Reel Fun, Traffic Jam Hooked On East Side, Bridgeport Bass Pro Shops Opens To Thousands

Bass Pro Morris, Finch
Bass Pro Shops store manager Loretta Mercado, company founder Johnny Morris and Mayor Bill Finch cut the ribbon for the grand opening. CT Post photo Brian Pounds.

Thousands of enthusiastic customers Wednesday night flooded the opening of Bass Pro Shops, the anchor tenant to the Steel Point redevelopment area of the East Side more than 30 years in the making, outgoing Mayor Bill Finch’s economic development legacy. Bass Pro is an incredible 150,000-square-foot indoor experience for its “Outdoor World” featuring fishing, boating, camping equipment, clothing lines, a restaurant and even an aquarium-like bowling alley.

Bass Pro crowd
Crowd awaits opening of Bass Pro Wednesday night.

Jack Wlezien, Bass Pro communications director, told OIB that a vast majority of the close to 400 employees at the Bridgeport store are Bridgeport residents. Many of the workers when asked by OIB said they were indeed residents of the city. The Bridgeport Bass Pro has a large aquatic theme to complement its waterfront location known as Steelpointe Harbor. Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris was greeting employees inside the Bridgeport store while outside representatives regaled the crowd in promotional giveaways and introduction of celebrity sports guests. Bridgeport Bluefish mascot BB even got into the action participating in crowd promotions.

Bass Pro bowling
There’s jaw-boning bowling too.

By 6pm the Bass Pro parking lot was completely jammed, cars arriving by the I-95 exit that dumps into the facility were at a crawl, highway cars above took in the spectacular view of the complex. Some arrivals actually parked Downtown and took the short walk across the Stratford Avenue bridge to celebrate the opening, many of them families, on the East Side.

McCarthy Bass Pro
City Council President Tom McCarthy at Bass Pro opening.
Bass Pro Johnny Morris
Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris attended the Bridgeport opening.

More than 30 years ago, Republican Mayor Lenny Paoletta unveiled his vision for redevelopment of the East Side along the harbor within close proximity to Pleasure Beach in the East End. The development languished for many years. In the late 1990s Mayor Joe Ganim began moving the needle on clearing the site for development that included some eminent domain battles. Mayor John Fabrizi entered into a development agreement with Miami Florida-based developer Bridgeport Landing Development that was redone under Finch who secured state and federal support for critical infrastructure work while he and his Chief of Staff Adam Wood lured Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris to take interest in the location that has materialized into an urban experience.

Ganim will reemerge as mayor when he takes the oath of office December 1 after defeating Finch in a September Democratic primary on his way to a general election victory.

For more on Steelpointe Harbor see here.

CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart’s coverage here



  1. This was amazing! What an outrageous turnout to Bridgeport’s latest destination. Time to build some housing! There had to be 20,000 people there at least. That is most likely a gross understatement. Of course, very few if any OIB bloggers were there but every mover and shaker in the business community as well as city hall. The place has it all to lure people from 100 miles. This was a home run for Mayor Finch and the city of Bridgeport. Mayor-elect Joe Ganim will be able to cut the ribbon for the future luxury cineplex and hotel. Bridgeport will continue to move forward and after tonight’s success, should happen at lightning speed. Congratulations to all those involved in making this moment possible. For those not impressed, save it!

      1. Jim Fox, you may very well be right. There are others who would argue if it weren’t for Joe Ganim, Steelpointe may have started 20 years ago. Bridgeport may have well have been transformed in ways we will never know. That is yesterday. We look forward to the future and wish Joseph Ganim great success! We are all in this together, like it or not!

  2. Steve, reading your post and others, I can’t help but notice many of those who were supporting Finch are praising Ganim, and those who were supporting Ganim and got snubbed by him are speaking out negatively towards him. My guess is, “politics is whichever way the wind blows.” You would have though Finch would have had Bass Pro’s Grand opening before the primary. I sure an opening like this would have conjured up 406 votes. I hope that cinema has an IMAX screen. Every town has cinemas, we already have one. As far as housing goes, Bridgeport doesn’t have a lot of land. We need more commercial development. Bridgeport has a lot of antiquated housing. We should upgrade those complexes with new buildings. A long-term steady project. Upgrading Bridgeport. Just my thoughts.

    1. Robert Teixeira, it is not about being praised. The baton gets passed in two weeks. Finch will be remembered by a good Mayor and a descent guy by some and Ganim will be remembered as a good Mayor as well as other terrible things by others. It is politics. If you love Hillary you could never like Ben Carson. It is politics. You have to decide what is more important. Playing the silly game of childhood politics or you can just love the city and respect all politics, be friends with all and hope for the best. On this blog there are those who will spend four years attacking Ganim. I will not be one of them. I will defend Mayor Finch for the great stuff he did for the city. Ganim can take credit for everything after Dec. 1. It is what all politicians do and nobody is going to waste their breath making an issue out of it. Why? because he is now the Mayor and what’s good for the city is good for all of us. However, if Ganim makes some wrong moves, you can be sure the blogosphere will go after him. Why? Because the election is over, he had his redemption and people will start cashing in on promises. Especially those who have political aspirations. No time like the present to start your campaign for the next Mayoral election. There will always be those who wait for a few months before an election but as the Ganim playbook suggests, there is no time like the present and make every day count unless you weren’t paying attention. Apparently, many were not paying attention. I was!

      1. Very few if any really thought Ganim was going to win. I’ll bet when he first started making his rounds, he was getting the cold shoulder from everybody. When Joe did decide to run everybody thought, like Ben Carson is going to win his election bid. Joe’s run would’ve been like Trump’s run, just a show, a crazy election cycle in Bridgeport. No, you don’t have to hate Ben if you love Hillary. Hate is a very strong word. Also as you were reading the tea leaves, your wind was changing before Ganim’s “PRIMARY WIN.”

      2. Steve, a few points. First, I do think if this opening had happened before the election there might have been a difference in the election results that would meant Finch voters coming out to vote. Second, this is from the Post: “Bridgeport has one of the highest concentrations of minorities in the state, with black residents representing about 34 percent of the population and Hispanics about 39 percent. The East Side and East End are predominantly minority.” I’m sure those who were hired do not mirror the makeup of Bridgeport and most are not from Bridgeport.

  3. Couple of quick thoughts:
    Glad to see the high turnout. This will draw outdoor types from Bpt and the surrounding towns. There are a number of people I know who are happy because the closest such store was Cabela’s in Hartford.
    If the majority of employees are from Bpt, then this is their chance to help the image of BPT. Their performances in their jobs can shed a positive light on BPT-based employees and help shed negative stereotypes of what outsiders perceive as the “typical BPT resident.” Some are hoping they fail, I hope they succeed. That will help to continue to draw business and those businesses will continue to draw employees from the city first.

    1. The key word here is “if,” and the answer is the majority of the employees are not from Bridgeport because if they were Mayor Finch and Bass Pro Shops would be bragging about it.

    1. FtM–taken from Lennie’s post above:
      Jack Wlezien, Bass Pro communications director, told OIB that a vast majority of the close to 400 employees at the Bridgeport store are Bridgeport residents. Many of the workers when asked by OIB said they were indeed residents of the city.

  4. The 22 million dollar question was about the TIF deal paid back by sales tax revenue. No one has ever told us what the ROI will be in property tax revenue to Bridgeport. Happy to see it finally open, although a retail splash pad was never part of the original vision.

    We have only received about $1.7 million of projected $5 million sales price. Time value of money with a benchmark of 2022 is a deal for the developer. He’s a smart guy.

  5. I’m glad to see the great turnout for this store. I’ve been an outspoken critic of these minimum wage, better-than-nothing jobs. Having said that, if there are Bridgeport residents who didn’t have a job, but now they do, it was a good day in Bridgeport.

  6. Donald,
    Bass Pro wold not respond with specific numbers as to who was hired but gave a more generic answer of “a vast majority of the close to 400 employees at the Bridgeport store are Bridgeport residents.”
    Why wouldn’t they give a more specific answer like 82.3% or 64.5%? For one reason, one man’s vast majority might be totally different than another’s.
    But I believe the real reason was they did not want to drill down to specifics such as what percent of full-time vs part-time employees are B’port residents. Or what percent of management personnel are B’port residents.
    How about what percent of the 400 jobs are seasonal and will be eliminated after the first of the year and what percent of those are B’port residents?
    Too bad these guys cannot come up with straight answers, but what do you expect?

  7. Question–everyone is questioning the number of jobs that are held by BPT residents. Is this a statistic that all other BPT businesses are providing? If so, where are these stats found? Home Depot, Stop & Shop, People’s Bank, etc. How many of them are asked (and provide) where their employees live?

  8. RCI Marine and, by extension, Bass Pro Shops have received millions of dollars of taxpayer’s support for this project. Home Depot and Stop & Shop do not. Whatever People’s received in tax incentives on their downtown headquarters has long expired. Not to mention the fact the jobs People’s created in Bridgeport were not minimum wage jobs without benefits.
    Sorry if I appear stupid but I am having a hard time comprehending your point. What is it?

      1. And you sound like a pathetic suck-up. Give businesses all the tax breaks and hope the residents of Bridgeport benefit.
        There are 10 – 15 municipalities in the state of Connecticut that have living-wage ordinances and Bridgeport is the only urban area without.
        Why? Because all the administrations from Ganim1 through Fabrizi and Finch were afraid of pissing off the BRBC.

  9. Bob, I agree with everything you are saying, to those whom much is given, much is expected. By the same note if there are Bridgeport residents who didn’t have a job but now they do, it’s a good day. My people want jobs and they would rather have a transformative job, but they would rather work than the alternative.

    Having said that, for someone to compare Bass Pro to Home Depot, Stop & Shop saying people don’t ask them what are their resident status is ludicrous. We don’t know if the others received millions from the State in incentives or 35-year tax abatements from the City. With respect to Bass Pro, To Those Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected.

    1. Bob/Donald,
      R-E-L-A-X –my question was just that, a question. Not a challenge. I was merely asking if other companies with locations in BPT provided this type of data regarding the demographics of their employees.
      I used the others (Home Depot, etc) as examples of other large retailers with large numbers of employees that have stores in BPT.

  10. *** What, if any, type of incentives or city deals were made with Bass Pro in order to lure them to Steelpointe in Bpt, I wonder. Did they make long-time tax and permits exceptions, etc. to lure in the Bass Bait or what? I don’t think Bass Pro was knocking on Mayor Finch’s city office trying to get in, no? ***

  11. The Bridgeport Rescue Mission does outreach ministry including food vans on a regular basis throughout the area. On Thursday evenings (except for Thanksgiving) the food van shows up on Stratford Avenue, a few blocks from Steel Point at 6 PM and is open until 7 PM to people from the neighborhood who come for a hot meal, packaged in plastic with utensils and including dessert. (Each month, volunteers from the Fairfield Rotary Club help staff that dinner hour meal on the first and third Thursday of each month.)

    Last night we served Thanksgiving dinners with large portions of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cut green beans, cranberry sauce along with cookies and candy for dessert. About 90 meals were requested and fully met with good holiday cheer.

    Steel Point today has replaced homes, businesses and clubs over a long, fallow period for taxes, jobs, and fiscal help to the City. I did not hear any of the people coming to the van singing the praises of Steel Point consumerism yet. But they certainly appreciated the well-prepared holiday meals that were available for the asking. Shall we keep a “watchdog eye” on the basic changes happening? Time will tell.

  12. *** Let’s hope the Bpt Rescue Mission has learned its lesson concerning getting rid of all the donated food and clothes in a timely basis so items don’t have to be thrown out! Far too many items come into the Mission Warehouse than go out creating a lack of space, fire hazard, insects and rodent motels, unhealthy conditions, etc. ***


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