IKEA another step closer to reality

A committee of the New Haven Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to approve furniture retailer IKEA’s plan to open a store in New Haven.

The plan, which IKEA originally proposed in August, has now been approved by both the Legislative Committee and the City Plan Commission of New Haven. It will go to the full Board of Aldermen for final approval Nov. 7.

In green-lighting the Swedish furniture retailer’s plan to open a new store on Sargent Drive — at the intersection of Interstate 95 and State Route 34 — members of the committee pointed to the economic benefits that will result from the retailer’s opening.

“In general, I think it’s a great idea every time we have the opportunity to create economic development, to generate almost a million dollars in taxes and to create 300 new jobs,” said Legislative Committee member Jorge Perez, president of the Board of Aldermen.

The New Haven Office of Economic Development is helping coordinate the venture. Craig Russell, who is the project manager for the proposed IKEA store opening, said he believes the store could draw customers to other local businesses.

“I think it will help to bolster economic development in the area,” Russell said. “It will also help the downtown businesses.”

IKEA also has plans to work directly with the community to ensure that local residents can get the jobs IKEA provides.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity, and we think it’s going to be a great marriage between IKEA and the New Haven community,” IKEA Real Estate Director Pat Smith said.

Although the approval process saw few objections to IKEA’s proposal, some New Haven residents questioned the proposed design of the building and surrounding area.

Specifically, several city residents at Tuesday night’s meeting said the project should preserve the architectural integrity of the Pirelli Building, the building that currently exists on the lot where IKEA will be built. Included among those objecting was New Haven resident Lana Berkovich.

“We don’t like the excessive demolition of the Pirelli Building [lot] and the large amount of impervious parking surface,” Berkovich said. She suggested the use of turf rather than asphalt as a surface for parking in an attempt to preserve the large green space surrounding the Pirelli Building.

IKEA representatives said they have tried to address all the issues that have been raised by community members. In order to create more parking area, however, the warehouse of the Pirelli Building must be demolished, said John Cliffort of Greenberg Farrow, the architecture firm designing IKEA’s New Haven store.

“We balanced the idea that business is important and that business cannot be allowed to overrun the interests of the city,” said Jim Segaloff of Susman Duffy & Segaloff, the firm representing IKEA.

“The city needs to be more proactive in making the proposal better,” Berkovich added. “We don’t feel the current site plan fully addresses the issues we brought up. The Board of Aldermen must preserve the cultural as well as the economic interests of New Haven.”

Berkovich’s objections did not go unheard. Although the committee voted to recommend approval for IKEA, some committee members said Berkovich’s concerns would be addressed before the final go-ahead in November.

“I think the argument[s] about the turf and the green issues were very influential to me,” Perez said. “I would really like to look more at the surface used for parking before we vote.”

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