Outdoor concert amphitheater plans revealed

This article originally appeared in The Connecticut Post.

Backers of a planned outdoor amphitheater say they won’t let a dispute with its next-door neighbor halt plans to bring southwestern Connecticut its newest concert venue.

Plans to renovate and reopen the former Bridgeport Bluefish ballpark as a boutique amphitheater are moving along, officials said, with formal design plans unveiled Wednesday.

“It’s going to move forward as fast as it can regardless of any of the other stuff,” said Mayor Joe Ganim during a press conference.

The facility, to be open from spring through the fall, is expected to draw 250,000 people a year. The plan is to renovate the existing ballpark into a concert site by using much of the existing seating with a stage in what was center field and new seating at field level.

It will have space for 5,500 people. A large tensile roof will cover the seats and make for a new landmark in the city.

The amphitheater is projected to support approximately 1246 jobs, with a mix of full- and part-time positions.

Groundbreaking is expected in the next two months, and the facility is slated to be ready by spring 2019. The amphitheater is to host between 50 and 75 events including festivals, community events, family shows, and public and private events each year.

But drawing big name entertainers is the main attraction. “We intend to build an amphitheater that will put Bridgeport on the concert map,” said Jim Koplik, president of Live Nation Connecticut and Upstate New York, which is working with the venue to book concerts.

Howard Saffan, principal of the Harbor Yard amphitheater, said the average ticket price for concerts will be around $65. The city will receive a minimum rent of $150,000 or $3 per ticket annually, and Saffan believes the concerts could improve the city’s image and help downtown businesses flourish.

The issues with the Webster Bank Arena, which sits next to the ballpark in the Harbor Yard development, date to 2015 when Ganim came back into office and said the Sound Tigers, who play in and operate the arena, owed back rent to the city.

While that awaits arbitration, a more recent dispute has arisen over a parking lot behind the now-shuttered ballpark. The arena accused the Ganim administration of trying to close the lot ahead of a comedy show featuring Kevin Hart. The hearing that was scheduled to resolve the parking issue last Friday was postponed to April.

The New York Islanders, the parent organization of the Sound Tigers, said when the amphitheater was proposed that it would violate a non-compete clause in their contract with the city, which could ultimately lead to the team exiting the arena if the new venue were built.

The Islanders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When asked if he thought tensions would hinder construction of the new venue, Ganim said, “Ultimately, it will all resolve itself.”

“That’s usually what happens in these situations, and I think it’s good for the city,” he said. “I’ve got to believe that everybody, whether you’re operating the arena, the amphitheater, the city or any of the facilities here, being supported by the business community and so on, wants to see all the good things happen in Bridgeport, so we want to make sure all that happens.”

Saffan said he doesn’t see the ongoing issues affecting his project.

“If anything, we think we are going to help them collaboratively,” he said, standing by his position that the amphitheater will not compete with the arena’s operations.

Saffan, who is also a former Sound Tigers president, has maintained that the amphitheater would help draw business to the arena.

“It’s no secret that the arena is not a magnet for concerts, so if this adds to it, that’s huge,” he said. “So we think that globally it’s going to help us help them, and most important is the economic impact on the city, which is over $50 million a year.”

This article originally appeared in The Connecticut Post.