Plans in the works to fix New Haven’s eyesores

In a move that could revitalize the entire downtown business district, three development teams have made proposals to renovate three blighted structures on lower Chapel and Church streets.

The three firms that are under consideration are Matthews Ventures Holdings and S.N. Phelps & Co. Realty, both based in New Haven, and William Jackson Ewing Inc., of Baltimore. The areas the city wants the team to revitalize are the vacant Malley’s building at North Frontage Road and Church Street, the empty Macy’s site on Church Street and the Chapel Square Mall.

Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez said a panel of city and business leaders is reviewing the proposals and will likely make a decision in a month or two.

“The team we pick will be a combination of which development model we like best, what’s financially viable and what will have the long-term ability to create jobs and tax revenue,” he said.

Fernandez said he did not want to reveal any details of the proposals until a decision has been made, and so far only S.N. Phelps & Co. has made its plans public.

The company proposed a research and development center at the former Malley’s site and an office building with retail space on the ground floor of the former Macy’s building, said S.N. Phelps Senior Vice President Susan Spelios. The firm also suggested moving New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater to the Chapel Street area, an idea which, according to Fernandez, has the support of both the city and theater management. Under the proposal, the entire complex would be called the Sachem Center, after a local Indian tribe.

Spelios said her firm, which once owned several oil tanks in the New Haven Harbor, wants to reinvest in New Haven.

“We felt all along the need for integrated urban planning with control over design issues,” Spelios said. “These are some big structures and [their redevelopment] will require some bold thinking.”

Fernandez said these areas have posed a decade-long problem for New Haven, but he acknowledged New Haven’s downtown has made significant strides.

“The downtown has real strengths in terms of its arts, its marketplace, its offices and its residential areas,” Fernandez said. “We’re looking to build on these strengths.”

Since last year, New Haven officials have targeted the redevelopment of lower Chapel and Church streets, a key area of the downtown business district. Earlier this year, the city released a request for proposals for a development team to help facilitate the facelift of these properties.

In August, the city formed a panel of political, business and community leaders to aid in the selection process. Members of the panel include Fernandez, Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Livable City Initiative Director Regina Winters and Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno.

The Chapel Square Mall has been tied up in a lawsuit filed in 1998 by 115 Temple Street LC, a group based in New Haven that agreed to buy the property but later claimed the city breached its contract by encumbering the mall with over $1 million in loans. Though the lawsuit threatens to delay the redevelopment of the mall, Fernandez said the city is prepared to fight.

“We were clear in the request for proposals that the lawsuit was in existence,” Fernandez said. “We won’t allow anyone to stop the city from moving forward on its development agenda.”

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