Thursday, December 1 2022

BRIDGEPORT — The last time Bridgeport hosted the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament was in 2017, when the University of Connecticut team last competed here.

“And they’ll come to the bar or grab a quick bite,” Brown said.

Jeff Browning, senior partner at Brewport, located below Interstate 95 a short distance from the arena, said the craft beer and pizza establishment has become “a favorite hangout for college basketball. , but a favorite place for UConn in general”.

“I would expect us to have a big crowd,” Browning said.

That same optimism is felt by many downtown stakeholders ahead of this weekend’s announcement. After two years of shutdowns, partial shutdowns and lost business due to the coronavirus pandemic, venues are looking for the kind of economic infusion and normalcy that a high-profile sporting event could bring.

“We are so excited and thrilled,” said Lauren Coakley Vincent, manager of the Downtown Special Services District, which promotes this neighborhood adjacent to the Harbor Arena. “There is so much excitement and enthusiasm for women’s basketball. (And) if UConn is in that regional group, I think it’ll just be 10 times so much more exciting and we’ll see really good turnout.

“Any time you can get a local house favorite in your corner of the country, that’s always a good thing,” said Dan Onofrio, head of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council. “If we can get UConn to play in Bridgeport, believe me, the arena is going to be full and it’s an economic boost for the city. No doubt about it.”

But some said the challenge remained convincing the majority of ticket holders to take advantage of the many food and drink options downtown. After all, the arena is located across Interstate 95, and it’s not uncommon for visitors to simply drive to an event and then get back on the freeway when it ends.

“Ten thousand people come in, they come out right away,” said Kelvin Ayala, a business consultant who operated the now-closed Moe’s Burger Joint and is a new partner at Blvd Karaoke on Main Street.

Yet, at least anecdotally, officials said another entertainment venue — the Concert Amphitheater that opened last July — has given the neighborhood’s dining establishments a boost. There is at least little doubt that, if UConn is at the arena, the potential for a lively weekend downtown exists.

Molly Kreycik is the head of marketing and fan experience for the new Total Mortgage Arena, which has been sponsored for the past decade by Webster Bank. Kreycik pointed out that the officials there don’t play favorites when it comes to the teams that feature there.

But when asked if turnout would increase for UConn, Kreycik said, “I think that goes without saying. Just look at the past history of the event.

The tournament is potentially a great opportunity for Michael White. He has two downtown restaurants – Brick and Barrel and the newly opened Bank Sports Bar.

“Bringing them here would be great,” he said of UConn’s presence in the arena.

But, White added, more needs to be done to promote downtown restaurants so that arena audiences find them.

“When people come to town, we want to get them to explore the city (and) stay there longer,” he said.

Ayala recalled about seven years ago that there was a big push during another “March Madness” to bring basketball fans to the neighborhood. Merchants got together to try and throw a tailgating party and, Ayala said, didn’t have much success.

Vincent said DSSD plans to promote upcoming games, especially if UConn is there.

As for Brown, who is opening a second restaurant downtown in the spring, he will take on any new Grill II customers he can get.

“Even though I have two, these two will tell someone else about our great food and atmosphere,” Brown said.

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