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Bridgeport Deadline nears for Davidson’s block

September 4, 2018

The city of Bridgeport has set a Thursday deadline for developers to submit their ideas for the redevelopment of the sprawling Congress Plaza to “draw dollars” in planners’ words to downtown Bridgeport, with plans to complete a selection by December with the goal of construction beginning next year.

The parcel totals 1.7 acres of land across Housatonic Avenue from the Connecticut Superior Court and Juvenile Detention Center, bounded by Main, Congress and Gold streets. The Bridgeport Office of Planning and Economic Development set a separate Friday deadline on bids to build an apartment and retail building on land at Main and Congress currently used by the city’s police department as parking.

The derelict Davidson’s Fabrics building is the lone structure on the site, with the city stating it wants any plan for the “Davidson’s Block” to preserve the brick edifice that dates back to 1900, its design echoing that of the New London Union Station rail terminal in eastern Connecticut.

In a formal request for proposals, the economic development office stated it seeks proposals that will encompass a dynamic design and “add to the emerging character of ... downtown as a regional destination for recreation and entertainment and experiential retail.” The city sees the plaza as an opportunity to increase Bridgeport’s downtown appeal both for permanent residents as well as overnight visitors.

The city is touting the property’s proximity to the downtown Bridgeport train and bus center as a significant draw, and notes ongoing development in the immediate vicinity, including a planned $55 million boutique hotel and theater at the historic Loews-Poli and Majestic Theater buildings by New York City-based Exact Capital.

Other projects include the $25 million conversion of the Jayson & Newfield buildings into more than 100 apartments and ground-level retail; and the $11 million redevelopment of the HSW buildings by Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners that includes 70 apartments and retail space.

The Bridgeport City Council is to get a selection committee’s choice by Oct. 1 for consideration.

The Davidson’s block has been home to a small cross-section of Bridgeport’s manufacturing heritage, according to a 2016 study by the Stratford-based environmental survey firm HRP Associates. A run of saloons and shops made way for a wagon maker, blacksmiths and textiler. Later years saw the arrivals of a boys club, theater, bowling alley and myriad service businesses to include commercial printers and woodworkers.

HRP did not find telltales of significant ground contamination in its survey, but did not rule out the possibility given the nature of some of the businesses that have operated there over time. The Davidson’s Fabrics building contains both asbestos and lead paint that would have to be removed prior to any reuse.

The nearby addition of the courthouse and youth detention center had drawn protests nearly two decades ago near the end of Mayor Joe Ganim’s first tenure in office, with opponents saying the facilities ran against the image Bridgeport hoped to project for its downtown. Ganim’s then-economic development chief Michael Freimuth countered that some two dozen sites had been considered for the courthouse and detention center, but ran into resistance from neighborhood groups and others.

Includes prior reporting by John Burgeson.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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