East End may end up with less than promised

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

Af­ter years of wait­ing for a gro­cery store that would end its sta­tus as a food desert, the East End of Bridge­port fi­nally has that goal in sight. But the re­sult might not be what, or where, many res­i­dents were ex­pect­ing or had been promised.

With de­vel­op­ment along Bridge­port’s water­front tak­ing form at RCI Group’s Steele­pointe Har­bor site, in­clud­ing a Bass Pro Shops and other build­ings, res­i­dents con­tinue to wait for vis­i­ble con­struc­tion on the Mi­ami- based de­vel­oper’s Seav­iew Plaza site just across the wa­ter, which has long been promised as the site of a 40,000- square- foot gro­cery store for a com­mu­nity that has long lacked such an amenity.

Now, with the de­vel­oper back­ing a sec­ond plan for a much smaller su­per­mar­ket on a dif­fer­ent site, com­mu­nity lead­ers say they are wary of the chang­ing plans.

“They’ve been drag­ging their feet with that de­vel­op­ment,” said East End com­mu­nity leader Keith Williams.

RCI, un­der its Bridge­port Land­ing sub­sidiary, gained con­trol of the Seav­iew Plaza site in 2014, but the city’s plans for a gro­cery store at the for­mer lo­ca­tion of a Car­pen­ter Tech­nol­ogy steel plant date back years.

“It’s been al­most 20 years since any­thing has hap­pened over there and now it’s mov­ing slowly, and I think they are wait­ing on the casino to see what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Williams said, re­fer­ring to the water­front casino and ho­tel that MGM In­ter­na­tional has pro­posed along with Bridge­port Land­ing for the site, which de­vel­op­ers have said would share space with the gro­cery store.

The casino plan re­quires state ap­proval.

Con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions

In past in­ter­views, the city has said RCI re­mains con­trac­tu­ally ob­li­gated to de­velop a 40,000- square­foot gro­cery story at Seav­iew Plaza re­gard­less of any casino plans. But the com­pany has yet to be­gin en­vi­ron­men­tal re­me­di­a­tion at the site, which is sup­posed to ac­com­mo­date a Gala Fresh Farms store.

Last week, RCI was ap­proved for its sec­ond oneyear ex­ten­sion on ex­pir­ing site per­mits.

“We are pur­su­ing mov­ing for­ward with MGM to do an eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment that is much larger that would bring a high­cal­iber se­lec­tion of restau­rants and en­ter­tain­ment and a ho­tel to that site, as well as the gro­cery store and some other uses,” said Robert Christoph Jr., prin­ci­pal of RCI.

In re­cent weeks, though, the de­vel­oper has un­veiled fi­nan­cial back­ing for de­vel­op­ment of the Civic Block project less than a mile away, which would fea­ture a 16,000- square- foot Gala Foods gro­cery and pos­si­bly a phar­macy at one of the store­fronts.

Gala Foods and Gala Fresh are un­der the same com­pany, Aurora Gro­cery Group. But a 40,000square- foot su­per­mar­ket would of­fer an ar­ray of ameni­ties that a smaller store couldn’t fit, with ser­vices in­clud­ing a deli, seafood and a bak­ery along with a phar­macy, cus­tomer ser­vice cen­ter and Western Union, among oth­ers.

“We of­fer ameni­ties for cus­tomers to do a one- stop shop,” said Luis Cor­rea, man­ager of the Gala Fresh Farms in River­head, N. Y.

And lo­cal lead­ers doubt there would be room for both stores.

“They’d com­pete against each other,” Williams said, adding that which­ever one is built first would crowd out the other.

To City Coun­cil mem­ber Eneida Martinez, who rep­re­sents the East End, a gro­cer and pos­si­ble phar­macy along Strat­ford Av­enue may be enough to sway res­i­dents to scrap the larger su­per­mar­ket.

“What the com­mu­nity is go­ing to want is a gro­cery

“It’s been al­most 20 years since any­thing has hap­pened over there and now it’s mov­ing slowly, and I think they are wait­ing on the casino to see what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Keith Williams, East End com­mu­nity leader

store — a rea­son­able gro­cery store — that all can shop in and af­ford and a phar­macy that can meet the need,” she said. “As far as hav­ing a big­ger gro­cery store, I don’t see where the com­mu­nity will push for that so heav­ily be­cause we’ve been in a food desert so long ( that) Gala Foods suf­fices the com­mu­nity in what they need.”

Pas­tor Ken­neth Mo­a­les, of the Cathe­dral of the Holy Spirit on the East End, said he doesn’t see RCI fol­low­ing through on build­ing the Seav­iew Plaza store. “That is go­ing to be­come a huge en­ter­tain­ment hub, hous­ing and en­ter­tain­ment,” he said.

Mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties

With all the de­vel­op­ment hap­pen­ing through­out Bridge­port, in­clud­ing on the har­bor, East End res­i­dents say they are done wait­ing for their turn with out­siders.

“It’s been ob­vi­ous for 23 years that they are not com­ing, and we can do one of two things — we can con­tinue to wait for de­vel­op­ment and de­vel­op­ers to come into the East End, or we can take con­trol and own­er­ship of our own prop­er­ties and our own com­mu­ni­ties,” Mo­a­les said.

With lo­cal de­vel­op­ers over­see­ing con­struc­tion of an­chor projects like the Civic Block, Mo­a­les said he is mov­ing ahead on a project to bring a new af­ford­able hous­ing

com­plex with ground- level re­tail space to Strat­ford Av­enue, as well.

If ap­proved, the project would pro­vide 37 units of af­ford­able hous­ing as well as own­er­ship op­tions for peo­ple look­ing to live in the neigh­bor­hood — one of a list of needs that has been voiced by com­mu­nity lead­ers in the past.

The apart­ments and lofts would fea­ture hard­wood floors, stain­less- steel ap­pli­ances and gran­ite coun­ter­tops. The rooftop is ex­pected to fea­ture a green area with a bas­ket­ball court and a track around it, of­fer­ing res­i­dents an op­por­tu­nity to see the en­tire area, Mo­a­les said.

“The project will also serve as a com­ple­ment to on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment in the neigh­bor­hood,” he added.

The plan shares the same pro­posed de­vel­oper with the Civic Block in An­thony Stew­art and Ash­lar Con­struc­tion, which is also ren­o­vat­ing and ex­pand­ing the New­field Li­brary. Con­struc­tion of the project will also be man­aged by Vin­cent Wooten, who over­saw de­vel­op­ment of the new Hard­ing High School.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing time be­cause the East End has not had this level of de­vel­op­ment or per­sonal or pri­vate in­vest­ment, but it’s com­ing,” Mo­a­les said, not­ing that the pri­vately funded project is cur­rently field­ing of­fers from lenders that see the po­ten­tial in build­ing so close to on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment.

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A view along Seav­iew Av­enue, in the East End neigh­bor­hood of Bridge­port, where res­i­dents have long sought a gro­cery store.

Jor­dan Grice / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The for­mer New­field Li­brary site in Bridge­port’s East End will be the site of a new shop­ping plaza.

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