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Bridgeport officials eye future of East End transformation

April 7, 2019

With almost $16 million in projects already in motion, the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Develop is starting to set the stage for future projects in the East End that could spruce up the long-neglected area.

OPED sought permission from council members last month to acquire nine plots of land — most along the Stratford Avenue corridor — aligning with a 2005 plan of action from East End NRZ which spawned the development of the Civic Block which is already under way.

Tom Gill, director of OPED, said the city is hoping to expand “through acquisitions or other means” into land it can use to support housing “that would complement the development that is going on in the Civic Block.”

Along with standalone commercial and retail development, the 2005 plan included several housing options, including mixed-use projects that featured ground-level storefronts and upper level apartment units.

If the land under consideration is acquired, OPED Deputy Director Bill Coleman said, the city would look at bringing dozens of apartment units to the area and improve traffic flow around the Civic Block, especially improving access to the corridor from Sixth Street and Newfield Avenue.

Delayed approval

While the intent of the land acquisition is focused on transforming the East End, representatives from the neighborhood said they want the city to consider the property owners first before they make their move.

If approved, OPED’s resolution would give the city authority to obtain the land through sale, foreclosure or eminent domain, which struck a dischord with city council members from the area.

“We wanted to give (landlords) a little more time to talk with the city,” said councilman Ernie Newton, who alongside Eneida Martinez represents the East End.

During the council meeting, Martinez proposed a 90-day delay of vote for city administrators and property owners to negotiate for the land. The council unanimously voted to table the resolution for the time.

According to Gill, the city has been in talks with property owners already and will continue until the deadline.

“We will wait to see what happens at the end of the 90 days,” he said.

Continued progress

Within the next couple of weeks, developers of the Civic Block retail plaza should have a final design for the project. The $7 million project at 1206 Stratford Ave. is slated to bring retail and a long-awaited grocery store to the neighborhood.

“We are still going through the design phase of the actual retail building and the grocery store, so that’s all good,” said Anthony Stewart, principal of Bridgeport-based Ashlar Construction, which city officials selected in the fall to take point on the project.

As part of the East End NRZ plan, the block bordered by Stratford, Newfield and Central Avenue has been the target for large-scale transformation into a commercial plaza heading into the East End. Touted as the anchor project for the neighborhood’s revitalization, the Civic Block will include a 16,000-square-foot Gala Foods Supermarket, which has been a long-standing demand from residents and community leaders.

Another 15,000 square feet of the project will house retail storefronts. More than a dozen businesses were vying for space at the development when it was announced in September, including a pharmacy, restaurants, and Optimus Health Care, a primary-care provider with three other locations in Bridgeport.

The blighted building that housed the former Newfield Library has already been razed; Stewart said he has already begun environmental analysis on the site as part of the final design phase of the project.

Stewart said he plans to break ground on the Civic Block plaza in July, kickstarting what he previously projected to be a 10-month build-out process.

Ashlar Construction is also taking point on developing the land that will house a new Newfield Library at its original historic site and which has been touted as the anchor site for the future of the East End.

Ongoing construction of the library building is visible from Stratford Avenue as developers have begun putting in steel framing of the back portion of the building. In coming days, Stewart said, the remaining steel pieces will go up.

Developers have been renovating the existing 5,000-square-foot building fronting Central Avenue and are adding a 12,000-square-foot building in the back that will house a tech center along with other amenities.

The $6 million project is the product of state and city funding with $5 million coming by way of city capital with the balance through a grant from the state’s Library Board.

“My goal is to try and finish it by the end of May, but I think it might push into June,” Stewart said, adding that the deadline will depend on when he can get the remaining steel framing up.

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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