BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Given its location between I-95 and the Metro-North tracks, the former American Gramophone Co. complex gives thousands of passersby an indelible impression of Bridgeport’s prosperous past gone vacant and blighted over the last three decades.
On Tuesday, city leaders gathered to break ground on a project they hope will be the first step toward changing that impression.
About four years in the making, the Cherry Street Lofts will include 157 new apartments, a community facility, a gym and 40,000 square feet of outdoor recreational space. It’s the first phase of a multi-year project that calls for razing two of the existing eight buildings and creating another 154 units, a 92,000-square-foot charter school and retail space.
“We always said this part of town is the visible gateway,” said Mayor Joe Ganim, noting the many boarded-up, graffiti-tagged buildings of the West End. “We’re seeing that change today. Let’s get going.”
The site is a full city block — bordered by Cherry Street and Railroad, Hancock and Howard avenues.
The developers, Corvus Capital Partners, expect the first phase to take 20 to 24 months to complete. The work includes an extensive cleanup and adaptive reuse of the former brownfield site.
Once rehabilitated and reclaimed, the buildings will provide a window into Bridgeport’s industrial past. American Gramophone used the buildings between 1870 and 1934. From the time the company left through the 1960s, the site had several tenants, though they started to drop off one by one.
For the last 30 or more years, the buildings have stood vacant and blighted.
The project was made possible by a complex funding plan from multiple sources, said Karl Kilduff, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) is investing $35 million for the renovations. It is purchasing bonds issued by the CHFA for the $54.4 million for the first phase.
Eighty percent of the units, 126 apartments, will be designated as affordable housing.
State Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein said the state is committed to affordable, safe housing for all.
“This property here is certainly transformative,” she told the crowd. “Together, we’re building a Connecticut where everyone will have a place to call home.”
The first multi-family new construction in the area in more than a decade, it will be built with 100 percent union labor, creating an estimated 235 jobs.
“We’re using union hands to build this property and that means quality,” said Corvus CEO Gary Flocco.