City banks on theater to draw downtown crowds
Bridgeport, Conn. — In 1996, a fire destroyed the only bridge linking The Polka Dot Playhouse on Pleasure Beach Island to the city’s mainland. When the city decided not to rebuild the bridge, the 43-year-old, not-for-profit theater began looking for a new home.
Locally based People’s Bank stepped in, offering to donate 10 years’ free use of a vacant downtown bank building, a donation valued at $1.6 million. The city is dedicating $2 million it will receive from the state to the project to renovate the building into a 223-seat theater.
Fletcher Thompson, a local architecture and engineering firm, is creating an adaptive re-use plan for the building that will maintain the character, integrity and beauty of the original 82-year-old, neo-classical structure. The building’s stained glass skylight will be retained, although a structure will be built over it to provide for darkening of the theater. The skylight also will be backlit to give a daylight effect when the house lights are raised.
An adjacent building will include the theater’s front entrance, the box office, a marquee and a formal lobby with a bar. Other nearby structures will provide circulation and egress spaces.
“One of the strategies to revitalize the inner city is to bring back to downtown the entertainment that people once came there for,” says Steve Tyliszczak, senior projects coordinator for Bridgeport’s office of planning and development. “We’re looking at the whole concept of having things available in the central area that are tourist-friendly. We found working in partnership to be a very successful way to do that.”
The theater company will produce its first show in September. Long identified as a summer theater, the new Polka Dot Playhouse will operate year-round, offering children’s workshops and other community outreach programs.