Condominiums Planned for Former Office Building in Bridgeport, Conn.

Aug. 7--BRIDGEPORT -- A developer making a name for himself by transforming old commercial properties into housing is proposing a new spin on the former Columbia Records office building on Ridgefield Avenue.

John Guedes will ask the Zoning Board of Appeals this week to grant a series of variances to allow the property to be converted into 65 condominiums. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall.

Guedes said his plans call for investing $7 million to convert the former Columbia building at 50 Ridgefield Ave., which has been vacant for about two years.

"We plan to restore the original facade of the building," Guedes said. "We will create a mix of one- and two-bedroom units, with an average selling price of $185,000."

Guedes has teamed up with Steve Israel, a principal in Columbia Equities, which owns the building on the city's East Side.

Guedes said there is a lot of interest in Bridgeport projects right now because property in the city is less costly than elsewhere in lower Fairfield County and neighboring New York.

He recently completed converting a former plumbing supply warehouse on Federal Street into the 58-unit Federal Arms condominium complex. He also is transforming a former corset factory in downtown Shelton into 100 condos.

To make the Columbia Records building conversion a reality, Raymond Rizio, lawyer for Columbia Properties LLC, said the developers will need several variances from city zoning regulations.

One variance will be needed to allow about 10,000 square feet to be added to the fifth floor of the nonconforming structure, Rizio said.

The addition will complete the top floor to make it coincide with the lower four floors, he said.

A variance is also needed to allow use of the existing 134- space parking lot, because the regulations do not allow such parking lots to be created, Rizio said.

The parking lot, under the zoning code, is considered a new use of the site because the building is being converted from office to residential use, the lawyer said.

Guedes said the building, constructed in 1912, was used by a few different corset manufacturers before it was taken over by Columbia Records in 1936.

Columbia left the building in 1965, when it was purchased by Milton Schwartz, who converted it into an office center.

A group of doctors purchased the structure in 1978 and used it as a medical office complex.

About three years ago, plans were in the works to transform the building into an assisted-living center, Rizio said, but the project failed to materialize.

Rizio said the developers settled on the residential plan after the office market softened.

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