At a symposium last Saturday, academics, urban planners and architects defended the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum against the city’s plans for its demolition.
The symposium, co-sponsored by the Arts Council for Greater New Haven, was held by the Alliance for Architecture at the New Haven Colony Historical Society on Whitney Avenue. Six speakers offered their different opinions on the future of the Coliseum, built in 1972.
The speakers agreed on the building’s architectural flaws. Douglas Rae, a professor in the Yale School of Management, criticized the building’s aesthetics.
“In general I think it is a failed building,” said Rae. “But I think taking it down is a highly problematic decision.”
Rae said the city needed a space for hockey and other mass entertainment previously housed in the Coliseum. He also proposed that future planning be less centralized and more open to private investments.
Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, agreed that the Coliseum could only be successful as a “beehive of multiple uses.” She said the Coliseum, never completed according to its original design due to budgetary cuts, was meant to change over time. The Coliseum had no future as an 11,000 seat venue, Farwell said, but before demolition, the city should look into ways of “reusing what we’ve got.”
She also advocated building a boulevard to reconnect downtown to the medical center and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
City officials have said they decided to demolish the Coliseum, which closed in 2002, for its consistent inability to compete in ticket sales with larger venues like the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport and the Meadows Music Theatre in Hartford. Attempts to revamp the Coliseum within the past five years were unsuccessful, and the building had become a financial burden on New Haven, the officials said.
Several speakers mentioned the need for downtown parking, currently provided by the large garage above the Coliseum.
Stephen Dynia, who grew up in New Haven and is now the principal architect of Stephen Dynia Architects PC, also supported some form of reuse for the Coliseum.
“The Coliseum is a public assembly space that is a collective memory of the community,” he said. “You don’t know where you are at any given moment unless you know where you’ve been.”
Dynia said that while the building currently looks terrible and unfinished, the city’s refusal to look for new uses for a structure of such substantial mass shows a lack of imagination.
“It is a building of extraordinary bones and skin,” he said.
Colin Caplan, who organized the event for Alliance for Architecture, said the city needs to hold public hearings on the issue.
“We need to talk about it,” he said. “There should be a public input in a decision this massive.”
Caplan said he was pleased with the event’s turnout, although he would have liked to see more city officials there.
Steve Marcus, a New Haven resident who attended the event, invited attendees to sign letters to the New Haven Board of Aldermen urging them to withhold city money for demolition. Marcus said it was notable that the state chose not to pay to tear down the Coliseum.
“I think that’s a big grass-roots victory,” he said.
Kimberly Thomas, a New Haven resident who has written letters to the Board of Aldermen, said people need to see the Coliseum issue as separate from recently announced plans to move Long Wharf Theatre and Gateway Community College downtown. Tearing the Coliseum down would be “a huge health and environmental hazard,” she said.