Grab a cup of joe and check out the following news release from Mayor Bill Finch followed by the text of his state of the city speech to the Bridgeport Business community on Wednesday.
Mayor Finch Shares His Optimistic Vision for the City During Annual Speech to the Business Community
“A Vision for a City of Opportunity”
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch today delivered his annual State of the City address to local and regional business leaders. The address is the centerpiece of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council’s annual luncheon, held at Bridgeport’s Holiday Inn.
Mayor Finch told the crowd of over 250 business executives that the Park City is clearly on the right track: “The City is stronger, safer, more efficient and most importantly, more optimistic!”
The Mayor’s speech centered on his vision for Bridgeport and how that vision has helped create all the positive things happening in the state’s largest city.
He focused on the revitalization of the downtown, especially the dramatic progress in the number of people now living in new, modern housing units, with more on the way. He remains proud of his plan to vastly expand waterfront access.
He stressed that the past three years of growth in the Grand List and the recent census figures which show an increase in the City’s population is “irrefutable evidence that Bridgeport is on the right path.”
The City has also reduced spending in each of the past two years and Mayor Finch told his audience today that, “I am expecting to reduce spending for an unmatched third straight year.”
The Mayor also spoke at length about the continued openness and transparency of his administration with numerous opportunities for all citizens to have direct access to him and other city leaders.
Last fall, the American Institute of Architects spent several days examining the city and its future. They issued a glowing report on the Mayor’s vision for the future of the city and its new focus and drive under his leadership. The report says Bridgeport is, “poised to reinvent itself for the 21st Century and write a new narrative concerning post-industrial renaissance.” In short, Bridgeport is on the right track to become the latest American city to turn the corner and build upon its historic greatness.
The following are some of the highlights of the Mayor’s address:
· Mayor Finch remains focused on the continued success in downtown revitalization. The newly-opened Bijou Square and the soon-to-be-completed renovations at 333 State Street are opening up new apartments bringing hundreds of new, downtown residents. This along with the continued growth in new restaurants and other downtown improvements remain a major focus of the Finch administration’s vision for the future.
· The continued openness of the Finch administration is evident by the growing numbers of people with access to the Mayor. His weekly brown-bag luncheons in City Hall Annex and the monthly Community Cabinet meeting brings the Mayor and other top administration officials face-to-face with the people to answer their questions and listen to their ideas of what they want in their city.
· The Mayor continues to reclaim access to the waterfront for Bridgeport’s citizens. The new Knowlton Park will give East Siders access to the river, and this summer, the city will take initial steps to bring people back to Pleasure Beach with improvements to that long-forgotten city asset.
· The Mayor’s lifelong focus on environmental issues and his B-Green 2020 plan are being recognized by many as not only working to make Bridgeport a more sustainable city, but will help drive the City’s future growth and development into the 21st Century.
Mayor Bill Finch once more called upon business leaders to not only support his efforts to drive the city and the region forward, but called upon them to become more engaged so that they, the city, and all its residents can prosper and grow.
Full text of the Mayor’s speech follows:
I am happy to report to you today that the State of our city is: stronger, safe, more efficient, more transparent, more sustainable, and above all, more optimistic.
This is what I want to share with you today … my optimistic vision for Bridgeport.
My vision is:
• A more revitalized downtown
• More waterfront access than ever before
• Continued honesty and openness in government,
• Better schools, and
• A city leading the state in sustainability,
• And, a 21st century “City of Opportunity.”
I want to tell you where my vision has taken us, and where it will take us in the future.
The video you just saw is but one example of the dramatic turnaround in Bridgeport.
Just think about it.
Grandparents and their adult granddaughter saying they BOTH want to live in downtown Bridgeport!
That’s something that you haven’t heard in any previous State of the City address.
Long before I became Mayor, I was focused on the future of our City and its downtown.
My years at BEDCO, and in city and state government helped shape my vision.
It was under my leadership at BEDCO, that I championed the conversion of a vacant department store into the 14 million dollar Read’s Artspace.
I knew, as did many of you that creating a place for artists to thrive would help drive more interest in downtown living.
Thank you very much to Paul Timpanelli and the late Mike Rosso for sharing my passion for that project.
Soon after Read’s Artspace was completed, many adaptive reuse projects came along, taking long-vacant buildings and bringing them back to life, and adding them to the tax rolls.
As a result, today, there are a dozen properties that have been brought back to life with in excess of $70 million dollars of private investment, and millions more of public money.
And we’re far from finished.
When the Bijou Square lenders pulled out, I stepped in. I began a nearly two-year advocacy which resulted in the amazing tale of cooperation between City Hall and the private sector.
That shows you we know how to get the job done.
Bijou Square is a huge success story, but there’s lots more to come.
What we will see, is nothing short of the re-birth of the downtown of a great American city.
American cities, focused on downtown and neighborhood revitalizations, are the cities with an upswing in overall development.
This is EXACTLY the focus of my administration.
Look at cities like Portland, Oregon or Providence, Rhode Island, both of which started their downtown revitalization before Bridgeport.
You’ll see we are taking a similar path by:
• Welcoming back younger residents
• Opening up our waterfront, and
• Reducing our dependency on cars.
Downtowns are the heartbeat of America’s cities, and Bridgeport’s heartbeat is stronger than it’s been in decades.
In today’s economy neither the private sector nor the public sector can tackle revitalization projects alone.
It requires a creative local government to forge a true partnership resulting in innovative ways to turn dreams into reality.
This partnership between business and government requires that rare combination of true vision, integrity, and the ability to make things happen.
And, aren’t we lucky that such cooperation exists in our city?
For a long time now, my administration has provided ways to make things work without the big state or federal bucks, which are increasingly in short supply.
And, we intend to keep finding new ways to take the lead, to forge the partnerships and get the development in this City that its citizens and businesses deserve.
A perfect example of our partnership with the business community is the progress made by my administration to assist small, minority and women-owned businesses to thrive in a difficult economy.
In just three short years, under the direction of Deborah Caviness, our Small and Minority Business Resource Office has helped small businesses secure more than one-third of all of the City’s prime contracts and nearly three-quarters of the sub-prime contracts.
We know the engine of growth in the coming years will be in small businesses, and we’re working hard to help people realize their dreams.
All of you here know that changing the face of a city is not something that happens overnight, or even in one decade.
You know I love government and I love this job. When you get excited about your work, it’s hard to be objective about your results; you need an outside source to validate your work.
Here’s a couple I believe validate my vision:
The American Institute of Architects sent a team of experts here last fall, and their recent report validates our efforts. They’re calling Bridgeport a “City of Opportunity.”
The AIA has said Bridgeport is, “poised to reinvent itself for the 21st Century and write a new narrative concerning post-industrial renaissance.”
In short, their experts say we have steered the city in the right direction by
… starting the downtown rehab
… by moving ahead with LEED-certified schools
… by the overall goal of my B-Green 2020 plan
… and our new master plan and zoning ordinances to help with future development.
They aren’t the only group to validate this vision:
· For the third year in a row, The Government Finance Officers Association has praised our easy to understand financial documents by awarding us the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award
· The U.S. Green Building Council recognized our new Inter-district Discovery Magnet School, the first new school built during my administration, and the first to attain LEED Silver status for its sustainable design; and
· The U.S. Conference of Mayors applauded my efforts to foster small business growth with the Small Business Leadership Award
· Perhaps one of the greatest validations was the recognition by President Obama with the awarding of a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant. In a unique two-state, five-city partnership, which my administration initiated, Bridgeport is sharing in a $2.5 million grant designed to help bring people back to the cities and stop wasteful urban sprawl. The money will go toward planning for a second train station in the City’s East Side.
Don’t you think it’s about time our City had a second train station, when our much smaller neighbor to the west will soon have three?
Since we’re sitting here in downtown, let me talk about the substantial progress my administration has made on moving my plan for downtown revitalization forward:
· Bijou Square and 333 State St. represent a $20 million reinvestment in two projects that are bringing new residents and businesses to our downtown.
· 333 State is on target for completion this summer, cleaning up an eyesore at one of our key downtown intersections. It will bring another 64 families and several retail units into our downtown.
· These two projects were stalled when the economy dropped to historic lows – my team worked with the developers and with public and private entities to get them back on track!
· The beautifully renovated historic Arcade, which opened last year, now has retail and office tenants, and soon will feature a very unique grocery store on the ground floor. The store, which benefits from a $3 million grant will be a partnership with area organic farmers who will provide fresh produce and more for our downtown residents.
· The building we’re in is an enormous testament to the faith that the Trefz family puts in our City. Chris and Ernie Trefz spent two years and millions of dollars turning the Holiday Inn into a jewel of downtown and a first-class destination hotel.
· At my insistence, Bridgeport and the State of Connecticut are spending nearly $8 million dollars in federal funds, which I redirected, to make enhancements to the train station, the ferry terminal and streetscapes. This will result in customers for our businesses and patrons for our cultural and entertainment destinations. Work is slated to begin this spring.
Revitalizing downtown works hand-in-hand with my vision to reopen access to the miles of waterfront we have in this city.
Just two blocks from where we sit is the Port Jefferson Ferry, and across the harbor, sits the Steelpointe development. Even though we’re a small city, we have miles of waterfront. However, only a small portion – less than 2 miles long, is fully accessible to the public. Our waterfront remains our greatest untapped resource, but not for long.
My administration secured the largest-ever federal grant in the City’s history. The $11 million TIGER grant, announced last fall, will fund infrastructure improvements on the Steelpointe peninsula. I’m happy to tell you plans call for linear waterfront park along the entire peninsula.
I want to thank former Senator Dodd, Senator Lieberman and Congressman Himes for helping the City secure that grant.
Steelpointe, however, is just one piece of my waterfront access plan.
My administration is taking giant steps to open our expansive waterfront to more people.
• On the East Side, we’ve pieced together nearly 5 acres of prime waterfront land, in an area that historically has had limited public access to the water. A new Knowlton Street park will give East Siders a waterfront oasis where kids can play, and adults can fish or stroll by the water.
• We’re going to help people get back to Pleasure Beach for the first time in many years.
• We’re rebuilding docks and will have water taxi service from the East End to Pleasure Beach.
• We’re also fixing up the fishing pier so families can experience the great times many of us enjoyed there. People will have renewed access to the beach while a multi-year cleanup effort proceeds.
In addition, the planned Konover development on the former Carpenter Steel site includes a waterfront public park.
And, we’re working across city boundaries with the Pequonnock River Watershed group and Save the Sound to increase access to the Pequonnock River in all the communities through which it runs.
Living up to our City’s nickname is part of what I hold most dear … we are The Park City.
Opening up access to our waterfront dovetails with our plan for our parks – for the first time in over 100 years, Bridgeport will have a master plan for its parks. I’d like to thank our Parks Board, especially Frank Mercaldi who helped select Phillips Preiss Grygiel of Newark, New Jersey out of a field of 15 national firms to complete this much needed vision for our current and future parks.
• One of the goals of a new Master Plan is to have a park within a 15-minute walk of every resident. To do that, we’ll be creating several small pocket parks in various areas of the City.
• These pocket parks will help create green spaces in place of concrete or asphalt, helping clean our air, absorb rainwater, and make the City greener and cleaner.
A thriving waterfront means access, and commerce. Much to my chagrin, our deepwater port has long been neglected.
I want to thank Governor Malloy for recognizing my vision, and the critical role our deepwater ports can play in improving Connecticut’s economic growth.
His $50 million dollar, two-year plan for harbor improvements and the dredging of Bridgeport Harbor will go a long way towards opening the door for even more success stories like Derecktor Shipyards.
• Derecktor is known worldwide for its high-speed ferries, and now it’s known for building the world’s largest yacht – the Cakewalk IV.
• Recently they began work on America’s first-ever hydrogen hybrid ferryboat for New York City.
It’s a major breakthrough. Part of the green economy, and it’s being built right here in Bridgeport.
Making government open, approachable and accountable has been one of the hallmarks of my administration.
And, our CitiStat program is at the center of making city services more accessible to the public while helping us run Bridgeport more like a business.
For our employees and supervisors, CitiStat gives us a data-driven review of how our departments operate. For our city’s residents, CitiStat provides them with direct access to their government.
They can use it to report a problem or make a suggestion.
Residents can either call 203.576.1311, or go online to the city’s web site, click on Citizens Service Request and track it online.
Let me share some comments from actual Citizen Service Request users.
• From a Corn Tassell Road resident: “I entered a Q-Alert during the snowstorm and the plows came by my street within the hour.”
• Here’s one from a lower Madison Avenue resident: “Now that we have Q-Alert, our recycling is picked up on time, which is a far cry from how it was before.”
• And a Fairfield Avenue condo owner tells us, “I wrote to CitiStat about a garbage collection issue, and the next day at 7 a.m. they called me. What a fantastic response!”
In short, it works and it works well!
We’ve also worked hard to make government more approachable.
My weekly Brown Bag Lunch is a great example. We invite the public to lunch at City Hall Annex Wednesdays from 12:30-1:30pm.
Our Police Chief Joe Gaudett and Fire Chief Brian Rooney, our Public Works Director Charles Carroll and other department heads often join me at these meetings to listen to attendees’ requests and suggestions and we try to find ways to help them.
One evening a month, we again open the doors of government, for what we call the Community Cabinet.
We identified some 300 city residents from all different areas of the city and from every walk of life to join us for a give-and-take on current projects.
We then listen to their concerns and questions, and try to find creative ways to help solve some real issues they have brought to our attention.
These two programs not only give residents a way to interact with their government, but they remind me of why I’m here and what a powerful tool City government can be to help its constituents.
And we’re using the Internet more than ever!
• We’ve overhauled the City’s web site, daily increasing the amount of information that’s easily accessible to anyone who can use a computer.
• We’re also plugged into social networks like Twitter and Facebook, both of which are linked to the website, so anyone can get updated on what’s happening in real time.
(In fact, members of my staff are Tweeting elements of my speech right now to those who follow me at mayorbillfinch, all one word, on Twitter.)
• Using Twitter during the tornado and the recent snowstorms, I was able to stay in touch with residents and help them get the assistance they needed.
• Later today, I’ll be hosting a “Tweet-up” at the Arcade, where I hope to meet some of the City’s “virtual” followers in person and learn from them.
• We’re harnessing the power of the Internet to help our employees become more efficient, open new lines of communication to the public and assist our constituents.
• This allows us to increase our availability, our approachability and our accountability.
Governmental accountability starts with guarding the taxpayers’ money.
Along that line:
• We have reduced spending for the past two years, and I am expecting to reduce spending for an unmatched third straight year.
• Let me make this perfectly clear. This is not, as you often hear in government, a reduction in the rate of increase.
With the adoption of this new budget we will reduce our spending for the third straight year.
• Our Grand List has registered growth for each of the last three years, and combined with our population growth, provides irrefutable evidence that Bridgeport is on the right path.
• We’ve cleared blighted vacant properties, and helped nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate others into family homes. Habitat homes alone have added more than $400,000 each year to our tax revenue.
• And, we’ve slated another 20 blighted, un-salvageable buildings for demolition this spring.
• We’ve reduced our workforce by nearly 200 positions during the past two years, while using CitiStat and the Internet to increase City service delivery.
• Unlike other places in the U.S., we’ve had a collaborative relationship with our unions.
• With their help, we’ve nearly doubled the amount of the contribution each employee makes toward their health care premium — In just two years, we’ve moved from employees paying 12 percent to 25 percent.
• We’ve saved nearly $700,000 on health care premiums since I took office. (Almost unheard of in any other municipality!)
• Our unions understand we need for shared sacrifice. Bridgeport has been at the forefront of working with unions to shoulder some of the cost burdens the City faces years before other cities and the State began their negotiations.
Governor Dannel Malloy and the City are showing other cities and states a better way to lower spending and costs.
We have some of the best city workers, and I want to thank them for their efforts. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.
Accountability extends to our education outcomes as well.
As the father of four, past, present and future Bridgeport public schools students, I have serious concerns about our schools.
Bridgeport City Charter limits the role of a Mayor to only that of the building of new schools or disposing of unused ones.
During the first years of my administration, I focused my attention on providing suitable buildings for our students, as well as sustaining our award-winning after-school program — the Lighthouse.
But that’s not all. We’ve ushered in a new era of cooperation, allowing us to do more together.
• With my administration’s help, Achievement First, public charter schools, has now successfully opened their first two permanent facilities in our City.
• We’ve increased the number of Teach for America teachers in our school system to nearly double the number before I took office.
• The Discovery School, a new K-8 magnet school opened its doors this year, a partnership that includes our own Discovery Museum, and Sacred Heart University.
• This school also represents the first school construction project overseen by a minority-owned construction management firm – The McCloud Group. Under the guidance of our Small and Minority Owned Business Resource Office, McCloud also was able to provide jobs to many local minority subcontractors and workers on this project.
My office has worked tirelessly to provide an inter-district magnet high school on state-owned property on the Bridgeport-Trumbull border.
• This school, with 95% of the funding provided by the state, will provide a technologically advanced curriculum in partnership with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and Sikorsky Aircraft, in addition to providing strong course offerings in environmental science and technology.
School construction/renovation is moving forward with plans to rebuild Roosevelt School and renovate Wilbur Cross and Longfellow Schools.
Minority-owned construction firms will take part in the work for all three schools.
Applications for a new Harding High School, as well as Central, Dunbar and Black Rock school renovations have been submitted to the state for funding.
While I’m proud of these bricks and mortar accomplishments, I am frustrated by the significant achievement gaps that exist between city and suburban students.
And, while substantial strides have been made in several of our schools, overall I am not satisfied with the pace of our progress. Neither should anyone be.
We cannot cheat another generation of our kids. A child does not have years to wait for adults to reform our education system: They only get one chance to learn to read, one chance to learn to write.
How many generations do you think we can afford to lose?
My vision is for our kids to be given the same opportunity as others. My budgets have assured funds to allow Bridgeport to continue to be a leader in the lawsuits against the state, and we will continue to demand that the state provide all Connecticut’s students with equally good educations, no matter what their town or city of residency and no matter how much money their parents make.
We must demand excellence from our school system. And that school system, because of improved performance, will produce a better workforce for the needs of local businesses. We need to hold our schools, our administrators, our elected representatives accountable for the outcomes. But equally as important, we parents need to hold ourselves accountable, providing support for the schools, the teachers, and our children.
I urge every parent to:
• read to their children at night;
• make sure their homework is done,
• and their uniforms are clean.
We need to assure that all of our students are graduating from our high schools ready for the 21st century demands of work or college and adult success.
We need radical reform to more quickly impact today’s students.
I will continue to work with our school leadership, our parents, and our representatives in Hartford, as well as our business and community leaders to ensure rapid reforms occur.
One year after taking office, I enacted my first executive order – on sustainability.
A year later, a public-private partnership spearheaded by the City, the BRBC and the Regional Plan Association created our BGreen 2020 Greenprint … a blueprint to help us move forward to make Bridgeport a leader in sustainable practices, and a model for the rest of the state and the region.
Since then, we’ve:
· Launched the Mayor’s Conservation Corps, 25 young adults who canvass our neighborhoods helping residents to recycle, weatherize, get a rain barrel, get a free tree and save themselves and the City money!
· They’ve knocked on more than 16,000 doors, delivered more than 1,000 recycling bins, helped 300 residents receive energy audits and distributed more than 500 rain barrels.
· Through their efforts, and our unique partnership with RecycleBank, we’ve increased recycling rates in the East Side and East End by 70 percent since last fall.
· The secret to our success? Rewarding citizens who recycle with coupons from their favorite retailers like CVS, Subway and Compare Markets, to name a few.
· Going green lets the city save some green — as in cash – when it comes to the overall cost of hauling and burning of trash versus recycled materials. And, that saves us money.
· Everything we put in a green toter costs over $60 a ton to burn. Everything in a blue bin makes us money.
My administration secured $1.2 million in federal EECBG, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, which among many things will help us begin energy saving renovations to the main branch library, such as putting in an efficient HVAC system.
We’re working with a national company to lease rooftops on city buildings to place solar panels which will generate energy to sell back to the grid. These are just a few of the projects we have in play to make Bridgeport a cleaner and greener, and more economical city.
Sustainable cities, green cities are drawing all sorts of new residents, especially younger, more educated residents as in Portland, Oregon. Their numbers show a 50% jump in that critical segment of the population: Young people who spend money.
So, green is good, right?
Our latest census figures bear out what we’ve known all along, that we’re drawing more residents to our City because of its proximity to mass transit, and affordable housing.
We’re still the largest, and one of the most diverse, cities in the state, — we’ve gained about 5,000 residents since the last census. Those are new residents who call Bridgeport home. And, according to the CT Post, this is the first time in 60 years the City’s population has shown growth.
BGreen 2020 means sustainability and opportunity for our City. That’s right, opportunity.
As I said earlier, the AIA called us the “City of Opportunity” and they are urging us to continue on the path we’ve charted.
The AIA says: “In the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, downtown Bridgeport is building, a sure sign of not only what is possible but how it will be possible.”
They see a Bridgeport in the future that, if properly managed, could see its population swell from the current 144,000 to over 300,000, especially if we focus on smart development, develop our brownfields and make full use of our extensive waterfront and harbor.
Bridgeport’s history has always been that of adapting. Mayor P.T. Barnum’s era was the birth of modern manufacturing when Bridgeport transformed itself into the industrial capitol of Connecticut.
As the world twice went to war in the 20th Century, Bridgeport drove America to victory as the arsenal of freedom. Though steel mills and machinery manufacturers have moved away, smaller and high-tech companies like Lacey, Producto/Bridgeport Machine, Unger, Le Coq Cuisine, Prime Resources, AKDO and others remain.
They are part of an economy which is world renowned for building the ships and helicopters of Derecktor and Sikorsky. And our two fine hospitals are known for their advances in medical science and healing.
The vision of Bridgeport in the future, in the Information Age, if you will, is one which retains: our manufacturing base and financial institutions, and we grow: our health care and emerging sectors.
The Bridgeport of the future, is one where people live and work in the City, and enjoy a place with an active downtown and a vibrant waterfront, two areas where my administration is making great progress. That’s where our vision comes into play.
Our vision to revitalize our downtown, expand access to the waterfront, make government and education more accountable and approachable, and position the City and its residents for a more sustainable future, will help make Bridgeport even more enticing to new residents.
We have ushered in a new vision Bridgeport.
We’ve made great strides, and we have an exciting future ahead of us.
This is my vision.
This is a sustainable City.
This is a City of Opportunity.
This is the Bridgeport Connecticut of the future!