AP NEWS

Bridgeport City Council members back Guedes’ downtown housing

March 1, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Local developer John Guedes’ plans to build 92 market-rate downtown apartments and ground-level retail space on currently city-owned property is just the beginning.

“My ultimate goal is to put together a minimum of 350 units, residential,” Guedes told a pair of City Council committees Wednesday before members voted to approve the sale of the three parcels on Congress and Main streets. “This is the first step of that vision.”

Councilwoman Jeanette Herron, a co chairman of the contracts committee, wondered whether the city was too focused on increasing the housing stock and not providing enough amenities, like a grocery store.

Ripka’s, the market and cafe that, when it opened in mid-2013, was heralded as a sign the downtown was thriving, closed at the end of that year.

“We need residential,” Herron said. “But how are we developing downtown with business?”

“The market failed because there weren’t enough mouths,” William Coleman, the city’s deputy director of economic development, told the contracts and economic development committees. Downtown needs more residents, he said.

“We want the young professionals, the empty-nesters,” Guedes added later. “You’re not going to create commercial or retail areas without having people that will stay downtown.”

Tax-break trade-off

Guedes’ family-operated, Noble Avenue-based company, Primrose, was selected last September by Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration to develop the lots at 192 and 199 Congress St. and 1269 Main St. Guedes had actually approached City Hall a few months earlier, prompting the decision to issue a request for proposals. Primrose and other firms responded, with Guedes’ $17 million plan winning out.

It has been dubbed Congress Plaza Commons by the city.

Coleman on Wednesday said some of the land in question has been owned by Bridgeport since 1975 — “and since 1975 they have produced zero in taxes,” he told the council.

Guedes is to pay $575,000, the appraised value of the three lots, and receive what Coleman called “ a very modest” tax incentive.

Under that deal, each of the 92 units is to be initially be taxed $1,500, rather than the full rate of $4,200. Primrose’s tax bill will be $23,583 for the first three years. It will then increase to $138,000 for four years, rise to $140,760 and $143,575, and by year 10, the developer must pay the full taxes — $146,447.

That decade worth of revenue, combined with $180,000 in building and permit fees, adds up to over $1.2 million.

“Compared to nothing, that’s going on there, it’s an improvement,” Coleman said.

“This is a pretty big break,” said Councilman Kyle Langan.

Who will build it?

Guedes, who has recently been building in downtown Shelton, said Bridgeport needs to offer tax incentives because of the city’s high tax rate, which is over 54 mills, combined with modest rents.

“The difference between developing in Shelton and Bridgeport is Shelton has a 21-mill rate (and) downtown Shelton is still 20 percent higher in rents than Bridgeport,” Guedes said.

“I commend you guys because you’re investing,” Herron said. “Thank you for that.”

Guedes’ tax breaks mark the second time the Ganim administration has brokered a deal since a divided council in late 2017 relinquished its authority to vote on those incentives. Councilman Ernie Newton was a critic of that decision, but on Wednesday said he was satisfied with having developers and city staff thoroughly explain the tax incentives.

Asked if Congress Plaza Commons will be union built, Guedes said “We need to bring these projects in at the best price we can. ... Union or nonunion, you’re welcome to bid (on the subcontracting).”

That satisfied some council members like Newton who have been pressuring developers to hire local, minority-owned help. But Langan worried that non-union workers would receive less on-the-job protection and benefits.

Councilman Michael DeFilippo told Langan builders have federal oversight.

“It’s called OSHA,” DeFilippo said, referring to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Downtown developer Phil Kuchma, who has revitalized much of Fairfield Avenue, was present Wednesday and urged the council to support Congress Plaza Commons. He said most recent downtown developments have been renovations of old structures, and that can actually hurt the perception of the area.

“There hasn’t been a new building built in downtown in four years,” Kuchma said. “We need another new building built.”