Group aims to at­tract res­i­dents to sum­mer events, not just ap­peal to out­siders

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Sunday Business - By Jor­dan Grice

I Luv Bridge­port is flip­ping the script.

The group ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing the city and chang­ing its rep­u­ta­tion is happy to ap­peal to peo­ple from sur­round­ing towns. But its fo­cus these days is on bring­ing out the city it­self.

“We have a story to tell, and the story of Bridge­port is not the one that any­one has heard,” said co- founder Kelvin Ayala. “It’s not the one you hear in the sub­urbs.”

That story is one the lo­cal com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment and brand­ing agency is look­ing to get across as they host a se­ries of pro­grams and ini­tia­tives the group has been de­vel­op­ing along with the com­mu­nity. That in­cludes Down­town Thurs­day, a sum­mer­time pro­gram that in pre­vi­ous years had been geared to­ward at­tract­ing visi­tors from other com­mu­ni­ties.

I Luv Bridge­port is pre­par­ing to kick off the seven- week con- cert se­ries on July 12, while also en­ter­ing its third year at the helm of the event at McLevy Green.

“Ev­ery­one waits year­long for this to come,” said co- founder Keith Jack­son.

While this year’s lineup of acts is still tak­ing form, the group is look­ing for a fes­ti­val- style at­mos­phere with a mix of retail and food ven­dors, plus games for the fam­ily. In years past, con­certs have stuck with a set genre, but the or­ga­niz­ers have opted to of­fer a mix of mu­sic each night.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to feel good in Bridge­port,” Jack­son said.

As the name sug­gests, a love for the Park City and de­sire to see it flour­ish was a driv­ing force for I Luv Bridge­port, a col­lab­o­ra­tion of con­sul­tants and busi­ness own­ers Jack­son, Ayala, Razul Branch, Natalie Pryce and Noel Sepul­veda.

“We are ci­ti­zens, res­i­dents, busi­ness own­ers and grad­u­ates that are deeply in­vested and have been for a long time in Bridge­port,” Branch said. “We ac­tu­ally give a damn about this place.”

The group has been putting to­gether projects aimed at bol­ster­ing eco­nomic and so­cial growth within the city since it was formed in 2013. Adopt­ing and re­brand­ing pro­grams in danger of fall­ing by the way­side, like Down­town Thurs­day, falls un­der that fo­cus.

“If you want to change your city, you have to get up and take

ac­tion and be that change,” Pryce said. “We sat down and looked at the land­scape of own­er­ship in terms of brands and we have been able to suc­cess­fully stack that own­er­ship and lever­age those brands that we need to cre­ate in our com­mu­nity.”

The free con­cert se­ries on McLevy Green has been draw­ing visi­tors since it was started nine years ago and run by the Down­town Spe­cial Ser­vices District, or DSSD. Af­ter fund­ing for the event ran out sev­eral years ago, Lau­ren Coak­ley Vin­cent, pres­i­dent of DSSD, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion de­cided to re­lin­quish own­er­ship and as­sume a pro­mo­tional role in 2015.

“It was the mo­ment to let some­one else take over,” she said.

I Luv Bridge­port stepped in.

Along with the Down­town Thurs­day, the col­lab­o­ra­tive has part­ner­ships with groups like the Bridge­port Arts and Cul­tural Coun­cil, or BACC, of which Branch is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

In the past, Sepul­veda said events such as the con­cert se­ries and arts fes­ti­vals have been mar­keted to draw in peo­ple from out­side the city, even as ad­ver­tis­ing to get res­i­dents to turn out was miss­ing.

“There is a lot of in- the- know prob­lems and iden­tity prob­lems re­lated to the city,” he said, adding that the group has worked to rec­tify that.

I Luv Bridge­port has fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing a more in­clu­sive, en­gag­ing and co­he­sive com­mu­nity for res­i­dents by lever­ag­ing brands fo­cused on meet­ing dif­fer­ent needs of the peo­ple. There part­ner­ships with the BACC have al­lowed the col­lab­o­ra­tive to over­see the events like the East End farm­ers mar­ket, and the in­com­ing Art Fest slated for July 21.

“Those are some of the things that are nec­es­sary to cre­ate the so­cial­iza­tion that you’re ex­pect­ing to hap­pen in Bridge­port that goes beyond just pop­ping in apart­ments or build­ing larger projects on its bor­der,” Branch said. “Once you have those things there, you have to give them life.”

Jor­dan Grice / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Natalie Pryce, Kelvin Ayala, Razul Branch, Keith Jack­son, Noel Sepul­veda, founders of lo­cal com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment agency I Luv Bridge­port.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

The Sez Zion Jazz Band per­forms dur­ing the Down­town Thurs­days Con­cert Se­ries at McLevy Green in down­town Bridge­port last year.

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