A PARTY FOR THE CITY
Group aims to attract residents to summer events, not just appeal to outsiders
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.”
Natalie Pryce, Kelvin Ayala, Razul Branch, Keith Jackson, Noel Sepulveda, founders of local community development agency I Luv Bridgeport.
The Sez Zion Jazz Band performs during the Downtown Thursdays Concert Series at McLevy Green in downtown Bridgeport last year.