What’s Going On Downtown?

downtown aerial
Downtown aerial courtesy Morgan Kaolian

There’s some good stuff going on downtown. Young professionals living in the old Citytrust Building on Main Street, 881 the Lofts across from Housatonic Community College and Bijou Square on Fairfield Avenue, developer Phi Kuchma’s retail, restaurant and residential project. Can you imagine, downtown has a wine store (Bijou Square) and a bookstore (Rainy Faye) at John and Broad. And several cool restaurants. Let’s hope the momentum continues to support downtown businesses.

Mayor Bill Finch is hosting a downtown community meeting today (Tuesday) at City Hall Annex, 999 Broad Street, starting at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is open to all downtown residents, business owners and employees. City department heads, including Police Chief Joe Gaudett, Fire Chief Brian Rooney and Public Facilities Director Charlie Carroll, will provide updates about improvements and public safety.

Bijou Square
Bijou Square, courtesy Bob Abbate

In the late 1970s when I was a young scribe for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram, forerunner of the Connecticut Post, we had the Ocean Sea Grill Downtown, the tasty Venetian Garden just north of it in Bull’s Head, Lafayette Plaza/Crossroads Mall (now the building occupied by Housatonic CC) had some eateries (ah, what was that place that served Sicilian apizza?) We scribes, of course, who worked the night shift ended up the night, into the early morning, wired at Sol’s Cafe on Fairfied Avenue.

But there was no ballpark, no arena, no Housy CC and certainly not the dining options you have today: Ralph & Rich’s, Joseph’s, Épernay, Two Boots, Amici Miei and others. And now there’s local theater via the Bridgeport Theatre Company and cool stuff at Downtown Cabaret Theater. So on any given night we can have events at the ballpark, arena, Playhouse on the Green, Downtown Cabaret and just to the west of downtown, another superb venue for concerts, the Klein Memorial.

The area that really needs work, however, is the north Main Street gateway into downtown. Visitors driving from the north see a cluster of dilapidation, crud, grime. Sitting in the middle of it is the Cardinal Shehan Center, an oasis of hope, education and recreation for young people. The challenge of downtown is cleaning up the area north of Fairfield Avenue to Bull’s Head. Now if that gets done now you have a clean swipe from one end of Main Street to the other at the ballpark/arena complex. And paving Main Street would be nice.

Fire up those bulldozers? Several OIB readers say not so fast, we must protect buildings with historical significance.

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58 comments

  1. Be careful what you bulldoze … it just may the historic tax credits needed to incentivize a developer … there’s a lot to be said for the rich history of our beautiful city Lennie … preservation and restoration if possible … but for sure we need to be careful not to “abandon” our heartbroken buildings … these things have a way of becoming life-threatening fireballs to my guys … and girls. xo, jl

    1. I agree, Jenn. Interesting CT Post article about the Davidson’s Building mentioning how it was modeled after the famous New London train station … I recently learned about an architectural technique called facadism in which the original shell is kept and a new building is built in or around it. I’m not sure which if any buildings downtown (maybe M&F Bank?) would be a good candidate for this practice as I am unsure of the costs associated with it.

  2. Riding a city bus into downtown is a depressing journey. Once past Ellsworth Street in Black Rock the scenery begins to decay. All the way down State Street ’til it passes the Post printing facility and under Route 8. Downtown is looking spiffier than it used to.

      1. The bus ride, actually. State Street from Commerce Drive to West Avenue looks like a tornado touched down a few years ago and the area didn’t quite recover.

    1. La Gondola was a Main Street storefront restaurant at the Arcade. It was owned by one of the Maione’s, they also later opened LeSogliera on Madison Ave., whose brother Angelo owned Emmy’s in the mall and then where Quizno’s is now closed. The Pizza slice special was not only an Emmy but an Oscar and a Tony. I’m surprised I beat our blog’s gourmand, Warren All U Can Eat Buffet, to the punch bowl on this. Mangia Mia!

  3. You know, I was all set to offer a vitriolic response since I really think downtown Bridgeport is a hellhole and agree with the late Paul Newman. However, I would have offered no reasonable solution. You see, my focus is on commerce which returns jobs, all types of jobs, to the central Bridgeport business district. I see none of that occurring anytime soon. Certainly not with the current administration as influenced by Mario Testa and held back by the ineffective Paul Timpanelli. So, I think, who cares about all these great restaurants, theaters and athletic venues? The jobs I seek, the Big 4 accountants, the manufacturers with 50 or so staff, the large financial services centers etc. aren’t ready to invest so long as the Bridgeport Central Business District is perceived as a perpetual shithole. I now think the cultural aspects of urban renewal are a vital component of any aspiration to progress and prosperity. Once Bridgeport is known as a safe place to come for fine food, entertainment and first-rate athletic competitions, I think business owners just might give the town a shot. We all know it isn’t going to happen while the current bunch is running things and it certainly won’t happen if Ernest “T” and Ganim smell up the next election cycle. We have to be smart. We have to elect not just a skilled new mayor but an entire city council who share all of our desires to restore Bridgeport to past prominence.

      1. You’re kidding? Right? Those of us with newly acquired Medicare cards remember fondly an era of prominence providing financial security and wonderful neighborhoods in which to live. That “normal” lifestyle was made possible by the countless number of industrial jobs available for the picking in this town. All of our fathers worked in one or the other. We had nice, albeit modest, homes. We were confident the local police would keep us safe. Our taxes were so-so. But all of our schools were something to be proud of. Bassick, Central, Harding, Bullard Havens all put out a steady stream of well-educated college or trade-prepared youth who returned the favor to the factories and went to work to repeat the cycle. The business community would not have stood for a 70% dropout rate. An educated workforce was essential to maintain a healthy industrial environment. As the McLevy era waned, the politicians and unions got greedy and the lifeblood of our community, the factories, bailed in droves.

        The right person elected this next time can restore this town to the prominence we deserve.

    1. yahooy // Mar 29, 2011 at 8:32 am
      To your posting

      yahooy,
      Yes … and yes to electing council members as well.

      How do you lead without this happening?

  4. yahooy is right on. Most if not all positive changes that have remade the face of Bridgeport’s downtown have occurred through individuals taking more than a little initiative. There’s probably been some resistance from City Hall Annex and Oz The Great And Terrible. You know, that “wizened” old geezer behind the curtain on Madison Avenue. They pushed forward anyway. Now there are some nice restaurants to augment the theater scene that existed.

    Incidentally, Cafe Tavolini was recently featured on a television program. Many of the exterior shots showed the streets of Fairfield. Bridgeport wasn’t pretty enough for the producers.

  5. I guess yahooy missed the Fayerweather Lighthouse and beautiful homes in Black Rock.

    More to his point about jobs reminds me of the lyric that goes. “Nothing going on but the rent. If you want to get with me you better get a J-O-B!”

    As MJ Foster has been saying, It’s about the Jobs, Stupid. That’s why Stamford increased their population by creating jobs and housing that is a net plus not a gross minus.

  6. I didn’t forget them, FTM. Lennie’s post concerns the downtown area. Black Rock and the West End is remaking itself quite nicely. We now have an eclectic variety of restaurants here, from southwestern to Turkish cuisine. Neutral Ground, which took over the old Lady Luck, serves a Cajun/Creole menu and features live entertainment. And I should not fail to mention Port Coffeehouse, the best place around for caffeination and tasty baked goods. The bohemian vibe of the neighborhood is reflected in the different businesses that are located here.

    There’s a lot of progress downtown and more to be made.

  7. I can afford to live somewhere else. I choose to live in Bridgeport. Been through some hard times here and I’m enjoying some good times. This city is the place I call home. What worked in Stamford and Providence Rhode Island, can and ought to work here. There are a handful of well-connected people who are more interested in maintaining the status quo than moving the city forward. It is possible to remove them from their positions of privilege. Public office is not a birthright.

  8. yahooy! You know me! I’m touched.

    My favorite Vinnie STORIES involve reapportioning his state House district so no one lived there–well, no Democratic committee members lived there at any rate. (This made it tougher to organize a primary against Vinnie.) Vinnie told me for The Telegram it was a “statesman’s district.” I said in my Telegram political column the district lines “looked like a pterodactyl at rest.”

    Of course, seeing the appeal letters for checks made me think of all the bounced checks in store windows and particularly the one in the bar down by Fairfield Beach.

    Of course, when it comes to all things Fairfield, and all things Fairfield Beach and Vinnie, we must defer to the outstanding former political columnist of The Bridgeport Post, Mr. John J. Gilmore.

    I’ll shut up for now. I’m getting close to Mr. Grimaldi’s manure pile.

  9. *** The pro-downtown message is positive however it still looks like a ghost town after 6pm, no? No money, no honey means no jobs! Everything else is just continued pipe dreaming during a bad economy & a casino roulette city admin. *** No more bets! ***

  10. Okay OIB readers, here’s a potential opportunity to buy any of Lennie Grimaldi’s books at 20-40% off. I’d like to hear Lennie’s take on this one. Could this mean the downtown Bridgeport bookstore, Rainy Faye, will experience heavy rain of sales receipts? Will the folks of Fairfield cross the “Border” of Bridgeport and help restore downtown Bridgeport to its glory days? yahooy says Rainy Faye will also fade away.

    1. Speedy, thanks for the plug, but Fairfield Borders already owes me for 25 sold books that I’ll probably never see because corporate’s in bankruptcy. But feel free to order here on OIB or Rainy Faye Books beautiful downtown Bridgeport.

      1. Borders has a lousy corporate management policy. The chain has burned through a lot of top-shelf retail management talent by firing district-, regional- and store-level officers whenever the gross receipts fell below a figure arbitrarily set by the home office. The suits never got off their asses and into the field. An MBA does not make a person wise.

  11. Anyone know why Cafe Roma closed? Anything coming soon there? What about Las Vetas? And yes, historic tax credits are key. I just bumped into a developer who is just about to do a renovation of a major downtown building and he was talking about tax credits. And Middle Street near the north downtown historic district, we have shown pictures on the TV show of a lot of open windows there. Surprised to see that. Maybe they were boarded up since then. The old Boys and Girls building is boarded up. What was the plan by the city to take those over by eminent domain?

    At a Downtown Task Force meeting some months ago, there was a lively discussion with developers and city officials on hand, on what this year’s goal might be for near north downtown. Teardrop area.

    But in the end, good eating places won’t lower taxes. And at a recent meeting at Black Rock Library, Mayor Finch’s liaison said there is really not much class-A-rated commercial space in the Bridgeport anyway, areas that are clean, not contaminated. What? Forget pay to play, they ain’t even got a space to go to if companies want to come to town?

    1. Las Vetas closed because the anticipated rush of downtown consumers failed to materialize. A few businesses were banking on Phil Kuchma completing construction of the commercial property down there. It stood there, unfinished, a giant yellow eyesore, for years. Work has resumed but not soon enough for some shopkeepers like Cafe Roma and Las Vetas.

    2. That liaison you mention was Adam Wood. You talk about clueless. If you look up clueless in the dictionary you will find his picture.
      This city under this administration and under the previous administration labeled just about every lot where a factory stood as a brownfield site. It did not matter what the manufacturing was.
      There were never any tests done on most of the properties, just a blanket label. If there are tests that were done, post the results on the city’s web site.
      The downtown taskforce is useless, they have been arguing for the last few years whether they should post signs indicating where the parking garages are located. Still not done. Just a bunch of windbags out for lunch once a month.
      BTW restaurants pay taxes and provide jobs unless you go to a restaurant where you cook your own food and serve yourself.

  12. Mojo’s right about downtown after six o’clock. The sidewalks get rolled up and put away. Main Street east of Fairfield Avenue looks horrendous, like a photograph of Dresden Germany in 1945. All those boarded-up storefronts and stripped facades, trash borne by the winds coming off Long Island Sound. Renovation of those buildings would create jobs. What gives? Who owns those properties and why are they allowing the blight to continue?

      1. John got one year, a “bullet” in prison because he had a better lawyer. Ernie went to prison because he was stupid enough to think he was above the law. All that bullshit about treating defendants differently because of race is just so much bullshit. The punishment usually fits the crime. John Rowland was genuinely remorseful, something that cannot be said for Ernest Newton or Joseph P. Ganim.

    1. Each and every one of us who lives in Bridgeport pays more taxes than the people who live in Darien or Greenwich and we have to live in a shit box. Ask what I can do for Bridgeport? I can identify 5 registered voters who don’t vote and get them to the polls to vote against Mario Testa and Paul Timpanelli. Yeah … that’s what I can do. How about the rest of you?

      1. yahooy,
        Great idea & we all need to think that way. Also if someone new moves into your neighborhood (and they seem approachable), encourage them to register to vote in their new district. We could make this an OIB competition. Whoever gets the most voters can be LG for a month.

    2. Hey, wait a minute, a Kennedy quote? We pull the mask off Jimfox and it’s Bill Finch!!!
      Here’s another classic–

      “Ten people who speak make more noise than Ten thousand who are silent.” Napoleon B.

  13. I do for Bpt: Pay my taxes, and these animals give the money to their political buddies in the form of no-show jobs and then tell me we are broke. Blew a tire in a damn sinkhole today. When will that idiot in charge of potholes do his damn job and get them filled?

  14. What Bridgeport’s downtown needs is a small, clean nuclear device. Half the buildings on Main Street from Fairfield Avenue to Congress Street are owned by the city by eminent domain thanks to Joe Ganim.
    The mechanicals (sewer, electrical, water lines) on Main Street are about 100 years old and failing.
    There are no services in downtown for people who live there such as supermarket, doctors, dentists, clothing, etc.
    Go to New Roc City (New Rochelle, NY) and see what the developer there has done and understand once there was a serious police presence, convenient and affordable parking, along comes Donald Trump (not some local slap-on-your-back developer) and he has high-rise housing built right around the train station. Then along comes the ancillary services and presto!!! A New Roc City.

  15. I am not sure which administration, Ganim, Fabrizi or Finch. No, forget about Finch, this administration does know or do squat took over the Davidson building? How did they do that and allow the former owner to leave the place piled with old fabrics and other junk? Why weren’t they forced to clean it out before they moved to Milford? This is the kind of incompetent BS we the citizens have been forced to live with. It’s time to clean house. I think that yahooy’s suggestion we all get 5 people out to vote and we effectively do that we can then effect change. I for one will do that, plus.

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