Group mourns loss of arena



“Puck you John.”

A group of New Haven sports fans played a street hockey game in front of the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum Monday on the one-year anniversary of its closing. Signs in both nets made their feelings clear.

“Save the Coliseum — Vote Out DeStefano.”

But while these sports fans and another group of Coliseum supporters lamented the building’s closure, the city moved ahead with plans to demolish the structure.

Tony Bialecki, deputy director of the city’s economic development office, said the Coliseum Authority is currently examining seven bids for the demolition ranging from $4.2 to 8.6 million. The Authority, he said, will chose one bid to accept based on qualifications and cost-effectiveness by next month.

The decision to close the Coliseum is final, Bialecki said.

The other event scheduled for the day, a press conference by Democratic mayoral candidate Sherri Killins and the Coalition to Save Our Coliseum, a group advocating against the demolition of the arena, was rescheduled.

Killins said while previous efforts have brought more people from the surrounding area into the city, New Haven needs to work on providing more affordable activities for its youth and families.

“We need to now focus on what we do for the people of New Haven,” Killins said.

Killins said important decisions require more community input. She said as mayor she would at least ask for further discussion of the issue and ask citizens what they think is in their best interest.

“The decisions should not be made from one office and based on one report,” Killins said.

The mayoral candidate also questioned the current administration’s funding priorities, noting that the state has limited funds and the state will only allocate so much money to the city.

Dick Walsh, secretary of the coalition, said his group believes it is possible to greatly improve the Coliseum, “opening this up more for the people of this city,” for between $30 and 50 million, one-third to one-half of the price of the city’s plan for redeveloping the site.

Under the coalition’s plan, the appearance of the facade would be improved, storefronts would be added to George Street, and the parking lot would be redesigned to add 900 spaces. The group’s other ideas for the arena include placing an athletic center on the building’s roof and perhaps adding a small convention hall.

Sporting events would continue to be held in the arena under his group’s plan, Walsh said. He said both the United Hockey League and World Hockey Association have shown interest in having franchises in the Coliseum, and he would like the stadium to host Yale sporting events, as it has in the past.

When New Haven officials closed the Coliseum on Aug. 28 last year, they cited the city’s budget problems and noted that renovating the arena to make it competitive would cost three times as much as demolition.

“I think the decision has been made to close the Coliseum and demolish the Coliseum based strictly on economic factors,” Bialecki said.

For now, the Coliseum lies vacant. Kevin Tennyson of North Haven, one of the fans playing hockey in front of the soon-to-be-demolished edifice, said he wished sporting events could still be held until the building is finally torn down, noting that it had stood empty for an entire hockey and football season.

Tennyson now drives to Bridgeport to see games, but he always roots for the other team.

“I will not root for Bridgeport,” Tennyson said. “This was the home rink.”

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