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Council President wants briefing from theaters developer

December 31, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — When Craig Livingston and other executives with New York City-based Exact Capital were eager to boast about their ambitious plans for the downtown — renovating a pair of historic theaters and building an 18-story residential tower — they participated in a press conference.

“If you’re gonna do it, do it big,” Livingston, Exact’s managing partner, said last June while at the long-shuttered Majestic and Poli Palace theaters. “Eighteen stories is not really such a big building where we come from.”

A year and a half later, Exact has missed its city-imposed deadline to come up with $56 million in financing. Now City Council President Aidee Nieves would like Livingston to return to the city this month to update her and her colleagues on the situation and Exact’s timeline.

“I think it would be in a good faith effort for the developer to be there and not just hear it from the Office of Planning and Economic Development,” Nieves said.

She noted that Mayor Joe Ganim’s redevelopment deal with Exact was approved by a previous City Council. Some council members changed following the 2017 municipal election and have not met Livingston and his team.

“These are new council members,” Nieves said. “So it would be best (for Exact) to put their best foot forward on this (and) be present.”

Livingston has not responded to repeated requests for comment from Hearst Connecticut Media. Sources had said Exact executives were in town to meet privately with Ganim and other city officials in mid-December.

Exact had until Dec. 27 to come up with $56 million for the first phase — renovating the Majestic, Poli and the Savoy Hotel — of its five-phase, $400 million plan. The residential towers were to be built later.

Economic Development Director Thomas Gill last Thursday said the theaters project “is alive” but acknowledged Exact was facing some challenges coming up with the money. Under the land disposition agreement the council approved in 2017, Gill said, the Ganim administration has the ability to unilaterally extend the deadline.

“We’ll give them 30 days and look at it again,” Gill said. He also said his staff would provide an update to the council.

Nieves said that economic development staff will be briefing council members — most likely the economic development committee — on Exact and on the extension. The deal with Exact was approved by the contracts committee, then the full council.

Nieves noted that the theaters deal “was something that was publicized quite a bit by the Office of Planning and Economic Development and the administration. We want to make sure within the 30 days this developer’s going to be on track, moving forward.”

Ganim, who is seeking re-election this year, during his 2015 campaign for mayor had said he would prioritize salvaging the Majestic and Poli Palace. The deal with Exact was struck when Ganim was campaigning unsuccessfully for governor, and the mayor hailed it as “the most exciting urban development project anywhere in this state.”

But, Nieves said, she and her colleagues are focused on other promises — that Exact would hire locally. In fact Ganim was criticized by some in organized labor for not insisting the land disposition agreement require that Exact hire union workers.

But Livingston, who is black, and some on the council, had argued that the ability to hire non-union workers would free Exact up to employ more Bridgeport residents, particularly minorities.

“This is a point of pride for us — something we want to do,” Livingston had told council members in July 2017, adding “most of what we build is non-union.”

In mid-April 2018, the city and Exact held a job fair to promote the planned work on Bridgeport’s theaters and the potential opportunities for local and minority contractors.

“That was the promise of this project,” Nieves said. “Putting local people to work. Somebody’s got to deliver. And the frustration for some council members is we make announcements and we’re back-pedaling because it’s not happening. ... Right now there are people who have no faith in the project happening.”

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