Kuchma Corporation receives prestigious Timmy Award

March 23rd, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13 —The National Housing & Rehabilitation Association, in association with the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, honored developers, architects and historic preservation professionals that brought new life to ten historic buildings through its awarding of the 2012 J. Timothy Anderson Awards for Excellence in Historic Rehabilitation.

Regrettably, due to inclement weather caused by Hurricane Sandy, NH&RA was forced to cancel the “Timmy” Awards presentation and ceremony, which was originally scheduled for October 30 at the Langham Hotel in Boston. The winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony in February 2013 in Washington, DC as part of NH&RA’s “Historic Tax Credit Lobby Day” in partnership with the Historic Tax Credit Coalition and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Further event details will be provided on NH&RA’s website, www.housingonline.com.

“Historic preservation is a key element to safeguarding the integrity and unique character of communities while simultaneously driving economic development.  It brings NH&RA great pleasure to honor these innovators who have successfully preserved our historic infrastructure while providing much needed affordable housing, community services and economic benefits around the country,” says Thom Amdur, Executive Director of NH&RA.  “We were deeply disappointed that Hurricane Sandy forced us to cancel this year’s Awards Luncheon.  The projects represent some of the best work of our industry and deserve recognition and celebration.”

This year’s winning projects include the conversion of a former food processing factory to loft apartments in New Orleans, LA; the rehabilitation of an historic hotel into affordable senior apartments in Kansas City, MO; and the rehabilitation of a former federal naval hospital building for a new community center in Washington, DC.

***Earlier this fall the judges named five initial winners across five categories. These winners include:

Best Commercial/Retail/Non-Residential Project
Old Naval Hospital, Washington, DC
Developer: The Old Naval Hospital Foundation, Washington, DC
Architect: Bell Architects, Washington, DC
Historic Consultants: Conservation Solutions, Santa Fe, NM & MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC, Washington, DC

Best Historic Rehab Utilizing LIHTCs (Small/Up to $5 million development cost)
Thomas Edison Apartments, Covington, KY
Developer: AU Associates, Inc., Lexington, KY
Architect: PCA Architecture, PLC, Covington, KY

Best Market-Rate or Mixed-Income Residential
Beckstoffer’s Mill Loft Apartments, Richmond, VA
Developer: Better Housing Coalition, Richmond, VA
Architects: Urban Design Associates, Pittsburgh, PA & The Luchair Company, Staunton, VA
Historic Consultant: Ashley Neville, Ashland, VA

Best Historic Rehab Involving New Construction
Bijou Square, Bridgeport, CT
Developer: Kuchma Corporation, Bridgeport, CT
Architect: Antinozzi Associates, Bridgeport, CT

Most Innovative Adaptive Reuse
Martinsville Lofts, Martinsville, VA
Developer: Landmark Asset Services, Inc., Winston Salem, NC
Architect: CJMW Architecture, Lynchburg, VA

***The remaining winners were announced today and were selected from ten previously identified finalists during a second round of review. The winners of the following categories are:

Best Historic Rehab Utilizing LIHTCs (Medium/$5-$15 million development cost)
Chatham Senior Apartments, Kansas City, MO
Developer: Landmark Investment Group, Kansas City, MO
Architect: Rosemann & Associates, PC, Kansas City, MO
Historic Consultant: Rosin Preservation, LLC, Kansas City, MO

Best Historic Rehab Utilizing LIHTCs (Large/Over $15 million development cost)
Blue Plate Artist Lofts, New Orleans, LA
Developers: HRI Properties, New Orleans, LA & JCH Development, New Orleans, LA
Architect: HCI Architecture, Inc., New Orleans, LA

Best Historic Rehab Utilizing New Markets Tax Credits
Mayo 420 Building, Tulsa, OK
Developer: Wiggin Properties, LLC, Oklahoma City, OK
Architect: Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Inc., Tulsa, OK
Historic Consultant: Sikes | Abernathie, Architects, PC, Tulsa, OK

Achievement in Sustainability
Candidates for the Judges Award for Achievement in Sustainability were selected from all of the applications submitted.
Oliver Lofts, Boston, MA
Developer: WinnDevelopment, LLC, Boston, MA
Architect: The Architectural Team, Inc., Chelsea, MA
Historic Consultant: Epsilon Associates, Inc., Maynard, MA

Most Innovative Finance
Candidates for the Judges Award for Most Innovative Finance were selected from all of the applications submitted.
Minvilla Manor, Knoxville, TN
Developer: Southeastern Housing Foundation, Knoxville, TN
Architect: Allan Associates Architects PLLC, Knoxville, TN

Additional Information
The “Timmy Awards” are named in honor of J. Timothy Anderson, a native of Massachusetts and NH&RA member, who was an early innovator in the adaptive-reuse of historic properties and a staunch advocate for historic preservation.  The awards were created to honor outstanding real estate projects that involve rehabilitation of older, historic buildings, primarily using state or federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. Scoring is based on overall design and quality, interpretation and respect of historic elements, innovative approach to construction and use of building materials, impact on the community, sustainability and financial and market success of the project.

Projects are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary panel of judges, comprised of individuals with backgrounds in historic preservation, architecture, real estate development, construction, public policy and economic development.

The judges for the 2012 awards include:
Josh Anderson, Cedar Bend Consulting
Lisa Craig, City of Annapolis
John Kelly, Nixon Peabody LLP
Nick Ratti, CohnReznick
Karl Stumpf, RTKL Associates Inc.
Brad White, Brad White & Associates

 

Descriptions of 2012 Timmy Award Winning Projects

Best Commercial/Retail/Non-Residential Project
Old Naval Hospital, Washington, DC
Developer: The Old Naval Hospital Foundation, Washington, DC
Architect: Bell Architects, PC, Washington, DC
Historic Consultants: Conservation Solutions, Santa Fe, NM & MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC, Washington, DC

This $11 million project by The Old Naval Hospital Foundation, funded by federal historic tax credits and other resources, involved the historic rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of a former federal naval hospital building and carriage house constructed during 1864-1866 into a community center called the Hill Center. Originally a 50-bed permanent hospital for seamen serving on the Potomac River and its tributaries, the property was later used for a variety of purposes. The main building was vacated in 1998. In 2000, a small group of concerned neighbors began an effort to try to see the facility restored, which eventually led to the creation of the foundation that undertook the project. Hill Center offers after-school programs for children, adult education classes, and space for offices, meetings, conferences, workshops, and other events. The carriage house is slated to become a restaurant.

Best Historic Rehabilitation Utilizing Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
(Small/Up to $5 Million Development Costs)
Thomas Edison Apartments, Covington, KY
Developer: AU Associates, Inc., Lexington, KY
Architect: PCA Architecture, PLC, Covington, KY

Developer AU Associates, Inc., of Lexington, KY, created 26 affordable apartments from the rehabilitation of this vacant former elementary school that was decommissioned in 2009 due to shrinking inner city populations and the movement of students to newer, better equipped schools. The $4.8 million project utilized federal and state historic tax credits and federal housing tax credits, trust fund monies, and a city loan capitalized by federal Community Development Block Grant dollars. The restored Art Deco style building was originally constructed in 1939 under the federal Works Progress Administration’s new school initiative.

Best Market Rate or Mixed-Income Residential
Beckstoffer’s Mill Loft Apartments, Richmond, VA
Developer: Better Housing Coalition, Richmond, VA
Architects: Urban Design Associates, Pittsburgh, PA & The Luchair Company, Staunton, VA
Historic Consultant: Ashley Neville, Ashland, VA

Better Housing Coalition, a local nonprofit, undertook the historic rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of a former lumber mill to create a new EarthCraft-certified multifamily community containing 22 affordable loft and garden-style apartments. The $4.2 million project utilized federal and state historic tax credits, a grant from the city, and permanent debt. Constructed in 1925, Beckstoffer’s Mill was a custom woodwork lumber mill that was operated by three generations of the Beckstoffer family. After the company was sold the building was vacated, fell into disrepair, and became a blight on the community until acquired and renovated by Better Housing Coalition.

Best Historic Rehabilitation Involving New Construction
Bijou Square, Bridgeport, CT

Developer: Kuchma Corporation, Bridgeport, CT
Architect: Antinozzi Associates, Bridgeport, CT

This $29.6 million, two-phase project by the local Kuchma Corporation involved the historic rehabilitation of two existing buildings and the construction of a third new building as a vibrant mixed-use development. One of the structures renovated was the Bijou Theatre building, which opened in 1910 as a 540-seat silent movie house on the first floor and a ballroom and dance studio on the second and third floors. The second structure, the Jennings building, was constructed in 1911 as an automobile sales and service center. The renovated buildings now contain a 202-seat theater for movies, live performances, and hosted events; restaurants; an architectural studio; and offices. The new, five-story building, called 323 Fairfield, has 84 apartments and first floor retail space.

Most Innovative Adaptive Re-Use
Martinsville Lofts, Martinsville, VA

Developer: Landmark Asset Services, Inc., Winston Salem, NC
Architect: CJMW Architecture, Lynchburg, VA

Four companies joined to develop this $9.5 million project, which featured the historic rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of a former furniture factory and ancillary buildings into 60 affordable apartments. The four companies, all based in Winston Salem, N.C., are Archetypes, LLC; Sari and Company; Scantland, Inc.; and KRP Investments, LLC. The factory building, constructed in 1929, was illustrative of the past prominent role of furniture making in this small community in south central Virginia. In 1929, the Martinsville Novelty Corporation factory was one of at least six local furniture manufacturers, producing small pieces of furniture (e.g., occasional tables, cabinets) called “novelty pieces.” Funding sources included federal and state historic tax credits, federal housing credits, and federal “exchange” program dollars.

Best Historic Rehabilitation Utilizing Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
(Medium/ $5-$15 million Development Costs)
Chatham Senior Apartments, Kansas City, MO
Developer: Landmark Investment Group, Kansas City, MO
Architect: Rosemann & Associates, PC, Kansas City, MO
Historic Consultant: Rosin Preservation, LLC, Kansas City, MO

Local developer Landmark Investment Group rehabilitated an historic former hotel building into 40 affordable apartments for seniors in this $9.5 million project. The project utilized numerous funding sources, including federal and state historic and housing tax credits and federal solar tax credits – 99 solar panels are installed on the roof. The development also received tax abatement because it is in an urban redevelopment district. The building was originally constructed as The Chatham Hotel, a classic example of 1920s apartment hotel construction located on the Broadway Corridor in the residential Old Hyde Park Historic District.

Best Historic Rehabilitation Utilizing Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
(Large/ Over $15 million Development Costs)
Blue Plate Artist Lofts, New Orleans, LA
Developers: HRI Properties, New Orleans, LA & JCH Development, New Orleans, LA
Architect: HCI Architecture, Inc., New Orleans, LA

JCH Development and HRI Properties renovated this 1940s former food processing plant into 72 affordable and market-rate loft apartments in a $25.6 million transaction utilizing federal and state historic tax credits, federal low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt financing, and other sources. Named after the famous Blue Willow china plate pattern, the low-rise building once served as a food processing facility for Blue Plate Sandwich Spread, salad dressing, and Luzianne tea. The building is one of the few examples of Art Moderne architecture in New Orleans, and features tracks along the corridors that display the art of residents.

Best Historic Rehabilitation Utilizing New Markets Tax Credits
Mayo 420 Building, Tulsa, OK
Developer: Wiggin Properties, LLC, Oklahoma City, OK
Architect: Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Inc., Tulsa, OK
Historic Consultant: Sikes | Abernathie, Architects, PC, Tulsa, OK

Oklahoma City-based Wiggin Properties, LLC redeveloped this vacant, dilapidated 10-story office building into a mixed-use facility in a $34.5 million project funded by federal new markets tax credits, federal and state historic tax credits, a HUD Section 223(f) mortgage, a soft loan from the city, and other sources. The facility includes 67 apartments on eight floors, a YMCA, a restaurant, and a community room and rooftop terrace. The building was constructed in 1910 during Tulsa’s oil boom as a five-story structure by the Mayo brothers, who added a five-story wing in 1914 and five more floors in 1917. The Mayo Furniture Store relocated in 1921, making way for retail tenants; oil companies occupied much of the office space above. In 1978, the Mayo family sold the property, and the building was closed and vacated in 1994.

Judges Award: Achievement in Sustainability
Oliver Lofts, Boston, MA

Developer: WinnDevelopment, LLC, Boston, MA
Architect: The Architectural Team, Inc., Chelsea, MA
Historic Consultant: Epsilon Associates, Inc., Maynard, MA

Utilizing nine different sources of permanent financing, including federal and state historic and housing tax credits, this $24.8 million LEED Platinum-certified project by WinnDevelopment LLC involved the adaptive reuse of two historic interconnected mill buildings into 62 affordable and market-rate apartments, including three artist live-work loft units for individuals earning 100% or less of the area median income. The stately red brick “Pickle” building was constructed in 1892 as a bottling and storage building for the Highland Spring Brewery and was later associated with the R and S Pickle factory. The five-story “Ditson” building, constructed in 1912 as a second bottling and storage building, was sold in 1925 to the Oliver Ditson Company, one of Boston’s oldest and largest music publishers.

Judges Award: Most Advanced Financial Structure
Minvilla Manor, Knoxville, TN
Developer: Southeastern Housing Foundation, Knoxville, TN
Architect: Allan Associates Architects PLLC, Knoxville, TN

This $7.2 million project by Southeastern Housing Foundation involved the rehabilitation of multiple 1913 townhome buildings into 57 units of permanent supportive housing. The transaction utilized a master tenant lease pass-through structure and many different federal, state, and local funding sources and the project received a 20-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement from the city.

Kuchma leads Golden Hill tour

July 18th, 2012

 

Inside, Kuchma proudly showed off a framed February Los Angeles Times article, “Bridgeport Believer: One Man’s Quest to Heal a Connecticut City.” The West Coast newspaper had taken an interest in Kuchma’s revitalization of nearby Bijou Square with its mix of residential properties, retail, restaurants and the Bijou Theater.

“Everything doesn’t have to be a great big project,” he told committee members. “Pieces at a time can accomplish a lot.”

An hour later, Kuchma was a step closer to adding three more pieces to his downtown portfolio.

The council’s Economic and Community Development and Environment Committee voted Thursday for a one-for-three property swap allowing Kuchma to build two apartment buildings and bring in a gym and possibly a restaurant.

Under the arrangement, which Kuchma hopes will come before the full council before month’s end, the developer will spend more than $1 million to renovate one of his properties, the former American Legion Hall at 307 Golden Hill St., into a new senior center and give the upgraded building to the city.

In exchange, the city will hand over The Eisenhower Center at 263 Golden Hill St., a former YWCA, which now houses the senior center and the Downtown Cabaret Theatre; the empty lot at 285 Golden Hill St. separating the current and future senior centers; and a lot at 1208 Broad St. at the foot of the steps linking Bijou Square to Golden Hill Street.

Kuchma plans to erect a five-story, 50-unit apartment building at 285 Golden Hill St. and a three-story, 12-unit building at 1208 Broad St. He will keep the cabaret theater as a tenant at 263 Golden Hill St., possibly add a rooftop restaurant and return the senior center to its roots, using the existing pool and locker rooms to entice a gym tenant to serve both downtown residents and seniors.

Kuchma will also improve the Broad Street steps to make that area, including the theater entrance, more aesthetically appealing.

“This is a very important step for downtown,” Kuchma told the committee. He said in order for the neighborhood to attract more business, it needs more apartments and residents.

Council member Warren Blunt, D-135, needed no convincing.

“I for one support any project Phil is involved in,” Blunt said. “He’s shown what works. I don’t fight success.”

Committee co-chairwoman M. Evette Brantley, D-132, said Kuchma was performing a “noble” deed by upgrading the senior center and committing to keeping the Downtown Cabaret Theatre.

“The city loves the Cabaret,” she said.

Councilman Angel dePara, Jr., D-136, was skeptical. He questioned whether the city should get more out of the exchange than a new senior center and nicer Broad Street steps. The city is still on the hook for completing a new Eisenhower Center roof and environmental remediation, including asbestos removal.

“Is this the highest and best deal for this city?” dePara asked David Kooris, the city’s new economic development director, hired last week by Mayor Bill Finch. Kooris helped draft the downtown plan in his former job as a consultant.

“Yes, absolutely,” Kooris said.

When dePara still appeared unconvinced, Kuchma said part of the issue is that the cabaret theater leases 25 percent of the Eisenhower Center for just $300 per month.

“That affects the value of that building more than any other thing,” Kuchma told the committee. “I’m not trying to embarrass the city, cabaret or myself, but facts are the facts.”

Kuchma, the city and cabaret theater are in discussions to amend the theater’s lease, extending it at least until 2027, according to Ronald Pacacha, an associate city attorney who attended Thursday’s meeting.

 

One man’s quest to heal a Connecticut city

July 18th, 2012

February 05, 2012 | By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

 

Reporting from Bridgeport, Conn. — Philip Kuchma brightens as he drives past a vacant lot in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populated — and poorest — city.

“When you see open land like this, it’s just such an opportunity,” the longtime local developer said. “It could be used for attractive cottages with people walking to the waterfront.”

Kuchma, 61, peers through rimless glasses as he gives a tour of his hometown. But you have to wonder: Are the glasses really working?

 

Where others in ailing Bridgeport see poverty,

derelict homes and abandoned factories,

Philip Kuchma dreams of a mini-Manhattan.

 

The city is full of abandoned factories and derelict Victorian homes. Its shore is scarred with brownfields and a deep-water port that hosts little more than a ferry terminal and ugly utility smokestacks. One-quarter of its children and one-fifth of its residents live in poverty.

But then there is Kuchma, a believer in the power of revitalization. He has argued for years that the only way to revive this city is to get people not just to work downtown, but to live, eat and go to the movies there.

Bridgeport had flings with outsiders with names like Trump and Wynn. There were schemes to bring casinos that failed. So did jai alai. The city is still hoping to make baseball, hockey and artists’ colonies take hold.

Even Kuchma’s mother worries that he’s invested too much money in this long-suffering city, which is surrounded by wealthy communities, including Greenwich and Fairfield, with multimillion-dollar homes, and golf courses that overlook Long Island Sound.

“I’m not building in Bridgeport because there’s a lot of money in it,” Kuchma said. “I’m doing it out of a sense of accomplishment. I’ve always believed our location would overcome the things that held the city back.”

Locals consider Kuchma a Don Quixote of sorts, with a bit of P.T. Barnum, the 19th century circus master who served as Bridgeport’s mayor.

“He’s one of the few with vision,” said Theodore Meeks, a retired police officer who has been frustrated that the African American community on the city’s East End has been neglected. “I take my hat off to a man who can get something, anything, done in this place.”

Kuchma proudly shows off a block of downtown that he has brought back to life — a brick-and-mortar manifestation of a long-held dream.

A few years ago, he bought a cluster of eight buildings on Fairfield Avenue, including a shuttered 1910 movie and former vaudeville house called the Bijou. He renovated and reopened the theater last summer and added an 84-unit condominium complex, parking lot, offices, restaurants and a gourmet cheese shop that relocated from highbrow Westport.

In December, the 202-seat Bijou was packed with visitors who once would have avoided the area: Girl Scouts lining up for a Christmas performance one night, young hipsters for a burlesque show the next.

Kuchma points out that in the 1920s and ’30s, Bridgeport was an important stop on the way to New York City for big vaudeville acts and plays. With two 3,000-seat movie palaces sitting boarded up on Main Street, he believes it could be again.

The condominium complex is almost fully rented with young singles who work in richer quarters of Fairfield County. Eight tenants commute the 60 miles to Manhattan.

Damon Itin, the owner of the new cheese shop, said he was willing to take a chance on the area for cheaper rent and “to be in a place ripe for growth.”

Kuchma’s parents moved here from New York after World War II, when his father joined a workforce of 10,000 at a General Electric plant. Kuchma and his four sisters often visited family on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where the memory of a vibrant street life stayed with him.

“I have always thought the future of Bridgeport was in rebuilding neighborhoods like Manhattan has — that rely on a creative economy, with artists, hairdressers, graphic designers and architects instead of on just manufacturing like we used to,” he said.

Legend has it that Bridgeport’s factories were so important to the war effort that it topped Adolf Hitler’s list of U.S. cities to bomb. Even after the war, workers streamed in for jobs at Bridgeport Brass, Remington Arms, Singer and helicopter-maker Sikorsky.

But in time the jobs moved out, leaving behind large African American and Puerto Rican communities that still dominate the population of about 145,000. Many of the banks were closed, corporate leadership faded and public corruption shamed the city.

While the rest of Fairfield County prospered, Bridgeport — despite its proximity to wealth, water and rail lines and the appeal of two large parks designed by Central Park creator Frederick Law Olmsted — never came back.

The local newspaper ran a tombstone on Page 1 with a daily murder count.

Kuchma, who studied construction at New York University, bought his first Bridgeport property in 1973. After years of managing other people’s projects, Kuchma decided to try one of his own downtown.

Love and Money in Bridgeport

August 7th, 2011

Love and Money in BridgeportThe word people like to use when they’re being upbeat about Bridgeport, Connecticut, is bones. As in “The pre-war fabric of downtown provides the bones for the type of walkable urban place that is increasingly in demand.” So wrote the American Institute of Architects’ sustainable-design assessment team in its recent analysis of the state’s largest city (population: 144,229 and, for the first time in decades, growing). “It’s a city with great bones,” says Donald C. Eversley, the director of planning and economic development.

And those “bones” are immediately apparent when arriving by train, an easy hour and 20 minutes from Grand Central. The New Haven–bound side of the platform affords a lovely view of the Pequonnock River. Never mind that the I-95 overpass looms overhead or that Steel Point, the planned site of an ambitious (and endlessly delayed) mixed-use complex, sits vacant directly across the water. There is clearly potential here: outdoor bars; beers and buckets of steamers; condos with views; hotel rooms; bike paths. Someday…

A short stroll from the train station, the downtown area is tantalizing. It’s small but has a decent mix of handsome historic buildings, inoffensive modern ones, and the usual oversupply of parking garages. Unlike downtown Stamford, 23 miles west, it hasn’t been redeveloped into one seamless, soulless office park. Mayor Bill Finch is currently nearing the end of his first four-year term. (He replaced John Fabrizi, who publicly admitted to alcohol abuse following a drug allegation; the previous mayor spent time in jail on corruption charges.) Finch summed up the AIA report this way: “They said this is the city of opportunity.”

Well, sort of. Bridgeport is infamous for its postindustrial poverty, daunting crime statistics, and a university that, in the early 1990s, was bought out by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and boasts as its most famous alum Faisal Shahzad, aka the Times Square bomber. Still, under other circumstances—in some other state, for example—this could be a nice place. It has more than 20 miles of coastline (largely inaccessible), a smattering of industrial jobs (the 400 employees of Derecktor Shipyards build yachts and ferries here), and a growing population (approximately 1,400) in its compact downtown. There’s even a new Whole Foods open (except it’s just over the border in upscale Fairfield). The problem: Connecticut has never had any love for its cities. And what Bridgeport clearly needs is love, which—and I’m serious here—is exactly the sentiment America’s many woebegone cities require. Our bleakest cities cry out not just for civic pride but civic passion. (Oh, yeah, and lots of investment dollars.)

So this is it, the moment for Bridgeport and other struggling cities (like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland…) to blossom. It’s time for a revival of those cities that were abandoned by the industries that once sustained them and have thus far been untouched by the waves of prosperity that have buoyed our showcase cities. Why now? The conventional wisdom about cities has finally changed.

When I visit Mayor Finch in the city hall annex (originally a Gimbels department store), he argues that Connecticut undermined its cities way back by making it impossible for them to grow: “We’re one of two states that doesn’t have land annexation in its constitution.” For a 16-square-mile city that balances its budget on property taxes, with endless acres of abandoned industrial sites, the sad fact is that much of what generates revenue (like that new Whole Foods) is on the other side of a municipal border. At the same time, Finch sounds like pretty much everyone on the urbanism lecture circuit these days when he says that cities are the healthiest, most economically and environmentally sound places to live. “Gas in our lifetimes is going to be ten dollars a gallon,” he predicts. “Things that people aren’t thinking about right now are going to happen.”

So far, the evidence in Bridgeport of a newfound love affair with the city is real but modest. Eversley takes me on a walking tour of downtown. There are old banks, like Citytrust, whose offices have been converted to desirable rental apartments, and ones like the squat, temple-shaped Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank building, which is still awaiting rescue. The developer Eric Anderson restored the old Arcade Hotel and has attracted a cupcake bakery, a Mexican café, and a nonchain pharmacy to the downtown’s lovely 19th-century light court. Another developer, Philip Kuchma, recently completed a complex called Bijou Square, a historic restoration paired with new construction, which includes 84 units of housing and a 1910 theater reopening this summer with indie films, live entertainment, and a lobby bar.

Slowly, the Finch administration’s curatorial approach to downtown is paying off. But the bigger problem is what to do with the hundreds of acres of brownfield sites. The scale of the industrial abandonment is a reminder of the size of the investment required to make Bridgeport whole again. In an ideal world, General Electric would find a way to repurpose the monumental, 77-acre 1915 Remington Arms plant, which it bought in 1920 and operated until 2007, for the huge solar-panel factory it intends to build somewhere in the United States. That seems unlikely. Every city in the country is clamoring for the plant and GE appears indifferent to the potential others see in the Bridgeport facility. The AIA study suggests turning the GE/Remington complex into an “alternative technologies research center.” Appealing, but improbable. Indeed, demolition is scheduled to begin on the facility this summer.

The city has proposed the East Bridgeport Development Corridor, a plan intended to spur reuse of the blighted acreage. The most promising component so far is the P. T. Barnum Metro-North Station, named for the circus impresario and former Bridgeport mayor. If completed, it will be the city’s second rail station and is envisioned as a catalyst for mixed-use, transit-oriented development. Barnum Station is part of a package of similar projects in New York and Connecticut that received a $3.5 million, federally funded Sustainable Communities Initiative Grant, part of an effort to seed pilot projects that integrate housing, economic development, transportation, and environmental planning. Bridgeport expects its share to be $250,000, enough to fund a feasibility study, which is, Eversley says, “a ticket to the dance” for the next round of federal funding. Finch hopes the Obama administration starts an infra-structure bank that would help public/private partnerships actually build the projects encouraged by planning grants.

In the meantime, the most vivid evidence that someone loves Bridgeport is Two Boots, a branch of the New York City–based Italian/Cajun pizza miniempire. Its Mardi Gras–bead-covered walls are the cheeriest thing around for miles. Owner Phil Hartman attributes the choice of Bridgeport for his first out-of-town location to his passion “for cities that are lost causes.” (Recently, he opened a branch in Baltimore.) Hartman truly loves Bridgeport, but he’s impatient with the pace and scale of development. Speaking of the hoopla surrounding the completion of Bijou Square, he says, “We need, like, 70 of these buildings.”

Hartman is right. And maybe one of these days someone will show Bridgeport the love and fund the big-ticket developments, such as Barnum Station or the proposed Green Energy Park. The city does have an $11 million federal grant to finance an infrastructure upgrade on Steel Point, a necessary precursor to any planned development. (Work is scheduled to begin early next year.) In theory, housing, retail, offices, and a marina will follow. Until then, Eversley and Kuchma, side by side in a Two Boots booth, tally small victories: the recent arrival downtown of a single dry cleaner, the relocation of a cheese shop from tony Westport. “We’ll need another 300 or 400 apartments to support a decent-sized supermarket,” Kuchma calculates. It’s a slow process. But if Bridgeport can find love, there’s hope for Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

Kuchma Corporation showcases newest façade to the city’s skyline since 1989

April 4th, 2011

BRIDGEPORT –A cool breeze blows through the second-floor window of what soon will be a spacious one-bedroom apartment in the first downtown construction since 1989.

The air helps ease the humid summer air and transforms the structure under construction at the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard into a relaxed and cool haven.

Although the space is full of pipes, cement and dirt, it is easy to imagine waking up in one of the 84 apartments, featuring stone kitchen countertops and walk-in closets, and opening a window overlooking a grassy courtyard or Bijou Square’s restaurant row.

Developer Phil Kuchma’s $23 million project has been moving at full speed since April, when workers returned to the construction site after they were forced to halt more than a year ago because of financing woes tied to the country’s economic meltdown.

Bricks of varying shades break up the massive structure’s facade, making it appear as though it were several connected buildings. Soon, the turret, a small tower on top of the building, will be fashioned with white metal and lit up nightly, along with the six retail storefronts.

“Buildings should be lit up so they add to the streetlight,” Kuchma said.

A wine shop and a retail store marketing artisan products, including furniture, household goods and clothing, expected to open this fall will be the building’s first tenants. An upscale unisex salon soon will follow.

In November, residents will begin moving into the one- and two-bedroom units — ranging in size from 800 to 1,260 square feet — paying monthly rents from $915 to $1,675, not including utilities.

Eleven apartments will be affordable units for families with a combined income of $40,000 a year or less. Those will rent from $750 to $1,130 a month. Kuchma noted that despite the delays and the decision to rent what initially were to be condominium units, nothing about the project has changed.

“We didn’t reduce the quality of anything,” he said. “We’ve spent money on things here that will make it long-lasting and sustainable. We are building a high-quality building people will be proud to look at and live in for a long time.”

Originally posted by Connecticut Post, Keila Torres, Staff Writer: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Complex-is-city-s-first-in-decades-618248.php#ixzz1UMPAHGIc

Kuchma Corporation receives prestigious recognition

April 3rd, 2011

The City of Bridgeport has been honored for the second year in a row with a prestigious national community development award for its innovative use of HOME Investment Partnership Program funds in its work with local developer Philip Kuchma on the mixed-use building at 323 Fairfield Avenue, part of the Bijou Square development.
The City was one of 14 recipients of the Gabe Zimmerman Award for Public Service during the National Community Development Association’s Annual Meeting held in Washington, D.C., this week. Mayor Bill Finch and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Alanna Kabel were on hand to receive the award at the luncheon held Friday. The award, formerly called the Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award, is given each year as part of a national competition to identify and recognize exemplary uses of Community Development Block Grant funds which best address the needs of low-income families and neighborhoods.

“We were extremely proud to nominate Phil’s 323 Fairfield Avenue project for this award,” said Finch. “The Kuchma family has been a part of downtown development for decades, and the work he’s done on this part of the Bijou Square project is nothing short of miraculous considering the economic climate.”

The 323 Fairfield Avenue mixed-use building is the first new construction in downtown Bridgeport in nearly 20 years. Kuchma had begun work on the building in late 2007, just as the nation slipped into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The building stood empty for more than a year as Kuchma struggled to put together financing to complete the construction.

“Phil never lost sight of what he wanted to do, and we wouldn’t allow the project to flounder,” said Finch.

“I’ve spent nearly forty years developing properties in the City of Bridgeport,” said Kuchma, “and I’m extremely appreciative of the assistance I’ve received from the City and other entities to enable this project to move forward to completion. Downtown Bridgeport is an interesting place to live, work, and enjoy restaurants and entertainment, and is improving every month. We plan to continue to grow our investments here and definitely see a bright future.”

The City’s Central Grants and Community Development and Planning and Economic Development departments worked closely with Kuchma to help find ways to put a financing package together. Finally, in late winter 2010, a combination of GE Capital/CHFA, Housing Development Fund and the City’s HOME funds helped put the project back on track.

Today, the mixed-use development at the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard includes a wine shop and a gift boutique, a unisex hair salon is to open soon, and two other leases have been agreed upon. Only two retail spaces remain. Forty percent of the 84 one and two-bedroom units, 11 of which are targeted as affordable rate housing, are rented due to the high demand for market-rate housing, and he expects the rest of the units to be occupied by early spring. Of the 11 affordable rate units, 10 have been leased to date.

Originally posted by the Bridgeport Banner, ELAINE K. FICARRA: http://bridgeportbanner.typepad.com/bridgeport/2011/01/phil-kuchma-receives-honor.html