Plans for financial services center in Bridgeport
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
RIDGEPORT -- With one new development, officials are aiming to eliminate a blighted manufacturing landmark and label the city a new destination for the well-heeled financial services industry.
The mayor's economic team aims to finalize a deal to bring Texas-based Information Communication Services LLC to a mostly vacant block of city-owned addresses between Middle and Water streets, adjacent to the U.S. Post Office.
The plan is to construct two office buildings in two phases -- one five stories, the second 12 stories -- for financial services and data storage.
At a minimum, the project will bring 50 new jobs and plenty of taxable equipment to town.
The city would also take the fire-damaged AGI Rubber Co. just over the Stratford Avenue bridge off the market for the company's future expansion.
"A project like this, bringing Bridgeport into this financial services economy ... really brings us as a city into the 21st century economy," City Councilman Steven Stafstrom, D-130, said recently after that group's economic development committee was briefed on the proposal. "More so than any other project we've looked at, this says Bridgeport's back."
Still, Stafstrom and some others have expressed hesitation about packaging AGI in the final deal.
David Kooris, the city's economic redevelopment chief, and his team are hoping to gain support in time for the council's Nov. 4 meeting. That will mark the final meeting of current members before the Nov. 5 elections change the make-up of the city's legislative body, and re-setting the clock on any outstanding business.
Raymond Meglio, a real estate broker from Fairfield who represents Information Communication Sciences at council hearings, has expressed an eagerness-bordering-on-frustra tion with the lengthy negotiation and approval process.
"There's no question our client is committed to this project. He's committed to Bridgeport," Meglio said recently. "If it were up to him he would have started six months ago."
Information Communication Services over a year ago expressed interest in AGI, the abandoned factory at 141 Stratford Ave. which was gutted by fire in June 2012.
But it was taking too long to determine the extent of environmental contamination in the building and the impact of those cleanup costs on the sale price.
"Until that's completed ... neither party is in a good place for negotiating," Kooris said.
So negotiations turned to the other parcels the city recently obtained, lots from 190 to 274 Middle St., 30 Gold St., 54 Golden Hill St. and 771 and 797 Water St. Under the deal before the council, the city will sell those properties to Meglio's client for $300,000.
Both Meglio and Kooris have pitched the project as a good one because, rather than being speculative and banking on luring tenants, the developer will also be the tenant.
"It is not common when you find an owner/occupant interested in building office space," Kooris said.
But the sticking point for some council members remains the AGI site.
For $20,000, Information Communication Services will purchase the option to buy and redevelop the property over the next three-and-a-half years, essentially preserving it for future use.
The company would also have to show substantial progress on its initial office project in order to retain that option.
Three-and-a-half years sounds like a long time to some on the council, particularly because AGI is sandwiched between the Downtown North and Steel Point sites Kooris' office is aggressively hoping to redevelop during that same period.
"In the interim we've got these ugly, blighted buildings between everything we're trying to do," Stafstrom said recently. "I don't want to wake up in three years, we've got half of Downtown North and Steel Point developed and everyone's saying,`What's going on with that eyesore (AGI)?' "
Kooris' argument is that making AGI part of the deal could expedite efforts to move forward and secure grants to demolish the building and clean up the property.
"Reserving the property for future development does not mean we're standing still," Kooris said. "We hope to start taking it down in that time period."
What if the council ultimately balks at giving Information Communication Services the option to buy AGI?
Kooris said the city will then work hard to find the company an alternate site.
"To move forward they have to have certainty they have expansion opportunities," he said.
Meglio recently told council members that Information Communication Services has commitments for the Bridgeport offices from two unidentified major clients, but a third is on the fence and could cause the others to hesitate.
"We need to get this project started," he said. "If not, this may never happen."
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