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Wanna Attract Visitors Downtown? Always Market Your Product

August 1st, 2016 · 25 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Development and Zoning

downtown aerial

Aerial of Downtown courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

The notion that Downtown Bridgeport is unsafe is a fallacy. The Bijou Theatre enjoyed a number of performances that were jam packed. Were people afraid to attend then? When the Webster Bank arena has a sold-out event–and there have been many–are they afraid? Downtown Cabaret Theater just two blocks from the Bijou has had numerous sold-out performances. Were people scared? OIB hosted a well-attended event last July at the Bijou. Not one person who sent regrets said they were afraid. Downtown certainly has issues such as parking that must be addressed but there’s way more activity today than years ago, more residents Downtown with other housing units on the horizon. Part of the problem with Downtown is a lack of cohesive marketing.

Running an entertainment-based non-profit is extraordinarily difficult to cover rental and overheads costs. Some get by because they have mighty corporate support or pay little or no rental such is the case with the Downtown Cabaret, now in its 40th year, because the city owned the building they operated in until Downtown developer Phil Kuchma who also owns the Bijou bought the building in a transaction with the city more than a year ago. Downtown Cabaret had about seven years remaining on a lease when Kuchma purchased the building.

Restaurants, good and bad, have come and gone Downtown, but some have made their mark such as Ralph & Rich’s and Joseph’s Steakhouse. Some nights you can’t get in those places, especially when there’s an arena event. Downtown needs more foot traffic, but in the past 10 years multiple housing developments have come on line on State Street, Lafayette Boulevard, Fairfield Avenue and Main Street.

ballpark, arena

Bridgeport’s sports-entertainment complex. Aerial courtesy of Morgan Kaolian.

Remember when the ballpark opened in 1998? On many nights for three years it was the toughest ticket in the region. It was packed with suburbanites and city dwellers. Part of the reason for the success was the marketing efforts the city put into promoting its assets. When that stopped in the early 2000s and the economy took a turn, attendance fell back.

Community venues such as the Westport Playhouse and Ridgefield Playhouse that book local productions and even high-profile artists rely heavily on corporate support. A jewel such as the Bijou needs a number of components coming together for long-term stability. For five years, the Bijou was a labor of love for Christine Brown who put in her personal resources to keep the lights on with many fine events. Rental and utility costs became too much. Phil Kuchma is a businessman. Hopefully he can find an operator to bring the facility back to life. But that operator will need the marketing arm of Downtown to step up.

The Downtown Special Services District is tasked with overseeing security, cleanliness and marketing of Downtown. Downtown property owners pay an extra tax for those services.

OIB rarely hears from DSSD leadership on anything Downtown: no news releases, statements, media alerts about events. No press releases about Downtown Thursday concerts. The same for Steve Krauchick’s Doing it Local. He never hears from them. Both news sites have thousands of regular readers available to Downtown marketing efforts free of charge. DSSD has a website InfoBridgeport.

Studies show the most active audiences in their respective communities are readers of government and politically based news sites. They engage on issues, they want their communities to succeed even if they do not agree how to get there.

The Bridgeport Regional Business Council is also involved with the marketing of its dues-paying constituency. You’d think Kuchma would be a member of the BRBC, right? He is not. Part of his pushback on the business organization is his frustration with its priorities. He’d like to see it more small-business based and fully engaged on marketing Downtown.

Paging DSSD and the BRBC.

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Bob Walsh

    As I said in my post, plenty of blame to go around. If there is a serious concern about public safety, increase the brightness of the street lights downtown and throw a few extra police cars and/or foot-patrols on busier nights.

    • Jennifer Buchanan

      Vacant streets at night downtown makes this senior feel vulnerable. I understand the mayor owes the police for the endorsement, perhaps hiring second-chance citizens to walk around and fill the empty streets, along with the brighter lights might be more affordable.

  • Bob Walsh

    It’s all part of marketing.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Lennie. Perception is reality. The Arena is able to draw crowds because people know the area will be saturated with police officers and fellow event-attendees (i.e., strength in numbers) for big-name events. Your very well attended BIJOU event you hosted last year, took place during daylight hours on a busy, summer, mayoral election year Saturday. (It was great event. I attended and had a great time along with you and fellow bloggers.)

    But perception being reality, perceptions must be addressed. The ultra-cautious among potential regional/local visitors must be accommodated.

    CAMERAS, LIGHTS, POLICE/SECURITY, SECURE/CONVENIENT TRANSPORTATION. After real growth and life return to downtown, fears will abate and the regional mindset about Bridgeport will change. And FREE parking should be among the mix of tactics used to attract visitors to Bridgeport during all days/hours of the week. Our present modus operandi of using downtown parking to generate revenue is, at best, counterproductive. We aren’t NYC or some other place that is likely to become overwhelmed with commuter parking needs.

    Yes, Lennie. Marketing is key to driving commerce downtown, but it must be married to real measures that create an inviting downtown situation.

    You are perhaps the most clever, expert marketer to whom the Bridgeport region has access. It would be wise for the City/state to use you as a creative/marketing resource in some formal, focused manner. I HOPE THE CITY AND STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PEOPLE READ THIS ENTRY.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    I agree with Jeff, perception is reality, and the fact is, people just don’t feel safe going downtown at night. Do you think a couple of friends from let’s say, Westport, would take a train into Bpt, go see a show at the Bijou, then when the show is over, say about 10;30 or so, would want to walk back to the train station to get back? Now you may say it’s safe, but the reality is, it isn’t. There is a reason corporations choose to support the Westport playhouse and Ridgefield theater and ignore Bpt.

    • Marshall Marcus

      Harvey,
      I doubt anyone living in Westport would bother taking a train to Bridgeport to see a show at the Bijou. It would be faster, easier and cheaper to get in the car, drive the 12 minutes to Bridgeport, park near the theatre and enjoy the show. No driving from home to Westport train station, buying tickets, getting from Bpt Train station to Bijou and the reverse. What a waste of time and effort in your supposition.
      As for corporate support, they tend to support things where the executives live, and that in general is not Bridgeport.

      • Harvey Weintraub

        LOL. Marshall, I believe you’re splitting hairs here, would you feel better about it if I said “friends from Greenwich aren’t going to take the train to Bpt and walk back to the station late night?” If you still think taking the train from Greenwich would be a “waste of time,” then I’ll say friends from Rye NY. Bottom line, no one would feel safe walking from the Bijou to the station late at night.

        • Marshall Marcus

          Actually, my daughter had some friends who live and work in downtown Stamford (and don’t have cars) take the train and meet her for a night out in Milford. They didn’t consider Bridgeport because there is no hip entertainment district within walking distance from the train, while Milford is a 20-somethings’ drinking and music destination.
          It wasn’t about safety, some of them take the train for concerts at the Arena at Harbor Yard. New Haven has converted a retail dead downtown into an eating and entertainment district with shuttle bus service to the train station. The concept can work, but it takes commitment and coordination.

  • Zena Lu

    A major part of the BRBC’s function is to promote the region, and market and preserve current businesses, right? Well who is in charge of community outreach and business welfare checks for the Bridgeport part of the region? Why are these businesses being allowed to languish with no support? It’s time to mind your MSSP’s for the preservation of the businesses we have. Marketing, Security, Support, Parking. Yesterday.

  • DC Faber

    I see this as another failure of a feckless city council. If City Hall doesn’t seem to care, why should anybody else?

  • Jimfox

    It’s too early to market this city, we’re only in year one of G2.

  • Bob Walsh

    Is this what Bridgeport needs? A benevolent developer and a willingness to fork over big bucks to make his dreams become a reality?
    www .washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2016/07/29/when-the-titan-wants-to-build-the-town-under-armour-founder-kevin-planks-5-5-billion-plan-for-baltimore/

  • Donald Day

    I go downtown to the Metric Lounge as well as the bar in the Holiday Inn. I go to events at Webster and before going go by Ralph&Rich’s for dinner with my wife and we’ve never experienced that crime about which you speak. Is it just white people who are victims of crime in downtown Bridgeport and are the criminals being that selective?

    • Harvey Weintraub

      Don, as I said in my first post, when there is an event at the arena, walking around down there is pleasant, because of a bigger police presence, and there are tons more people out there walking also. When the arena is dark, walking around down there, late night, isn’t something a lot of people I know want to do. We can argue all day about whether it’s safe or not, what I’m saying is the perception is, it’s dangerous.

      • Donald Day

        Harvey, your perception is just your reality, not reality. I’ve been going downtown for years, since the Metric first opened, when the bar in the Holiday Inn was P.T. Barnum, when Ralph&Rich’s was on the side street and to the other bars on Fairfield. In all those years I’ve never spoken to anyone who said they were robbed or a victim of crime leaving or coming, not one. Was it Teddy who said there’s nothing to fear but fear itself?

    • Jennifer Buchanan

      My experience, and granted, my kids are 41, 31 and 27, their friends, suburban kids came to Bridgeport to buy drugs, get busted and their parents’ experience with Bridgeport is drugs and thugs. Not all of course. When I moved to Black Rock my Westport friends asked if it was okay and safe to park on the street. That is the perception of people who have not been here. Those friends now actually considered moving to Black Rock, until the 55 mil rate.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Bob: This is the scale of development we need. But we need to pay attention to the concerns of the Baltimore residents who report they have not been positively impacted by development in Baltimore so far. Development must have a direct, positive economic and quality-of-life impact on the residents in order for it to be considered appropriate/desirable.

    Redevelopment of distressed urban centers must occur in a manner that does not negatively impact neighborhoods (per traffic and public safety problems/noise/pollution/obtrusiveness, residential displacement/increased housing-costs, etc.), and which serves to create economic opportunity and social stability for the residents of the neighborhoods.

    This has apparently not been the case for a significant portion of Baltimore residents. (And look what happened from the casino-driven “transformation” of Atlantic City.)

    Tax base expansion is essential and desirable in that regard, but not if it creates/exacerbates socioeconomic problems for residents.

    Development must be effectively analyzed in a circumspect manner before being given a green light.

    This has not been the case in many urban renewal efforts nationwide. Distressed cities grab at anything in desperation only to experience long-term redevelopment/socioeconomic setbacks as a result of unforeseen effects of the development on the residential and social aspect community. This has been the case in Baltimore (a desperate wreck of a city, despite a few bright spots in recent years), and has also been the case in Bridgeport, lots of cleared, vacant land and empty storefronts/office space in a context of a continued hemorrhage of jobs.

    And truly, if we can be really certain about anything in regard to Bridgeport redevelopment, it is it must occur with the central goal of creating tens of thousands of living-wage jobs (full employment) for Bridgeporters.

  • Bob Walsh

    PAGING MARSHALL MARCUS!!!
    PAGING MARSHALL MARCUS!!!

    Urgent request/explanation from Marshall Marcus needed immediately.

    I received a mailing from OUR State Senator Marilyn Moore in which it is stated during the past year she worked to get Trumbull an 18.6% increase in state funding.
    She worked to get Monroe a 4.8% increase.
    While Bridgeport received a modest 3.3% increase.
    Why have you been spreading these lies about our State Senator?
    Why have you continuously said she is only concerned about Bridgeport?
    And how much of an increase is it that Tommy McCarthy has promised Trumbull that leads you to say he will do more for Trumbull?
    Sir, you owe Senator Moore a huge apology for spreading lies in order to help the white guy from Bridgeport defeat our incumbent African American State Senator.
    Shame on you!!!
    Come on Marshall you owe the woman an apology and an endorsement.

  • Bob Walsh

    Harvey,
    I think that’s a little white lie you’re spreading.

  • Mojo

    *** Ever since most of the stores downtown and the Lafayette Mall closed, then the Trumbull Mall opened, Downtown Bpt has never really recovered fully other than on a part-time basis. Lack of parking, people after 6pm and opened shops as well as police presence and high property taxes have all played a part in the Park City ghost-town debacle! The negative Bpt stories past and present have driven a stake right through this city’s heart! And though some attempts have been made by different developers to jump-start downtown, it only seems to last on and off but a few years. Maybe downtown is made to only cater to folks on a part-time basis and doing it right and work from there, no? ***

  • Jeff Kohut

    Mojo: It is important to get the chronological order of events in accurate sequence in regard to your above post. First, the Trumbull Mall opened (following accommodation of Trumbull sanitary-sewer/wastewater disposal needs via a link-up with Bridgeport’s sanitary sewage system); then the downtown retail sector began to abandon Bridgeport for the Trumbull Mall relocation; then the Bridgeport Mall was built and did fairly well for several years until a couple of recessions, and the construction of the 25-8 Connector led to continued loss of downtown business/activity (in conjunction with municipal mismanagement along with inept downtown Mall mismanagement) leading to the closing of the downtown mall and the virtual collapse of the remaining, minuscule downtown retail/professional-office sector (save the law offices). (The 1990 savings and loan debacle, which led to the mass collapse of much of the US banking sector was the last stake driven through downtown’s heart and which caused the final, virtually total collapse of the downtown retail/commercial sector.) But it must be remembered, first came the Trumbull Mall, accommodated courtesy of state and federal coercion of Bridgeport to grant Trumbull access to our sanitary sewage system. And then came the Route 25-8 mandate, which displaced a huge amount of Bridgeport commercial/industrial tax base and encouraged/accommodated the flight of Bridgeport’s middle class, retail consumers/downtown patrons, to the suburbs, along with more Bridgeport businesses/tax base.

    That is why the state and federal government, and regional beneficiaries of Bridgeport’s infrastructure/social service accommodations (etc.), owe us big-time. We should not be at all hesitant to demand huge compensation from state, federal and regional sources, via a huge bailout, to rebuild what was, in effect, stolen from us over many years.

  • Mojo

    *** IT ALL AMOUNTS TO THE SAME THING, NO? BPT’S DOWNTOWN BECOMING THE GHOST TOWN IT IS TODAY DEPENDING WHERE ON MAIN ST. YOU’RE AT! “WHICH CAME FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG” CONCERNING DOWN TOWN’S DEBACLE IS MERELY IRRELEVANT, NO? ***

  • Jeff Kohut

    No argument with your observations on the condition of downtown, Mojo. But we should never forget how the region/state kicked the legs out from under us as the result of a suburb-favoring agenda. The same towns that look down their noses at us and cast aspersions upon us are the very same towns that owe this city for all their quality of life and economic advantages. This city generated the wealth that created the lifestyle of this region, and, to this day, provides the labor, infrastructure and social services that allow the region to prosper in the face of our paradoxical decline. Our downtown wouldn’t be so “down” if there hadn’t been a deliberate assault on our economic well-being by the state and federal government, per their suburban agenda.

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