Development deal to renovate downtown Bridgeport theaters is dead


BRIDGEPORT – When he announced in 2017 that New York-based Exact Capital would renovate a pair of historic but neglected downtown theaters and an adjacent hotel, as well as 10- and 18-story residential buildings, Mayor Joe Ganim made sure the whole state knew.

Ganim that same year launched his failed gubernatorial bid and often trumpeted what he called “the most exciting development project in Bridgeport and, dare I say, anywhere in Connecticut” during the election campaign.

In contrast, this year, this agreement, which had experienced financial difficulties before the COVID-19 pandemic, was quietly killed without even members of city council knowing it.

Planning and Economic Development Director Thomas Gill confirmed in an interview Thursday that following what he said were several unsuccessful efforts to contact Exact Capital, his office and the city’s legal department have decided to withdraw, leaving the future of the Majestic and the Poli Palace closed. buildings again in limbo.

“We haven’t heard from him during COVID,” Gill said of Craig Livingston, managing partner of Exact. “So I sent her a letter in early May that basically sought an update on the status of her business and how she might have been affected by COVID, inquiring about her financial stability and her ability to continue.”

“We never heard anything from him,” Gill continued. “We had sent him letters in various ways and we had no response at all.”

So the city sent a final letter advising Exact Capital that, under the terms, it was terminating the contract that the council approved in September 2017 and moving on.

“We could only assume he was abandoning the project,” said Gill. “To date, we haven’t heard from him at all. We assume that he is not going to call us or at this point challenge us in some way and formulate potential strategies relating to theaters.

He expects there will be interest from other developers given the revitalization efforts underway in this same section of downtown.

Hearst Connecticut Media submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the letters to Exact Capital. The company did not return a request for comment sent via its website and could not be reached via a handful of phone numbers. Exact and Livingston were mentioned in a New York Times article in May on black developers and the subject of a press release released by PR Newswire this month.

City Councilor Jorge Cruz, whose neighborhood includes downtown, said this week he was unaware the deal with Exact had officially ended until he was contacted by Hearst and then contacted directly Gill.

“Looks like there’s been a falling out,” said Cruz, who was elected in 2019 and therefore did not vote on the 2017 pact with Exact. “They (the Ganim administration) are just going to move on and see if another developer is interested.”

Recalling the big press event that the Mayor and Livingston hosted outside theaters in June 2017 – attendees included not only the mayor’s senior advisers, but even the fire and police chiefs – Cruz said: ” The public will just lose faith in the administration, in any administration, if they go there with photo ops. People all get happy, a little bit excited, and then nothing happens. “

Ganim, however, had great success with another project announced later this summer – the transformation of the former minor league baseball park, also downtown, into a concert amphitheater. After two years of delay, this effort, led by local developer Howard Saffan and concert promoter Live Nation, opened on July 28 and has just completed its inaugural season.

Saffan and Live Nation are now not only planning next year’s shows, but this month the board approved the launch of an annual summer music festival at Seaside Park next September.

There were early signs that theater rehabilitation was in trouble when Exact missed the December 2018 funding deadline with the city.

“With historic types of projects, funding them is extremely difficult. There are so many different aspects to the capital pile. It’s like a puzzle, ”Gill said at the time. “But they (Correct) pursued the capital aggressively. They are convinced that they can get it.

By that time, Ganim had lost the 2018 Democratic governor’s primary to Ned Lamont and turned to his re-election in 2019. In April 2019, Livingston was the guest of the mayor’s annual state address. of the city, during which Ganim reassured the public. , “Today, I am happy and able to report that the developer has made substantial progress … in securing funding.”

Livingston at the time declined to comment.

Last November, months after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Gill’s office briefed board members on various ongoing projects, informing them that although Livingston had tried but failed to “get the financing before the crisis hits, ”Exact was working to remove asbestos from inside theaters. .

“About $ 100,000 of work has been done,” Gill said Thursday.

The President of the Council, Aidee Nieves, was, like Cruz, frustrated to learn what happened with Exact. Nieves was a board member in 2017, but not its head at the time, and voted to move forward with the developer. After the company missed its funding deadline in late 2018, Nieves publicly called on Livingston to return to Bridgeport and brief the board, but that never happened.

“Whoever is next, the schedule will be tough,” Nieves said this week of Exact Capital’s successor. “They’re going to have to come with their finances in place. We’re not going to wait for another “we’re working on funding” project. I can’t do this anymore. Either you have the money or you don’t.

City Councilor Scott Burns expressed concern about the ongoing deterioration at the Majestic and Poli Palace, recalling an April 2017 tour of structures run by Ganim to promote the search for a developer. Burns in 2017 voted against the deal with Exact.

“It’s crazy what’s in there, and it hasn’t been more recent in the past four years,” Burns said. “It was really a difficult project.”

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