Reaching a crossroads
STAMFORD — While the city ended its traditional Fourth of July fireworks display this year to save money, there was some sparkle lighting up the sky last week, but with a catch: It was a private spectacle with the best views cordoned off from the public.
The show was reserved for employees of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, which rented part of the Harbor Point neighborhood for the private party that featured at least one carnival ride.
The party appears to have been held on a road still deemed private under the decade-old, tax-increment financing (TIF) deal between the city and developer Building and Land Technology.
The city did not issue a permit for the party’s road closures, said Frank Fedeli, supervisor of Stamford’s Cashiering & Permitting Department. Bridgewater did secure a permit for the fireworks.
No city officials could confirm last week whether Harbor Point Road — which was closed for two blocks between restaurants Sign of the Whale and Fortina for the Tuesday night party — is private.
Libby Carlson, special assistant to Mayor David Martin, said the city has a list outlining what roads are private and public. Carlson said that information resides with City Engineer Louis Casolo.
Casolo did not respond to an email seeking the information. City police officers were assigned extra-duty jobs to work the event, but a department official declined to comment.
BLT Chief Operating Officer Ted Ferrarone said in an email there is a distinction between roads like Washington Boulevard and Atlantic Street, and ones classified as “district streets.” He said these are ”new roads that were built as part of the Harbor Point project.”
“All are public once completed,” Ferrarone said. “District streets are occasionally closed for large events such as the Harbor Point Arts Festival, Harborfest, Harbor Point Octoberfest, or the Boys and Girls Club 5K.”
However, the festivals Ferrarone listed, unlike the hedge-fund’s party, are open to the public although some require tickets or registration.
In the nearly 800-page TIF agreement, an engineering report says “streets (curb to curb)” will be owned by the city or the district, but maintained by the city. No ownership timeline could be found.
A Bridgewater spokeswoman said the Harbor Point Road closure was for “a small, private display” for the Westport-based money manager of some $160 billion.
“This year, our annual summer celebration for employees, their families and their children included a relatively small fireworks display,” a company statement read. “In an effort to minimize any disruption stemming from the event and to ensure safety, we worked closely with the fire department, police department, harbor master and local businesses.”
The private function highlights the confusion many longtime South End residents say exists regarding the roads within the Harbor Point development.
Sue Halpern, vice president of the South End’s Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, said she stumbled upon the fireworks display, but was turned away. A Stamford Advocate reporter was also denied access and told it was a private event.
Halpern, along with other South End residents and civic leaders, said they believed Harbor Point Road was public.
“As I far as I know, roads down there are supposed to be public,” said city Rep. Terry Adams, who represents the South End. “I don’t know how that could be private, the city owns the 30 feet from the water and the roads are from TIF money.”
Adams, president of the NRZ, said he believed the roads become public after 10 years.
The confusion whether the Harbor Point roads are private also surfaced earlier this year.
BLT installed parking signs this spring in front of its newly built NV apartment complex on Commons Park North. The signs said the spots were reserved for future residents.
Stamford officials previously scolded the developer for similar signs installed several years ago on Washington Boulevard, a city street.
But the new signs in front of NV were not on a city street. Commons Park North and South are private, according to city Transportation Bureau Chief Jim Travers. But he said he is unsure how long the two will remain private.
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