Surrounded by elected officials and neighborhood and business leaders, developer Robert Christoph Sr. and Mayor Joe Ganim on Monday broke ground for the 35,000 square foot waterfront dockmaster’s building that will house a raw bar restaurant, retail and an engineering company on Steelpointe Harbor accompanied by a harbor walk platform, marina and docks that Christoph estimates will be operational in about one year.
“This is the second engine to drive Steelpointe to a whole new dynamic,” said Christoph to a wind-whipped gathering along the harbor off Pembroke Street, a reference to the city’s waterfront and the adjacent retail operation Bass Pro Shops that serves as the anchoring tenant for the redevelopment of the East Side, with an accessible walk from Downtown. Starbucks, Chipotle and a T-Mobile are also featured tenants of the development along Stratford Avenue.
Christoph says he has an agreement with the engineering firm BL Companies doing work on the site to occupy 4,000 square feet of the building that will also serve as the headquarters for Bridgeport Landing. Christoph is a principal of the company. He expects construction to begin within 60 days. Christoph is the founder and president of the Miami Beach based RCI Group and its related companies such as Bridgeport Landing.
Ganim characterized the totality of Steelpointe Harbor as the largest waterfront development along the coast east of New York City. “This is nothing short of magnificent for our city, creating jobs, building the tax base and increasing the stature of Bridgeport.”
State Senator Marilyn Moore, who in the past has shared a healthy dose of skepticism about redevelopment progress, said “I’m proud to see the work that’s happening. This is what the people need to see, a vision for Bridgeport.” Moore invited New Haven State Rep. Robyn Porter to attend the groundbreaking. Porter was also in the city to join Moore to express concern about the recent police-involved shooting of a Stratford teenager.
According to Christoph when completed, Steelpointe Harbor will be an urban mixed-use development “designed to embody the most desirable characteristics of a harbor-side neighborhood. A new public realm consisting of a network of streets, open spaces, water views and harbor side strolling. Entertainment venues such as hotels, Bass Pro Shops, and movie theaters together with a mix of residential, restaurant, retail and commercial uses creates a diverse, livable, pedestrian-friendly environment.”
Steelpointe going vertical is a linchpin for Ganim both in showing city progress and shaping a message for a long-shot statewide run for office. For Ganim to build a broader constituency he must show a series of development successes for Connecticut’s largest city.
Ganim has formed an exploratory committee as he eyes a gubernatorial run for 2018. If that fails he has already amassed nearly $200,000 in a campaign warchest for mayoral reelection in 2019.
Redevelopment of the East Side was first proposed by Republican Mayor Lenny Paoletta in 1983. The idea languished for more than a decade until eminent domain battles, site clearance and cleanup and improvements, backed by millions in state money, prepared the location for potential development during Ganim’s first tenure as mayor. It also took many years for the city to settle on a land disposition agreement with Christoph’s company. But it wasn’t until the administration of Bill Finch that physical tenant progress was achieved with the landing of mega outdoor retailer Bass Prop Shops that opened in 2015, shortly after Ganim defeated Finch in a Democratic primary.
Officials have often lauded the economics of the redevelopment with no real specificity of what it will generate in future tax revenue. OIB on Monday asked Tom Gill, the city’s director of economic development, to share an overview of the economics with a timeline. He said he would task his office with doing that.