The groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for New Haven’s new IKEA retal store was normal in all but one respect.
Like many things sold in the chain’s stores, the name tags worn at the event were Swedish.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr., IKEA Real Estate Manager Pat Smith and city officials participated in the ceremony on Sargent Drive, where the new store is slated to be completed by June 16, 2004.
“It’s an acknowledgement of New Haven as a marquee destination city,” DeStefano said. “It’s a project that makes sense for us for where we are and where we’re going as a community.”
Smith said the new 312,000 square foot facility will have “a major impact on the city of New Haven,” providing 400 new jobs to the region, bringing in two million visitors a year, and paying the city over $1 million annually in taxes.
New Haven’s IKEA may also provide some competition for the Yale Bookstore, Urban Outfitters and hotel liquidators for Yalies’ furniture dollars in the fall. Smith said the chain plans to work with the University to help get furniture to students.
Ward 6 Alderwoman Hazelann Woodell, whose district includes the store, said IKEA will work with local agencies to ensure that the majority of the new jobs will go to city residents.
Woodell said IKEA pledged $100,000 to Gateway Community College to train its workers. Dorsey Kendrick, the college’s president, said there will be a “workforce partnership,” with IKEA identifying its specific needs and interviewing candidates for positions and the college helping train candidates who do not have the necessary qualifications for jobs.
The new store, the first IKEA location in New England, is part of a major expansion for the furniture chain, Smith said. The chain, which currently operates 18 stores in the United States, plans to add 50 more locations over the next 10 years.
While other retail projects such as the Chapel Square Mall are being developed at the same time as the new store, Smith said he thought the projects were complementary.
“I think the plans for the mall are pretty exciting,” Smith said. “Anything that happens that’s going to help the retail environment in New Haven is going to help IKEA.”
The project was widely supported within the city. New Haven Economic Development Adminstrator Henry Fernandez said the Board of Alderman voted unanimously to support the project. Woodell said the project also had the full support of her constituents — support they did not give to a previous retail project in the area, the Long Wharf Mall.
“That’s why it took such a short time,” Woodell said.
But not everyone is pleased by the IKEA project. The new store is being built around the Armstrong-Pirelli Building, which is on the State Register of Historic Places. As part of the construction, IKEA demolished a portion of the bottom of the building. Peg Chambers ARC ’86, chair of the design commission of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Institue of Architects, said it was ironic that the products IKEA sells come out of the same design asthetic as the building. She said a little effort could have made a difference.
“They have basically destroyed the asthetic of the original building and they need not have done so,” Chambers said. “The site is not going to be what it could have been.”