The Argument For Revitalizing Downtown’s Majestic Theaters

Majestic external
The theaters back in the day circa 1937.

For many decades a south-bound drive to Downtown Bridgeport via the Route 8 Connector on Main Street painted a gloomy picture in a blighted strip. Not anymore.

In recent years renovations, new housing developments, razed buildings have transitioned to a cleaner landscape from the Bull’s Head area to the city’s heralded 6,000-seat amphitheater, except for one key area at Main and Congress Street, the site of the long-languishing Poli and Majestic theaters and adjoining Savoy Hotel, once a magnet for New York’s theater and pageantry.

On November 4 the theaters will mark 100 years since the opening.

Sports and entertainment entrepreneur Howard Saffan, visionary behind The Amp, sees the theaters as a catalyst for urban renewal. Saffan has emerged as a Barnumesque figure in Bridgeport with The Amp’s Big Top to prove it.

CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart shares more:

Developer Howard Saffan has confirmed he is willing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to reviving the historic Majestic and Poli Palace theaters downtown.

“At the appropriate time we would look at partnering with the city in transforming the theaters back to their original beauty,” Saffan said in an interview. “We will strongly consider submitting a proposal.”

“We” being himself and concert promoting giant Live Nation, widely praised for turning the municipally-owned minor league baseball park on the harbor into a concert amphitheater that, since opening last summer, has attracted major musical acts from various genres. The same partners are later this month bringing other big names to town as part of the first Sound on Sound music festival at Seaside Park.

Saffan made his comments following Hearst Media’s online publication earlier Thursday of a letter he wrote rebutting columnist Hugh Bailey’s call to demolish the 100-year-old Majestic and Poli Palace. Having owned the buildings for over three decades, city officials have tried and so far failed to renovate and re-open those venues through similar private/public partnerships that resulted in the amphitheater.

Saffan in his letter insisted it can and should be done and officials need to persevere. He did not, however, write that he had an interest in being directly engaged in that effort.

Full story here.



  1. It’s the same story.
    Just as Steel Pointe’s developers would not proceed without a tax break, Saffen and Live Nation won’t proceed without government assistance. The Amp didn’t happen without major public support and The Majestic won’t get refurbished without it, either.
    Whatever happened to full-throttle Capitalism?

    1. I’m excited by this idea. And I mean “idea.” It’s not even a proposal yet. It’s an initial conversation.

      As for public-private partnerships, it’s the way that developments in cities and towns have gotten done since the 1970s. Pure capitalism is a pipe dream in public facility financing.

  2. Saffan said. “It’s just incredible to think anybody would think about tearing down 1923 theaters.”
    Saffan just tore down a ballpark that was 22 years old, why hesitate demolishing a theater built in 1923?
    Rock N Roll never forgets.

    1. Paul, Saffan didn’t tear down the vacant ballpark that was drawing a few hundred per game versus the many concert sellouts of today in a 6,000-seat facility. He repurposed the most integral parts of the ballpark such as dug outs, seats, suites, concessions, concourses. It was a renovation, not a tear down.

      1. You cannot repurpose or renovate real estate without demolishing what is already there!
        Saffan is a no-risk entrepreneur and a visionary with poor eyesight.
        He’d have The Rolling Stones open for Loverboy.

        1. Actually, Loverboy is opening for Styx and REO Speedwagon on Friday. Gonna be a sellout. Everybody’s working for the weekend…
          You want a piece of my heart?
          You better start from the start
          You want to be in the show?
          C’mon baby, let’s go

  3. “…Paul, Saffan didn’t tear down the vacant ballpark that was drawing a few hundred per game versus the many concert sellouts of today in a 6,000-seat facility….”

    “Many sellouts!” List them — as well as the net $gain$ to the City/Taxpayers from each…

    And why will this “international concert nexus” concept — publicly financed — succeed when the previous Ganim arena-ballpark “vision” (embraced by him after the conceiving “visionaries” were assured that their fractional investment was “covered,” in any event…)?!

    Wait until the Fed-concocted recession hits this already depressed state and city and the Bridgeport economic implosion proceeds in earnest…

    Ganim II picked up where Ganim I left off — with an even better propaganda machine selling his ‘losses” as
    “profits” to the voting public. Wait until the M & T operation relocates to Stamford or Hartford and what’s left of UB stands empty around Paier College… And what about the idiotic, short-sighted “fire sale” of our Ganim II, failed airport?! (For a price that is about 5% of what that land is worth and just happens to neatly cover the City’s $end$ of Mr. Saffron’s off-key, concert-venue gamble…)

    Went for a ride around the city the other day… Never saw more empty store fronts or vacant lots… And the state of public safety in our city(!)…

    Yeah. The world is going to flock to Bridgeport — the place without a hotel! — to attend concerts by second-string/geriatric bands just so they can travel for a half hour to get a meal and something to drink after the concert (during which, hopefully their car wasn’t stolen or broken into…).

    Uh huh…

    1. Jeff, I appreciate your critiques a lot.

      But your comment about hotels is off base, in my view. My rebuttal is Brooklyn, N.Y. This borough with 2.4 million people is so large that on its own, it would be the third largest city in the USA.

      And for many years, it did not have a hotel.

      Then hotels and offices and more poured into Brooklyn from Manhattan. Brooklyn, a large place once bereft of hotels, became a winner.

      Things can change.

  4. Lennie, that blind bat doesn’t see it.

    To be fair though, while the Amp is a unique entertainment venue destination it is very different from a minor league baseball venue like the ballpark. Its success is always going to be based on the shows bucked.

    My guess, with a global booking partner of Live nation a newly restored 20th century grand Palace/Majestic, would be attractive to all parties, the Port, state, and operators. Unless you don’t mind cutting the baby in half (the Port) of something positive because you are on the other side of the dugout. With is very common in Port Politics.

    How can it not be positive for the Port to have a historic 20th-century grand Palace/Majestic restored to its glory? How can it not be uniquely attractive to theater goes.?

    That being said, I can’t speak on it overtaking NY broadway. I can’t even speak on that type of entertainment, but I did find it somewhat interesting, Saffan mentioned New Haven and Hartford along with New York City, and Broadway for people to see their favorite musical plays. Yet no mention of Waterbury’s renovated Palace Theater?

    However, Saffan also said, “The opportunities are endless.” That may be an exaggeration, the Majestic Theater is not space 🙂 It is not limited to plays. With Live Nation, success will always remain on the booking and maintenance of the venue, as well as the city as a whole as a friendly, safe place to live or visit for your entertainment needs.

    P.S just remember people when you see and hear/support developments that using up the city’s finite precious waterfront people to be a junkyard and storage, question and reflect on why you keep thinking the Port is just another shit hole city?

  5. Final point, there has to be a long game here with that section of downtown than just a renovated Theater. Parking will have to be addressed. You have some new construction across the street. Empty lots all around.

    I would build a decent size parking garage at the ballpark behind the BFD headquarters to service that area’s parking needs. With parking out the way, you can focus on larger development without the need to focus on the need for it. JS

    Teh parking garage would/could be like the field of dreams. Peace out play nice 🙂

  6. I’m literally amazed that an entire article of “hope” was written off Howard Saffron being asked one question “Are you interested” . The man has no plan, no team, and most importantly no money. He simply said, hell yeah I would be interested. (Followed up by, I’ll build it with the $100M you just asked the state, and you know what, I’ll even run it for you………What a risk taker?)

    He is a tenant of the city of Bridgeport and owes a shit load of money based on the touted attendance numbers in rent. I’m happy the amphitheater is an early success but NEVER forget it will take 33 years to pay the taxpayers back $12,000,000 with zero interest at the current pace. It’s the cost of public/private partnership, which I’m typically in favor of. This is the guy who estimated a $50M economic impact annually downtown yet just 2 weeks ago I attended a meeting regarding the feedback from downtown merchants, the “AMP” has had minimal economic impact on their businesses. This is the guy who only spent $90,000 with local minority contractors, when he was obligated to spend just over $2M per the city ordinance. Just sharing facts.

    BTW as a business owner downtown, losing the Holiday Inn has had a MAJOR economic impact at the registers downtown for anyone keeping score.

      1. Yes, let’s keep score. What info, in data form do you want to see from the City, timely, regularly, within a format perhaps that speaks to public safety, taxpayer paid debt annually for ventures that went into action and bearing fruit (sour or sweet), and satisfaction of downtown/neighborhood businesspersons with actual development results, as but three examples. After all, the practice by the “local team” of employees and managers costs those who live here extended patience, and seeing many of our younger and better workers, professionals, and managers go elsewhere for employment opportunities that are fairly supported and appreciated.
        How many rbi’s would you credit the leadership with? What do walks “away from interest in a deal” do to your pitching staff? What story are they telling? Time will tell.

    1. A fact I would like to know is how much is a “shit load” of money the city took in over the past two years.

      At 3$ a ticket the money can greatly change on the total attendance at the Amp.

      However, you are right, some of these public/private partnerships generally lower the risk to private entities with low rewards for the public. One of the main reasons people get into/donate/volunteer in politics. They say it’s because they care about the community and/or God called on them to serve, But in reality, it’s about, somewhat power, mostly though it’s about the endless shit load of money the government takes in on taxes and spends/gives away each budgetary year. 🤣

      That being said, I can’t see a private entity investing 100 million, which seems like a hell of a lot of money to restore what is basically an open space. But that may be government spending at its best. 🙂

      Even at 50 million, I can’t see a private entity investing in restoring historic theaters.

      The state/city will have to step up in some way. Unless someone comes along with deep, deep, pockets. 🙂

      To be fair, this article of “hope” that was written off of Howard Saffron being asked one question “Are you interested” piggies backed off of another article about it being time to demolish the theaters. That article problem piggie backed off of the article of Ganim’s request of 100 million dollars from the state to renovate the theaters.

      At some point, some things got to give. When who knows? It would be nice to see some movement on the building. There is new construction across the street. That being said, the mayoral race is right around the corner and this could be just more hoopla like Joe’s comeback to the race and theaters coming back to life. 🙂

      That being said, you are right about an absurd amount spent in the 2015 mayoral primary. But it was a historic, electrifying race though. 🙂

  7. Doug: It is hard to compare NYC/Brooklyn to Bridgeport — the scale, and connection to NYC as an integral, interrelated part of that whole (NYC), defy using it for comparison to a small city that not so long ago had several hotels. (Point of fact: We still have the Sunnyside Inn on Reservoir Avenue — where you can get a nap, a shower, a fix, a f%$^, and even get shot, during any given, pay-by-the-hour stay… And then grab a few home-repair items and ethnic groceries just across the street before returning home…)

    Bridgeport is not coming back on entertainment. Entertainment complements general prosperity in small cities that were born of and defined by manufacturing and the scars and character that are imparted therein.

    “Entertainment cities,” (e.g., Las Vegas) are born of entertainment and are planned/groomed to be defined and sustained by such (Otherwise, places such as NYC develop major entertainment aspects just because of critical population mass and related intellectual/cultural assets…). (And it should be noted that Las Vegas, in recent decades, has taken major steps to diversity their economy and have gotten into manufacturing and tech in a major way…)

    Bridgeport could have rebuilt on its manufacturing assets — land/transportation/workforce — but that has all been undermined by scheming regional and profiteering/opportunistic entities — such as our present mayor and his “partners” — who have no qualms about exploiting Bridgeport taxpayers in risky/contraindicated business (entertainment) ventures.

    Bridgeport couldn’t sustain a minor league baseball presence, despite providing huge facilities’ subsidies and tacit guarantees for backup of capital for the original investors… The same scenario is being repeated for the “music mecca” schemers… Bridgeport, in its present state, will never sustain any viable entertainment sector. It takes a fully, stably employed, population earning living wages to allow for a viable entertainment sector in a working-class municipality such as Bridgeport — this provides both a customer base and necessary “visitor-friendly” environment for such a sector.

    Robert — I’m not being negative; I’m just being realistic.

    Selling off our assets and risking taxpayer money on poorly considered ventures isn’t not how a city is rebuilt — it is how a city is deconstructed. We presently have city leadership that is conducting a “fire sale “of city assets, in the context of a taxpayer-money giveaway, in city deconstruction program — all with a hand-washing/tacit blessing of the Governor’s Office… It is sickening and distressing, and we can only hope that the process (and maybe even the players) is somehow arrested before we are truly beyond the point of no-return…

    1. I agree to some degree, but the reality is the airport, according to JML was never in the asset column on Port’s books. It has been in the liability column, that benefited others in one form or another. It could have been and should have been leased out with a return. But you can’t call something that for decades cost the city tax base $500, 000 a year an asset.

      That being said. government be it state or local, is and never has been in the business of making money privately. Its business model is based on the taxation of private/earned money. Most public-private spending is just some of that taxpayers’ money going back into private ventures for profit, in which they can generate some taxes in various ways, along with jobs that repeat the taxation process, like any other private business and employee/employer who pays taxes. Not much different than spending money on so-called non-profits or businesses that provide services to/for government operations and functionality.

      Bridgeport/state couldn’t have rebuilt its manufacturing assets because the government doesn’t manufacture anything, other than taxation, that is their thing. 🙂

      If anything the government can invest/asses in private manufacturing in the same way they would invest/asses in private the entertainment industry. It is the flip side of the same coin in that regard.

      In fact, some entertainment businesses can have a greater reward because the city can get a cut of the action. But as I said they tend to get low /minimum returns for that investment. You will never see a city get a percentage of something manufactured as it gets per ticket sold at the Amp.

      It would seem the issue you have is more about the type of rebuilding for the Port than the governmental investments/taxpayer funding. What needs to be understood is teh Port has been in deconstruction mode for some time, decades, with its manufacturing base. The Port rebuilding needs to be anchored on entertainment/hospitality, not manufacturing, those days are gone and it shouldn’t be a competing thought with entertainment/hospitality rebuilding. So when you hear about a so-called (manufacturing base) junkyard/storage for a project that benefits other states on the Port’s limited waterfront you need to be realistic about who, how, and what is deconstructing or debasing the rebuilding of this once manufacturing city. JS

      Think about it. 🙂

  8. Robert: The airport cannot help but be counted as an “asset” — albeit a neglected and abused asset… How can one square mile of property in the heart of Fairfield County, on the LIS, zoned/officially-designated for air-transportation use (and related/compatible uses) not be an “asset”?! Only the worst managed city in the world could turn such an asset into something describable as other than such…

    1. I agree, but how good is an asset if it going to cost the city $500, 000 annually? As I said, it never should have been. To my understanding, CTpost. The same leasing companies signed a deal at the very least no cost the city this time around, show they were getting over, at teh taxpayer’s expenses on the lease for decades. Outside of the potential benefit, (money to be made on a better ran operation) A viable airport for the Port remains the same no matter who owns it.

      For Chris Sakes teh man who was running it, or should I say make sure the scheme ran smoothly 🙂 Now, I believe, he now suing the Bridgeport Diocese over the proposed two-year school because he said it will depress property he owns nearby, based on traffic. 🙂 Notwithstanding the site is already used for similar use, it’s on the busiest street/route leading in and out, a city school already closed down that the property neighbors, and not to mention teh Bridgeport Port Hospital on the back side of the property.

      You also have Moses of the people jumping on the bandwagon claiming the community needs to have a say. What’s to say? Outside of a rundown burnt-out abandon builder or crack house what is to say about a school by the community? I believe is already functioning as a school. 🙂

      Teh same can be said for the Zoo. Professionals in the industry will have far better success in operation and growth. You are right in some ways but the government is structurally not sound to run businesses Especially in a democracy where no one is really accountable outside getting reelected, people come and go. Success and profitability ultimately determine the continuous operation. If you run/own a business and your enterprise doesn’t many enough money to operate itself, you go out of business. The government doesn’t operate like that., It raises taxes ( revenue) cuts services and hires (reelect) someone new. 🙂 JS


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