River Street to undergo facelift

If the New Haven Development Commission gets its way, River Street will soon be getting a facelift.

The $14 million proposal to redevelop the neglected industrial area involves using the property for several purposes, including light industry and retailers. It would also restore the Bigelow/National Pipe Bending complex, create a waterfront park, a trail along the Quinnipiac River, and make infrastructure improvements.

In order to renovate the area, property currently owned by residents will have to be acquired by the city. Officials estimate that this will cost about $10 million, an expense that supporters are hoping will come from state bonding.

“The River Street area has been very sleepy up until this time, but it has some high-quality stores in it now,” city planning official Joy Ford said. “It would be a good use of land that’s under-utilized although it may involve the taking of some land.”

The River Street Municipal Development Plan would cover 53.3 acres bound by Chapel Street, James Street, Ferry Street and the Quinnipiac River. It is an area that has already had to turn down approximately 20 businesses because it could not provide the commercial and industrial space.

Some of the plan’s biggest supporters are the existing businesses on River Street.

“Our waterfront is in dire need of rescue,” said Lynn Mathis, an employee of River Street company Phoenix Press. “Though many of us keep our properties in great condition, there are many things we have no control over. This plan will change that.”

Residents of the area have been cautiously optimistic at recent meetings about the plan, supporting redevelopment efforts but worrying that the area could turn into an industrial park that shuts down at night.

If passed, the plan proposes to improve the area with new sidewalks and lights. Many hope to create an entirely new atmosphere, with a pier and restaurants.

“For us it will enhance our property values and create a better external work environment for our employees,” Mathis said. “The addition of new cafes, stores, other businesses, generally cleaning things up, gives our potential customers a better reason to come and visit us.”

The proposal now only has to pass before the Board of Aldermen before it can be enacted.

“This development makes a great deal of sense to me, and I support the Administration so long as they get input from the community and satisfy to the greatest extent possible what the people of Fair Haven want and need,” Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said. “I haven’t yet heard any convincing arguments against the development on River Street.”

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