Baseball out, Live Concerts In For Bridgeport
Connecticut Post, August 9, 2017
By Brian Lockhart
Mayor Joe Ganim built the Ballpark at Harbor Yard and brought the Bluefish baseball team to Bridgeport during his first administration.
Twenty years later, the returned mayor and his staff have decided it is time to begin a new era at the venue. Baseball is out, live concerts are in.
Developer Howard Saffan on Monday night revealed — and the mayor’s office later confirmed — that his and concert promoter Live Nation’s competing proposal to turn the 20-year-old Harbor Yard ballpark into a warm-weather amphitheater was selected by City Hall over a new contract with the Bluefish.
Saffan contacted Hearst Connecticut Media soon after Hearst published an online story earlier Monday suggesting Ganim had chosen the amphitheater over baseball.
“This is going to be a great project for the city,” Saffan said in a brief phone interview.
He promised 29 concerts annually in a season running from May to October, and eventually hoped to include other events, from beer festivals to graduations. The amphitheater will open in spring 2019, Saffan said.
What that will mean for the neighboring Webster Bank Arena, an indoor music, sports and entertainment venue, remains to be seen. Saffan, of Weston, is certainly familiar with Harbor Yard and the arena — he was president of the Sound Tigers, who play hockey in the arena, from 2005 until 2015.
In the statement released by the city, Live Nation’s Jim Koplik said Harbor Yard will be “a great boutique amphitheater.”
Saffan said he and Live Nation will pay for $15 million worth of renovations to the 5,000-seat ballpark, but added he does anticipate a public/private financial arrangement with the city.
Ultimately the City Council must approve the amphitheater deal, which comes as Ganim explores running for governor in 2018. The returned mayor wants splashy development news to grow the city’s tax base and impress Democratic primary voters.
Details of the new partnership back to top
Ganim’s office followed Saffan on Monday with a prepared statement that played up Live Nation’s involvement as “one of the world’s leading artist management companies ... from ‘up and comers’ to veteran superstars like Elton John and Lady Gaga.”
The details of the partnership between Saffan and Live Nation have yet to be explained. Besides his prior involvement with the Sound Tigers, Saffan is also known as owner of Shelton-based SportsCenter of Connecticut, a skating and recreation attraction.
“This next chapter of Bridgeport’s future is bright with the benefits and experience of a world-known entertainment company like Live Nation, and the historic success of Saffan as a venue operator, to bring in concerts and shows that will certainly put Bridgeport in the forefront as a destination place for family and friends,” Ganim said.
The Ganim administration sought proposals for Harbor Yard in March. The Bluefish’s contract with the city expired at the end of last season. The team, owned by Frank Boulton since 2008, submitted its bid, as did an unidentified soccer league, and Saffan and Live Nation. The latter partners first expressed interest a few years ago, in Bill Finch’s final months as mayor before Ganim beat him in a Democratic primary, in succeeding the Bluefish at Harbor Yard.
Sources in recent weeks said Ganim, re-elected in 2015 after running Bridgeport in the 1990s, and an unidentified selection committee had decided to go with the amphitheater.
Saffan reached out to Hearst on Monday evening after Hearst published online a story about another Harbor Yard tenant — the University of Bridgeport, which leases the ballpark field from the Bluefish for college baseball home games. Anticipating City Hall was turning the waterfront stadium into a concert amphitheater, UB was preparing to approach city parks board members with a request to instead play at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park, adjacent to campus.
“Recognizing the options before the city right now, I would anticipate that there would be a change in use of that facility (Harbor Yard),” said George Estrada, UB’s vice president of facilities, in an interview Monday afternoon.
Estrada said the Bluefish have “struggled” to be successful and he “would totally assume that they (City Hall) would go with something that would provide the city a greater benefit. And from a taxpayer’s viewpoint — this is my home, it’s not like I’m commuting here — how could you not support that?”
Ganim in Monday’s statement from the city thanked Boulton and his team for “all that (they) have done for our community.”
Boulton could not be immediately reached Monday night for a response to Saffan’s announcement. But earlier, in reaction to Estrada’s comments, Boulton said he was waiting for an announcement from the city about the Bluefish’s future.
“If this is the last year for the Bridgeport Bluefish, it will be an exciting one,” Boulton said at that time. “We’re in first place with the best record in over a decade. We just had a great event (the 20th anniversary “legends” game). Hopefully we’ll be in the playoffs — maybe win a championship.”