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Play Ball! Will It Be The Bluefish? City Seeks Sports Team Operator For Harbor Yard

March 1st, 2017 · 17 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Development and Zoning, News and Events

ballpark arena

Aerial of sports-entertainment area by Morgan Kaolian.

The Bridgeport Bluefish baseball team is celebrating its 20th season at the city-owned Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Will the team be around for 2018? The city is searching for a sports team operator. See request for proposals here.

The city has entered an arrangement with Bluefish principal owner Frank Boulton for the team to play its home games at the ballpark for 2017 following the expiration of a long-term contract. April 28 is opening day. What happens after that?

The Bluefish will pay the city $150,000 in rent this season in addition to about $117,000 to settle a maintenance bill battle left over from Mayor Joe Ganim’s predecessor Bill Finch.

According to the request for proposals, the city is seeking a professional sports team operator for the ballpark that calls for operations to begin by July 2018. The deadline for proposals is March 29.

This City seeks proposals for a professional sports team operation or an outdoor entertainment venue, with the possibility of retrofitting the existing facility at the Site. The operation should take full advantage of the Site, and supplement the growth of the Downtown, the South End and the Waterfront with frequent events that have a regional appeal. The operation should begin operations by July 2018.

The ballpark was built at the cusp of the Downtown and South End on an old industrial site that had been owned by Donald Trump who purchased the parcel to be in play for a potential gaming facility. With no development plans for the site, Trump deeded the property to the city in exchange for back-tax forgiveness. The ballpark was built. A few years later the adjacent Webster Bank Arena, also city-owned, opened.

The baseball team was founded in 1998 by an investment group that included Jack McGregor, co-founder of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, his wife Mary-Jane Foster and Mickey Herbert, now president of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. The first three seasons enjoyed attendance success averaging more than 4,000 fans per game for the 5,300-seat venue. A Fish game became a pride-point event.

Attendance began a steady decline in the years to follow. In time Boulton, founder of the independent Atlantic League, purchased the team and streamlined costs. He also owns the successful Atlantic League franchise Long Island Ducks. During the recent Boulton years creative special events have become the hallmark including high-profile athletes such as Pete Rose, Paul O’Neill and Roger Clemens serving as special guest managers. The creative promotional nights have given the Fish a modest attendance boost.

Boulton has said he’d like the Bluefish to continue in Bridgeport.

Ganim has authorized the issuance of the request for proposals to see if an operator will bite. It could give Ganim negotiating leverage with Boulton if he submits a proposal.

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17 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Isn’t the baseball field and the arena one of the areas where Ganim got caught by the feds? We are coming full cycle with this asshole.

  • Bob Walsh

    Let me guess. No one will come forward with a proposal. So Frank Boulton, out of the generosity of his heart, will say he will operate the team at a loss as long as all he has to pay is a dollar.
    Joe Ganim will say that’s not good enough. He will have to pay $20,000 a year. They will compromise at $10,000 and Joe will say to the council take the $10,000 or let the ball park go dark.
    The council will reluctantly accept. But they want more personal use out of the luxury boxes. Joe will give in. Everyone is a winner! Except the taxpayers. Oh well.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      “It could give Ganim negotiating leverage with Boulton if he submits a proposal.”

      Lennie, is there something you’re not telling us? Frank Boulton can submit a proposal? I would assume he tried selling the BF team and no one was interested. The way I see it, if no one other than Frank Boulton submits a proposal, the leverage would favor Boulton, not Ganim. Has Boulton made any remarks that may reveal the possibility of Boulton moving the Bluefish Team out of Bridgeport or the state? Looks more like Ganim is biting the Boulton bait. Is it by design? Time will tell.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Hey Bob, I’d say your analysis is far-fetched, but possible.
      “So Frank Boulton, out of the generosity of his heart, will say he will operate the team at a loss as long as all he has to pay is a dollar.”
      A dollar, Bob? Just in case you are right, I’m compelled to give Joe Ganim a heads-up as to Frank Boulton’s fishing technique. Here’s video footage of Frank Boulton fishing:
      www .youtube.com/watch?v=ItUECpFi9_s

  • Bob Walsh

    FBI is looking into the Dunkin’ Donuts Ball Park in Hartford. Just goes to show Joe Ganim is a man ahead of his time.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      No Bob, “Dunkin’ Donuts” was ahead of its time when they came up with the ‘Box O’Joe’ trademark: “Our Box O’Joe is the perfect way to get a group running! From our great-tasting, freshly brewed coffee and tea to our rich and delicious hot chocolate, there is something for everyone.”

  • Mickey Herbert

    Nice try Andrew, but the Ballpark at Harbor Yard was never implicated in anything having to do with the investigation of the Mayor. Nor was the ball team. Not at all. Not ever.

    • Andrew C Fardy

      Check what happened as it was being built. Are you really going to say nothing happened? Read the court transcripts. It was all about the construction. This was not a try, this is and was a fact.

  • Stringfellow

    This is a nice venue and something good for Bridgeport, which is rare. I hope they find someone to take this over, fix the issues with the stadium and keep the team going as long as the league lasts.

    It would be a real shame to lose this. Perhaps better management can find a way to increase attendance, and keep up with the upkeep of the stadium too.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Let the University of Bridgeport athletic program/business program manage the complex. It will help to support UB and the South End/Downtown and will bring highly committed energy and innovation to the facility. The University and City can share the “profits” and costs of maintenance of the physical plant.

    There are a lot of possibilities for the city and its vital UB asset in such an arrangement. And UB is, unquestionably, one of Bridgeport’s most vital assets.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Let UB buy it. They’ve been able to transform UB without any signs of financial difficulty. Let’s go back to a time before the City of Bridgeport under G1 decided to build the stadium. Before the city entertained the McGregor, Foster and Herbert Bluefish proposal, a group of investors wanted to build the stadium at their cost. I was one of the councilmen representing the section where the stadium stands and I was 100% percent behind the proposal of building the stadium with private funds. Let’s not even talk about how the construction cost more than doubled as the project moved along. Does anyone know what the value of the Bluefish Stadium is today?

  • Jeff Kohut

    Could the arena be included in a deal with UB? Is this situation limited to only the ballpark? Surely UB could similarly better utilize and energize the (under-utilized) arena situation, also.

  • Stringfellow

    The cost overruns did not come to light to most of us until Joel’s post. I read in the paper there were problems with the stadium from the start. Shame on the city for giving the C/O to open until the issues were resolved.

    People flocked there and the Bluefish had the highest attendance in the league. They also had a better team then too. Even with some has-been ex major league players the teams have not been as good and their record shows it.

    It is still a nice venue for the price, just put a better product on the field.

    Going back in time, the city lost the Bridgeport Jets yet the stadium is still in use. Too bad there isn’t an arena football league in the area that could use it. The city should not repeat history and if it takes someone to buy the stadium to keep the team, so be it. If UB bought it they would control who would use it.

    If that happens they might not support an independent baseball team.

  • Mojo

    Why not Bpt? They own most of the Bluefish’s building and things inside, which were bartered in deals with the city over time for owed back taxes! *** Play Ball ***

  • Stringfellow

    Those bartered deals are a part of what is wrong with the city government, bills do not get paid with deals. There are a lot of unpaid taxes not being collected because of politics. This has to stop like yesterday. The city can ill afford to continue to remain on this path. I would like the Bluefish to stay, I hope that happens.

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