Casino project would put city development on new level
It has been three decades since the Carpenter Technology plant in Bridgeport’s East End shut its doors, costing 600 jobs and leaving a hole on the city’s waterfront. If a plan announced Monday comes to fruition, its replacement could create more than 10 times as many jobs as were lost.
With MGM Resorts International’s announcement of plans for a casino and hotel on the banks of the Yellow Mill River - pending state legislative approval — the city’s waterfront redevelopment enters a different phase from the plodding pace of the past few decades.
The centerpiece of those efforts has been at nearby Steelpointe Harbor, where Florida-based RCI Group has been turning what had once been a neighborhood and was for years a vast empty lot into a shopping and outdoor attraction. In 2014, RCI won a request for proposals to also develop the Car-Tech site.
To date, the property has been home only to some boat storage for Bass Pro Shops, the Steelpointe Harbor anchor store that opened in 2015. If MGM Bridgeport is built, it would transform not only the former factory site but the entire city skyline.
The plan requires a change in state law that limits the right to build casinos to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Still, MGM officials say they have a contract with RCI and are serious about building in Bridgeport, with the project bringing in a minimum of 2,000 direct jobs and more than 7,700 jobs including those induced by the development, according to MGM.
MGM said it would target a portion of the hirings toward Bridgeport residents.
Citing factors that city boosters have long cited as working in Bridgeport’s favor — including the waterfront, access to transportation and proximity to the New York market - Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM, said, “Bridgeport is the ideal city.”
Among the stipulations for bidders on the Car-Tech site was the ability to build a full-service grocery store in an East End neighborhood that has long lacked one. Even with a multinational Fortune 500 company setting up shop, the development team said it will remain part of the plan.
“It is very important that we meet all of our community obligations,” Robert Christoph Jr., RCI’s president of operations, said last week.
The 40,000-square-foot grocery store, announced in April as Gala Fresh Farms, will be built separately from the casino on a distinct plot of land, Christoph said.
The property has been through a number of development proposals over the years, including as an expansion site for Derecktor Shipyards, the since-departed yacht builder, and as waterfront housing.
In 2009, former University of Connecticut basketball player Tate George headlined a $30 million, 152,000-square-foot proposal for an “urban shopping center.” But George was indicted in 2011 on charges of running his business as a Ponzi scheme, and later found guilty of wire fraud.
Then this past April, Mayor Joe Ganim announced that Dave & Buster’s - which includes a restaurant as well as arcade games and TVs - was coming to the site. In July, the chain said it was instead headed to Milford, with officials saying that space was going to be ready sooner. By that point MGM and RCI were deep into talks.
The casino plan could also benefit existing venues. Because of its small footprint, MGM would not be able to build its own large performance space, leaving room for the Webster Bank Arena to host acts drawn by the casino. “Our plan assumes that we would leverage that arena,” Clinton said.
Key to the plan is the waterfront. “We were told early on that you can’t come here and make a big box where everyone goes in, disappears for a few hours and then they leave,” Clinton said. “This is something that will complement the whole plan.”