessor so much, maybe Mr. Herbert will dismiss your employment advice, too.
Your fantasy might be interfering with his reality. I know it is with mine.
LE. Your perceptions of the implications of blog entries are also apparently virtual. Try a little reality. Get out of the house and take a real walk around the Trumbull Mall, or better yet, downtown Bridgeport. Meaningful, useful things can be initiated and mitigated online, virtually, but sustaining reality has to be encountered in 3D. (Mickey Herbert’s predecessor created his own BRBC legacy; he had tools at his disposal and 25 years to change regional reality for the positive, but he allowed himself to be (mis)directed by suburban/down-county parasites. Shame on him. He was admonished over many years to do right by the largest city in his agency’s purview. His inaction and acquiescence to the regional abuse of Bridgeport serve as adequate commentary on his BRBC tenure. Let’s pray Mickey Herbert sees things from a different perspective.)
Jeff K. I have a Bridgeport-themed banner hanging from a pole on the southwest corner of McLevy Green, across from The Annex. That’s reality. You keep diving for pearls and come up with clams!
Back to The Bijou. What was once a blemish on my resume has become a feather in my cap. I was the first person to do advertising sales at the refurbished Bijou Theatre. You’re not an artist until you get fired for being first.
Christine Brown and the other partners, friends, and community members who supported the five-year branding of “The Bijou” in recent years deserve accolades for what they created in legal movie series, musical events, annual shorts presentation and voting, private party venue, a capella singing shows, and lots more at the location. But she was not the owner of the location. Merely a tenant, while she made the good calls to get the public in the seats (and also some bad calls that did not cover expenses, just like most business enterprises). But she was always present like the “eveready bunny” asking the question: “How many people are here tonight for the first time?”
She was a super builder with a vision and dream. When she and Phil were not able to come to an agreement on terms and expense, after seeing her own finances too stretched, she had to close. But the absence of the brand on the street stuck!!!
Over on State Street the developers elected not to use the renovated Polka Dot space for a comedy club, but rather for use as residences. So the City is left with two theater locations, Cabaret and Bijou, in the hands of real estate developer Phil Kuchma. Are we seeing a move from “real estate tycoon” to the field of entertainment, perhaps shadowing the movement of the Donald from real estate development into showtime and performance art on TV? Remember, the Donald talks about his negotiating strength, but when you own the property, negotiating takes on another complexion where you can let the tenant leave and pick up the pieces that had been successfully branded.
This recent history must serve as a reminder to those who wish to enter any business. There is always risk, and risk has many categories. Risk may be avoided, insured for, managed or controlled but it is hard to eliminate it entirely. And whether you handle it successfully or not, it can be expensive. From the ashes of the Bijou recent experience, we may see a phoenix rise. To the extent that the “new” Bijou looks very much like Brown’s Bijou, we should acknowledge her vision, personal investment and the class she displayed. They are too rarely seen on stage, at the lectern, or in leadership circles locally.
Will Phil Kuchma have the necessary ‘touch’ to successfully pivot from real estate development to an entrepreneur in the arts? Time will tell.
JML states firm observations amongst tumbleweeds of fluff that are, pardon the term, snarky personal commentary, which completely miss the point(s). Secondly, while I realize the opening header to this thread was the Bijou, facts stated in my commentary are well (err) perhaps too raw or uncomfortable for most to address, except by JML.
JML, I see your drift. Here’s mine: Phil Kuchma wants an active Cabaret and Bijou for the exact same reason AT&T is buying Time/Warner: content. Once you own the pipes or theatres, the content must follow. IMO, The Bijou and AT&T want a never-ending outreach/sales program that delivers content.
I’m close to giving up on this site. Pardon the description.
Snarky “high-schoolish” tumbleweeds of fluffy personalized subjective blather. JML, so far, is the only adult response in the “room.” It sounds like the lesser of the low qualifications required to be voted onto the City Council. “Most Likely to Deceive.” “Most Likely to Go Along to Get Along.” Etc., etc.
For the brief period my wife and I were enrolled in the “Affordable Health Care Initiative,” Mr. Mickey’s role at the helm of “Connecticare” did little to nothing to straighten out the poor customer service, incorrect billing from doubling and tripling co-pays, completely clueless staff members or higher-up managers. My wife has had a lot of experience with insurance companies on behalf of her “Mental Health” clients, and she was floored by the lack of professionalism and clarity from Connecticare. So is this just another glad-handed promotion of yet another less than stellar, not good enough for prime time player, but plenty fine for Bridgeport?
Befuddled … are Ye …
The key to the Bijou’s success will be filling seats for events, obviously. I only attended two during its most recent run. All the talk here is meaningless if we don’t support it with our dollar$.
Perhaps I am the only one not in the know, but who is managing the Bijou now? Everyone I’ve asked, including business and cultural arts leaders in Bridgeport, treat that information like a state secret. Am I missing something?