With the possible sale of the Holiday Inn, is Bridgeport’s hospitality industry dead or just inactive?

BRIDGEPORT — If and when a pending purchase of the downtown Holiday Inn materializes, Connecticut’s largest city will lose its only major hotel to rental housing.

Local developer John Guedes said this week he plans to buy the nearly 40-year-old building and convert most of the 105 rooms into one- and two-bedroom apartments, although 18 suites will be retained for extended stays. . with conference facilities, restaurant and bar.

So, at least temporarily, this will be the very limited status of the hospitality industry in Bridgeport. But for how long ?

“Every major city in Connecticut or anywhere else in the country has multiple hotels for multiple reasons. … Bridgeport needs a minimum of three, the data tells me that,” insists Zulfi Jafri.

Jafri, from Darien, works in hotel acquisition and management. The properties he has been involved with are all out of state, he said, but he has sought to change that and is eyeing Bridgeport in particular. Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration confirmed that Jafri had approached City Hall with some ideas.

“It’s a very early stage discussion right now. Very, very, very early stage,” Jafri said. “I hope to bring some kind of hotel to Bridgeport.”

Whether it’s downtown, where the Holiday Inn has operated since it was built in the mid-1980s, or elsewhere, he didn’t elaborate.

Despite Jafri’s enthusiasm, the fate of the Holiday Inn seems to be an indication that there is no market for one, let alone a trio of hotels here.

While the Trefz family, owners of the Holiday Inn, did not respond to requests for comment, Guedes and other observers said earlier this week that business was losing money, particularly due to the impact of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic on travel and large gatherings. . Guedes said he has been working to buy it since last April.

And there are many other places to stay for travelers in nearby towns.

Still, the Christophs, the father/son development team who for years have been slowly but steadily innovating at the Steelpointe site on the east side between Interstate 95 and the port, said Friday they are still moving forward with long-standing plans for a Hotel.

Since 2015, the Christophs have brought an outdoor Bass Pro retail store, Starbucks coffee shop, marina and seafood restaurant to the long-vacant Steelpointe, a short distance from downtown. And they recently struck a tax deal with the city to build 400 premium apartment units there at market price, with a hotel supposedly in the works.

“Bridgeport is the largest city in the state, with many popular entertainment destinations,” the Christophs said in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media. “The city deserves to have a top-notch hotel for its residents and visitors. We look forward to bringing this convenience to Steelpointe.

The Christophs cited attractions like Beardsley Zoo and the new concert amphitheater which opened last summer. And Zulfi noted Bridgeport’s strategic location along the Interstate and Metro-North rail line. There is also a ferry to Long Island.

The Christophs declined to provide additional details about their plan, including the size and style of their hotel and whether the demise of the Holiday Inn will impact that vision.

In the summer of 2017, Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration believed there was room for at least one more downtown hotel in addition to Steelpointe and the Holiday Inn. That summer, the city announced that New York-based Exact Capital would help Ganim fulfill its 2015 campaign promise to restore the two closed historic downtown theaters – the Majestic and the Poli Palace – and to reopen the neighboring Savoy Hotel with 200 rooms.

Craig Livingston, Exact’s managing partner, said at the time that he didn’t think there would be a glut of hotels. But he was never able to prove whether it was true or not. Exact struggled to secure funding, then the pandemic hit and the Ganim administration quietly dropped the project – or at least Exact Capital.

Ganim’s office and its economic development department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Lodging Association, easily compiled a list of hotels across the state this week that have been or are being converted to apartments. She said her organization frequently responds to calls from entities looking to buy.

“It is a question of looking for alternative uses. There is no business trip to stay at these hotels,” Kozlowski said. “(But) there’s such a demand for housing in the state, no matter what area you’re in. … If the properties are highly leveraged or have high operating costs and there’s has someone ready to buy, you will see hotels change hands.

Asked specifically about the Bridgeport market, Kozlowski thought that, rather than another full-service hotel like the Holiday Inn, it might make sense to open extended-stay or “boutique” facilities — smaller operations, usually non-branded, sometimes located in historic structures – to woo short-term tenants.

“I think that’s sort of the trend we’re seeing,” she said.

She said that if the Christophs, on the other hand, were considering a full-service model with all the traditional bells and whistles, “Some of the data available points to 2023/24, those full-service hotels will be in high demand.”

Dan Onofrio, president of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said he was not an expert on the accommodation industry, but was unsure if Bridgeport could support more than one large hotel.

“I suspect with a head there (Steelpointe) it would probably cover most of the city’s needs,” Onofrio said.

But then he noted plans for the state to take over or buy Bridgeport Municipal Airport just across the border in Stratford and restore regular commercial passenger service there. It currently caters to business, charter and private flights.

“Perhaps with the evolution of commercial travel to and from Sikorsky (airport) – if that were to evolve – it might make sense to have other options,” Onofrio said.

The impending loss of the Holiday Inn has generally been taken on board by the downtown community and business leaders like Onofrio who, as Kozlowski noted, recognize that there is greater demand for housing right now. than hotel rooms.

“Downtown needs this density (of housing),” Onofrio said. “Having people living downtown is a huge win.”

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