New fuel cell brings clean power to Bridgeport neighborhood transformation


BRIDGEPORT – A new source of renewable electrical power for a school and residential development in the city's West End is helping to lift the neighborhood from its blighted past to a vibrant future full of prospects.

The fuel cell, owned and operated by NuPower Cherry Street FC LC, is to provide reliable electrical power for a recently constructed building complex that includes the new Great Oaks Charter School, 17 units for the school’s tutors as well as 157 affordable-housing units for other residents. 

Installation of the Doosan Fuel Cell took place in June and the $3.5 million clean-energy system's commercial operations recently went online. A dedication ceremony took place Sept. 22 at the site at 350 Howard Ave. Those attending included developers, school representatives and Connecticut state Reps. Antonio Felipe and Steven Stafstrom.

“By reducing costs for our electrical consumption, we're able to hire more teachers and spend more money on programs,” said John Scalice, principal and executive director of Great Oaks Charter School.

“For the development as a whole, it means a better environment, it also means environmentally friendly programs,” Scalice said. “We've also developed a relationship with the company to help some of our students understand that process.”

The school serves 425 students in grades 6 through 11. Additional information about the school is available online at greatoakscharter.org.

“We're starting to see Bridgeport becoming a Connecticut epicenter for environmentally friendly programs,” Scalice said. “A change toward solar panels, toward fuel cells, water collection – things of that nature – will propel Bridgeport forward, establish a stronger community and then help schools like ours increase opportunities for students.”

The fuel cell's electrical power is to be sold to tenants at a discounted price and its waste heat will provide hot water and space heating to the school in an effort to reduce the school's utility costs, project developers said. Surplus power not used by the residential or school buildings is to be sold back to the United Illuminating Co., a Connecticut-based electric distribution company.

The overall development on 3.5 acres at the intersection of Cherry and Howard streets in Bridgeport's West End is a former brownfield where private industries operated for well more than a century, but left abandoned factories in their wake.

Construction of the three-building complex was funded by a team of community focused lenders. The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) funded the Cherry Street Lofts apartments structure. Boston, Mass.-based BlueHub Capital funded the charter school. Capital for Change funded the tutor housing. 

A fourth residential building is to be constructed during a later phase of the project, and the fuel cell was designed with sufficient capacity to serve that as well.

The primary partners in the fuel-cell development are Gary Flocco, Geof Ravenstine, Daniel Donovan and Scott Guilmartin, who own NuPower Cherry Street FC LC in equal shares.

“When we first came here, this whole square block was going to be knocked down,” Flocco said. “We would have lost a great opportunity to build this community. … We saw what it could be and spent a lot of time convincing others of what it could be.”

The developers purchased the property in 2015 with a predevelopment loan provided by the former Community Capital Fund, one of the three nonprofit organizations that merged in 2016 to form Wallingford-based Capital for Change Inc. The others were the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund and the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund.

The developers now look forward to furthering their efforts in the West End.

“We believe this could be a whole new corridor creating job opportunities – financial and economic opportunities,” Flocco said. “Now an area of Bridgeport where people were afraid to come has become a destination rather than a place to avoid.”

Flocco is the managing partner of Corvus Capital Partners, which led development of the entire Cherry Street project, including the Cherry Street Lofts residential buildings and Great Oaks Charter School. Ravenstine is his partner in this venture.

Donovan has been the lead developer and principal on several ongoing renewable energy projects, and is principal in the firm of Prospero LLC and Prospero Capital LLC.

Guilmartin founded Bloomfield-based Envirocycle LLC, an organics recycling company, is a board member of the Connecticut Airport Authority, past chairman of the Suffield Planning and Zoning Commission, and a former member of the CHFA board of directors. 

Purchase and installation of the 440-kilowatt fuel cell was funded by a loan from Capital for Change, which today is Connecticut's largest full-service community development financial institution.

Capital for Change was involved in discussions for more than two years with the developing partners and their companies, NuPower Fuel Cell LLC and A-1 Energy.

“The developers took a blighted part of town where nothing was going on and began a comprehensive renovation of the whole area -- the school, student housing and additional housing for the Great Oaks Tutor Corps,” said Carla Weil, Capital for Change's director of commercial lending. 

After the predevelopment loan was paid, Capital for Change handled the financial aspect for the tutor housing, Weil said.

“This is an excellent example of the type of project that satisfies Capital for Change's mission, and joining forces with other community development financial institutions -- such as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority – is part of the picture of how we get our work done,” Weil said.

“Capital for Change understood everything from the community-based and project-based levels, and they understood the growing pains of a developer,” Flocco said.

“This clean-energy project is the result of work by multiple partners in the private and public sectors, all striving for a common goal – improving the quality of life in our communities,” said Calvin B. Vinal, president and CEO of Capital for Change. 

“After we explored a number of development models, this has turned out to be better than we anticipated,” Vinal added. “We're always excited to see our mission carried out in such positive ways.”

Capital for Change's mission is to provide flexible, creative and responsive financial products and services to benefit low- and moderate-income persons, and minority and otherwise underserved individuals, businesses and communities. Its programs and products broaden access to affordable housing, energy efficiency and job opportunities.

Additional information about Capital for Change is available online at CapitalForChange.org and the organization's Facebook page, “Capital for Change, Inc.”

Capital for Change Inc. was created in 2016 through the mergers of the Community Capital Fund, Connecticut Housing Investment Fund and the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, shaping an organization with a statewide history of service stretching back to 1968.

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