When Jim Foye, the public information officer for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., was a high school student in the New Haven area, he went to concerts at the New Haven Coliseum because there was no place else to go. But that’s not true anymore.
Since the introduction of newer and bigger venues in the early 1990s, including the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport and the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford, the New Haven Coliseum has been unable to compete for big-name artists and ticket sales, Foye said. Scott Healy ’96, executive director of Town Green Special Services District, said that in the past decade, keeping the Coliseum open has become a financial burden on the city. Talks given by DeStefano about shutting down the Coliseum began last spring and culminated in the official closing of its doors this past September.
“It’s a matter that affects many individuals from businesses near the Coliseum to the city which was saddled by a huge financial burden to keep the Coliseum open,” Healy said.
The Coliseum, which was built in the 1970s, has not been able to adapt successfully to accommodate the larger audiences that more modern venues attract. The decision to finally shut it down came after attempts to revamp the arena — some as recently as three years ago — did not bear fruit, Healy said.
“There were discussions about how to make it more viable in the face of competition,” Healy said. “Like in your own house, does it make sense to renovate something that doesn’t have as much use to you?”
However, local hockey fans and preservationists do not see the New Haven Coliseum as useless. There has been a small protest to the campaign to close the Coliseum by New Haven Knights fans and some Yale architecture professors, including School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern. With the slogan “Game Not Over,” local fans refused to let the Coliseum close quietly.
“New Haven has had a long love affair with hockey,” Healy said. He said he understands the fans’ loyalties to their team and to the arena.
But Healy said he disagrees with the status of the Coliseum as an architectural landmark. The Coliseum is a representation of the “brutalist movement” in modern architecture, said New Haven resident Colin Caplan, who works in the housing rehabilitation business. In the past, Stern has been known to compare the Coliseum to an aircraft carrier, Caplan said.
“It’s like the gateway to New Haven,” Caplan said.
For Foye, closing the Coliseum is a decision between preserving an unsuccessful arena and preserving jobs. With the city having problems with its budget, Foye said making cutbacks like the closing of the Coliseum is necessary. The cost to the city to completely renovate the Coliseum is $30 million, while it costs only $8 to $10 million to take it down, he said.
Nevertheless, replacement venues may attract more people to New Haven and produce even more revenue for the city than the Coliseum did, Healy said. Healy will serve on a task force to determine the future of the site. He said a priority of any project would be to remain sensitive to the neighborhood and local businesses. Some suggestions include a combination hotel-conference center or theater.
“If there’s something new and refreshing [built] that might bring new people into New Haven, then it would be encouraging,” said Cafe Nine owner Mike Reichbart.
Though no date has been set for the demolition of the Coliseum, its destruction will not go unnoticed by Caplan.
“Where are we going to watch our arena football games, our ice hockey, our circuses?” he said.