Almost two years after plans were made to tear down the New Haven Coliseum, the building — which has not hosted an event since 2002 — is still standing. But after a meeting between state and city officials on Friday, the Coliseum’s end may be drawing a little bit closer.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. met with state budget director Marc Ryan as well as several members of the New Haven delegation to the General Assembly in an effort to reach a consensus on how to fund a massive redevelopment project that involves demolishing the Coliseum and moving Long Wharf Theatre and nearby Gateway Community College downtown. While no consensus was reached at the meeting in Hartford, several participants said the city and the state were making progress toward reaching a deal.
Under the city’s plans, Gateway would move to a site that formerly housed a Macy’s department store on Church Street, while the Long Wharf Theatre would relocate to the old Coliseum site. The eventual redevelopment could also include a hotel and convention center, an Italian-style plaza and shops and restaurants, although DeStefano said those projects were not on the table last Friday.
Last month, however, Ryan said the state did not intend to pay the $6 million or so it will take to tear down the Coliseum site. But DeStefano said this weekend that the city was willing to pay for the demolition so long as the Rowland administration contributes significantly to the overall cost of moving Long Wharf and Gateway — a prospect the Democratic mayor was hopeful about.
“They’re willing to invest in part of the site. It really doesn’t matter to me which part of the site we pay for,” DeStefano said. “I think everyone understands the plan we put together last year and that it represents a meaningful redevelopment.”
Michael Cicchetti, an undersecretary at the state’s Office of Planning and Management who attended the meeting, said the Rowland administration was not yet willing to make any firm commitments concerning the redevelopment.
“There weren’t any definitive answers given, and there are no solid plans in place,” Cicchetti said. “I think we’re trying to get a sense of the overall scope of the project.”
If the proposed redevelopment goes through, it will mark an overhaul of a space that was originally part of an earlier project directed at urban renewal under long-time New Haven Mayor Richard C. Lee in the 1960s. In recent years, however, a consensus has emerged among most city and state leaders that the Coliseum has outlived its usefulness, although some local residents have formed a coalition in support of saving the building.
Yet while participants in Friday’s discussions said further meetings will be needed before the city and the state are able to make a deal, DeStefano said he expected the Coliseum to be taken down this year. When asked whether DeStefano’s time frame seemed reasonable, Cicchetti said, “I don’t see why that couldn’t happen.”
Cicchetti said the issue of parking needs to be resolved before the state commits to help moving Gateway and Long Wharf, an undertaking that could cost about $200 million.
Although some of the participants said they were hopeful a final plan might be agreed to within the coming months, state Rep. William Dyson, who also attended the meeting, said it was too early to speculate when the redevelopment project might get underway.
“I think it’s fair to say that we were in agreement in principle on the request that was being made,” said Dyson, a Democrat. “It’s just a question of whether all the other pieces put together makes it doable.”