New amphitheater plan includes tickets for city officials
By BRIAN LOCKHART
Oct. 30, 2017
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — Given Live Nation's involvement, the amphitheater envisioned for the city's empty minor league baseball park could make Bridgeport one of the hottest concert destinations in Connecticut — and even the Northeast.
"We intend to build an amphitheater that will put Bridgeport on the concert map," Jim Koplik, Live Nation's regional president, boasted this week.
And language in the city's contract with developer Howard Saffan — Live Nation is his partner — heading to the City Council for a Nov. 6 vote would seem to be a boon for music-loving elected officials, their families and pals.
"The city shall be entitled to the exclusive use of one of the 20 sky boxes at the facility ... and shall be entitled to 20 complimentary tickets for general seating to each event at no cost," reads the deal, scheduled for a public hearing Monday.
Those same set-asides were in place at the ballpark, which for the past 20 years was occupied by the Bridgeport Bluefish Atlantic League, and also at the arena next door, home to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers hockey team and host to the occasional big name indoor concert and other sports and non-athletic events.
Saffan and Koplik are pitching the amphitheater as a magnet for big name talent that will play a minimum of 20 concerts annually. So the city's skybox and free tickets at the amphitheater could potentially draw a lot more interest than similar perks at the arena or ballpark have.
"It sounds as if there is planned free entertainment for City Hall and the City Council for the most part and others that might have political and/or professional interests with said entities," said Jeff Kohut, a former member of the city's ethics commission.
Kohut, while recognizing the importance of having some public officials attend big events, has long been critical of what he sees as ethically questionable freebies. Those have included the weekend passes the council and mayor's office received for the popular Gathering of the Vibes summer music festival — tickets city officials in the past argued were necessary to monitor the event and perform their public duties.
Rowena White, communications director for Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim, said in an email that the city retains the skyboxes and tickets because the arena, ballpark and amphitheater are all owned by Bridgeport.
So who in City Hall will have access to free concerts at the amphitheater if it opens on time in May 2019?
"Tickets are available on a first come, first serve basis and are also provided to local community organizations, nonprofits and charities as available and/or appropriate," White wrote.
The contract also allows the city to "unilaterally sell, assign or sublease its skybox."
White noted other language in the amphitheater contract specifying the 20 free tickets are "subject to the performer or a co-promoter other than Live Nation making such available."
Outgoing Councilman Anthony Paoletto and a guest sat in the city's arena skybox for the Twenty One Pilots concert in January. He said he approached the city's Chief Administrative Officer — sort of the mayor's right hand.
"From what I understand, there's the skybox and also just odd tickets if the place doesn't sell out all over the arena," Paoletto said. Paoletto recalled being warned that if he saw Twenty One Pilots he would not be able to take advantage of the city's arena perks for a while afterward "to try to be fair and spread it around."
And, Paoletto added, the skybox was also provided that same night to some nonprofits.
Terry O'Connor, executive director of the Cardinal Shehan Center, confirmed his non-profit has in the past been provided tickets to hand out to children or given the opportunity to auction off seats in the city's skyboxes.
"I would hope the amphitheater, if approved, that they'd make that available too from time to time," O'Connor said.
Councilwoman Jeanette Herron, whose contracts committee this week voted for the deal with Saffan, has taken advantage of the city's free tickets to the arena, both personally and for neighborhood families or community groups.
"A lot of us have done it for groups," Herron said. "I have constituents who say, 'I know this show is coming' and a lot can't afford it — even the cheaper tickets."
Herron said she sought tickets for herself and her 10-year-old grandson to watch a monster truck show at the arena.
The situation is different in Hartford, which has several big venues — the XL Center arena, the XFINITY amphitheater and the just-opened Yard Goats baseball stadium. According Hartford, city officials do not have access to free tickets or skyboxes at the first two venues.
A skybox had been negotiated by prior Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra at the baseball stadium, but his successor, Mayor Luke Bronin, declined it. Instead the Yard Goats make 250 free tickets available to city employees for one specific game. This season those tickets were offered through a lottery.
Kohut questioned whether the average rank-and-file Bridgeport city worker will be able to take advantage of Bridgeport City Hall's free access to future amphitheater concerts.
"I kind of doubt it would be somebody at the laborer's level that would be considered," he said. "These are going to be used as perks as some sort, for any number of reasons we can speculate about."
Information from: Connecticut Post, http://www.connpost.com