By Cindy Clarke
aving grown up riding the ferry from Bridgeport, Connecticut, across the Long Island Sound to Port Jefferson, New York, I was familiar with the area where Steelpointe Harbor is now docked. It was a harbor off the grid then, save for rail and ferry commuters who had little time to reimagine the thriving 1800s waterfront of old that bustled with whaling ships, oyster boats and magnificent sailing yachts newly built or the one that would sail into view in the future surprising long timers like me with a vision and ventures impossibly impressive and inspiring.
Historically Bridgeport has seen more than its fifteen minutes of fame. It gained notoriety for its pivotal wartime roles during the American Revolution, as the home of 19th century showman P.T. Barnum, the city where a successful workers’ strike led to the establishment of the 8-hour workday that set the standard for the rest of the nation, the founding site of the phenom 20th-century Subway sandwich shop, the manufacturing headquarters for aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky’s world’s-first helicopters and the deep water harbor for the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry, linking Connecticut to Long Island since 1883.
It has also seen its share of transformations. Its advantageous geographic location encouraged early settlers, who thrived on fishing and farming, to shift from agrarian to mercantile and manufacturing pursuits. When the railroad opened in 1840, with a train station right on the waterfront, the city became a booming industrial center and produced everything from carriages and sewing machines to ammunition. Bridgeport’s growth accelerated even further from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century with the advent of massive immigration and labor movements until, at its peak population in 1950, Bridgeport was Connecticut’s second most populous city. Like the demise of so many other once urban powerhouses, due to a number of factors from deindustrialization, political shenanigans, economic downturns and more, a banged up Bridgeport teetered on financial ruin for years. That is until waterfront developers Robert and Bobby Christoph, the father and son team behind RCI Group and its affiliates, once again saw promise in its port.
The Christophs are dream makers for boaters and the mega-yachting set. They specialize in the development of world-class marina destinations, transforming distressed dockage into coveted boating communities across the US, including Boston, Miami, Key West and San Diego.
“We saw a great opportunity here,” admitted Bobby Christoph, who first saw the site on the recommendation of a boater he met at his Miami marina. “We were impressed by the infrastructure and the deep water we found there, along with the fact that there was no bridge to limit big ships from entering the harbor.” Add the fact that Bridgeport is the perfect – and virtually only – mid-way point for megayachts sailing between New York and points south to Newport and Sag Harbor, it was a big win on all counts.
The Christophs invested in Bridgeport back in 1998, long before troubling financial times brought Connecticut to its knees, explaining that while other developers bailed, they dug in for the long haul. “Even a recession could not lessen our view of what was possible in Bridgeport.”
Or a pandemic, I thought, because what they have accomplished at Bridgeport’s waterfront over the past two decades in less than stellar conditions has gone beyond expectations in every way.
Just as they did with their “counterports” in Florida and California, they’ve raised the bar with their vision for what a dream dock should look like. Like the finest real estate developments, it’s all about location, location, location. Steelpointe Harbor sits at the intersection of commerce, transportation and recreation, with an easy-on, easy-off dedicated exit off the 1-95 corridor, walk to convenience to Metro North and Amtrak railroads, onsite access to the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry and some 100 acres of shorefront close to the mid-point of 113-mile long Long Island Sound, an integral part of the well-sailed Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It’s a quick one-hour drive from Manhattan and minutes from Sikorsky Airport.
With location comes infrastructure, and they’ve got that covered too. In addition to its access to Connecticut’s largest cities and premier services, they made sure the harbor was home to world-class brands that would attract boaters.
“We went after them, starting with Bass Pro Shops, Starbucks, Chipolte, and T-Mobile, who all have retail operations here now and are helping to build Bridgeport’s future.” he said.
They also went after some of the biggest names in the marine industry, including HornBlower, which plans to have their fleet of sightseeing ferries serviced at Bridgeport Boatworks, Steelpointe Harbor’s full service shipyard, and international sail maker North Sails, who are moving the global headquarters of their North Technology Group here this summer. They are also welcoming a windmill manufacturer and Bridgeport’s new ferry terminal on-site down the road, once the on-going construction is complete.
“We custom built all concrete loading docks here, first class construction that is probably ten years ahead of its time, with 16 foot wide main piers for commercial and recreational ships. With 220-deepwater slips, we can accommodate boats from 20 feet up to 200 feet, with drafts up to 25 feet at the end of our docks.”
Sensitive to environmental resiliency and climate change concerns, they had to bring in all new infrastructure when they were developing the site. They built a new bulkhead all the way around the entire property so that it was positioned for the long term. They are confident that there will never be a flooding issue here, and hurricanes and nor’ easters, all too common here in New England, won’t be a problem either, thanks to the safeguards they put in place, including a 14 foot breakwater and hurricane proof windows.
Developing a top of the line boating destination also calls for entertainment venues and the Christophs have that covered too. Bridgeport Harbor has long been recognized for its premier oyster beds, an endeavor thoughtfully sponsored by the Christophs in nearby Yellow Mill Pond, so it comes as no surprise that you’ll find a waterfront oyster bar on site, open for landlubbers and boaters too. Expect movie theaters and hotels to pop up in this pedestrian-friendly nautical harborside too, along with new eateries and retail shops connected by a boardwalk that will appeal to local residents and marina guests.
We were impressed by the infrastructure and the deep water we found there, along with the fact that there was no bridge to limit big ships from entering the harbor.
Live Nation, the nationwide entertainment company renowned for producing extraordinary live shows, is opening an amphitheater on the waterfront that will attract people from all over, including boaters from across the Sound in New York and Connecticut who dock here for dinner and enjoy an outdoor concert or show. Where else but Steelepointe can you do that?
For an eye-opening peek at the future the Christophs envision here when the last phase of their planned development is done – brand new multi-family housing, from apartments to condos, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool for marina members included – make plans to attend their invitation-only Steelpointe Yacht and Charter Show held annually in June.
No ordinary experience, the four-day boat show is designed to be the ultimate show stopper, with private jets, luxury cars, megayachts and headlining musical talent from all over the country lining the docks and fireworks, some of the best in the Northeast, lighting up the skies above. Surprise superstars – think major sports figures and high-profile celebrities – will make their entrance by seaplane, helicopter or high-end car, barges will double as bandstands and impossible-to-resist culinary treats from Connecticut’s best caterers will whet your appetite for the good life.
Their reason for pulling out all the stops for this over-the-top event is deceptively simple. The Christophs believe in the power of community to enrich lives and empower change. Already creating hundreds of jobs for the Bridgeport economy through their development, a percentage of the show proceeds is designated for a fleet of local charities, including pop-up fresh food markets, youth sports leagues and more. That their business model is all about transforming distressed, underserved urban properties into mixed-used, recreational-friendly waterfront developments tells part of the story. Their interest lies in creating and supporting destinations that bring people back to the waterfront to discover and enjoy its many treasures is another.
“I moved my family here from Florida and we are here to stay. We want to be part of the community. The show, however opulent and fantastical and fun to dream about, is part of our desire to give back to the community.”
The Steelpointe Yacht and Charter show will most certainly attract visitors to this harborside neighborhood. But it will be the Christoph’s real-time vision of life here that will keep them coming back. ☐
About Steelpointe Harbor
Steelpointe Harbor is an urban-oriented, mixed-use development designed to embody the most desirable characteristics of a harbor-side neighborhood. When finished, the development will include 1,500 residential units, 800,000 square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of commercial/office space, and 300,000 square feet of hotel / meeting area overlooking a 200+-slip marina with complete shore-side support.
The Star Behind Showpiece Shows
Jennifer Jones, “JJ” to anyone who ever has had the pleasure to meet her, was born with stars in her eyes. A world traveler with a passion and penchant for putting people and places together, JJ is an event planner extraordinaire with a portfolio of parties that’s second to none.
She was born and raised in Florida, studied business, finance and hospitality management in college, and marketing postgraduate, and currently runs a boutique luxury lifestyle marketing and event planning agency, Showpiece Shows, that has upped the game for others in her field. Her client list includes some of the biggest names in the sports, cars, boating and entertainment industries, who all count on her to produce best-in-class, uniquely elegant events for their high-profile brands. Her company has thrown Page 6-worthy Super Bowl productions, fishing tournaments, celebrity soirees and more for the rich and famous, but it is her boat shows that are making waves this year.
A media sponsor for some of the most elite boat shows in Florida, Venü first met JJ in Fort Lauderdale, then again in Bridgeport at the Steelpointe Yacht & Charter show last September. What attracted us then was what attracts her high-profile clients now. Her enthusiasm is palpable, her interest in your happiness, genuine, and her easy smile, not only contagious, but ultimately life changing.
Let me explain. JJ likes to make things happen. In fact, that’s where she excels. Whether she’s driving away from a hurricane, high winds at her wheels, en route to a safe harbor up the coast or putting on a show in the heat of a pandemic, she is not averse to changing course if something, even an injured puppy, needs her help. That’s what happened a few years ago when she was making her way to Newport for a yachting event. She found a discarded little dog in a South Carolina gas station dumpster, back broken, and drove it all the way to a Connecticut veterinarian where she was told it could be helped. She even found the little guy a new home, on a megayacht, and Franklin, as he is now known, lives the good life.
That story reflects JJ’s serendipitous career in event management and her journey to Bridgeport where you’ll find her today. She got her feet wet in the sports and entertainment arena before she became involved in yachting. It was after a Super Bowl production she had orchestrated, she recalls, when she returned home late to search for more event-related opportunities online.
“I happened upon a recruitment ad for a yacht company that caught my attention so I called them up the next day and told them I wanted to check out their event space. I went and saw all these amazing boats and the next thing I know I was talking to the vice president about the job they were advertising,” she said. “While he explained that he thought the job was way beneath me, he asked me if I would consider it anyway. I didn’t know a lot about boats even though I grew up on a Fort Lauderdale beach, and I wanted to learn about them so I accepted his offer on the spot.”
That entry level job at Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group, a yacht company led to a succession of corporate ladder promotions and a fleet of successful boat shows, preparing her to eventually captain her own ship at Showpiece Shows.
Introducing people to the boating life through the shows she produces has become a key goal for her. “Our shows are really about educating people about boats and the waterways,” she said, adding that the yachting life is not something everyone is familiar with.
“I want the people who participate in our shows to not only just come here to showcase a boat or a car, but to meet each other, learn about their businesses, make connections and transact,” she explained. She wants the same for show’s attendees, giving them the opportunity to understand and see what boating is all about.
That’s a big part of what’s behind her vision for Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Yacht & Charter Show – and then some.
JJ and the Showpiece team orchestrated Steelpointe’s first show just as the pandemic hit, having planned every detail with meticulous thought months in advance. Non-plussed at the crowd and safety restrictions in play at the time, she rearranged the layout of the show with intimate beach cabanas, along with other COVID-related protocols, to offer sanitized surroundings and social distancing to everyone on site.
In spite of the challenges, the outdoor show held in June, 2020 attracted some 4,000 exhibitors and visitors, with a September show welcoming more than 5,200 to the site a few months later. This year, Steelpointe expects to limit attendance to 6,500 attendees over a 4-day invitation–only event.
This event promises to make a bigger splash with an incredible line up of luxury yachts, planes and automobiles, all curated by JJ and Showpiece Shows. The sky’s the limit when it comes to JJ’s innovative shows and she deftly brings them to life as seamlessly as she imagines them.
This year’s show opens with a Wednesday night, white-attire requested, Wings, Wheels and Water event at Sikorsky Airport where a receiving line of Ducati motorcycles, Hermés speedsters, vintage roadsters, private jets, helicopters and surprise treats welcome everyone on board, setting the bar as high as it can possibly go.
It continues with a culinary-inspired cocktail yacht-hop on Thursday, a progressive evening event that gets better with each taste of the good life, as up and coming musicians, headlining celebrities and famous athletes make their entrance by land, sea and air.
Friday and Saturday celebrate boating by day and superstars by night, wowing guests with an A-list cast of entertainers and a traffic-stopping fireworks display they’ll long remember. Sunday marks the end of the reverie, but not before making someone’s dream come true with a winning raffle ticket for a vintage BMW, rendered into a priceless piece of art by renowned artist Rick Garcia who will hand-paint the entire car during the show.
Which bring us back to the beginning of this story about JJ’s ability to manifest life-changing smiles through the connections she makes. She did it for Franklin, the pup she named in honor of wheelchair-bound FDR, with high hopes of giving him a life of comfort and ease. That he lives on the kind of presidential yacht that will be showcased at Steelpointe makes her story all the more engaging and makes us smile even more.
About Showpiece Shows
Showpiece Shows provides world-class show management, design, production, marketing and experiential event expertise for the luxury market worldwide. With over 9 decades of combined yachting industry experience, our single objective is to provide experiential event platforms that are unparalleled and to showcase luxury goods in one-of-a-kind settings.
The Steelpointe Yacht & Charter Show features Showpiece Shows’ signature combination of luxury yachts, rare and exotic cars, private jet and helicopter samplings, and, live music from across the US. This prestigious invitation-only event reflects the refined and deluxe caliber of luxury lifestyle brands, and our primary goals focus on boating education and exposure to the possibilities in yachting. Here, our guests, exhibitors, and sponsors alike experience a new level of service and appreciation for being a part of the Steelpointe Yacht & Charter Show.