City approves Gateway plan

The city development commission approved the final design guidelines for the Gateway Redevelopment Project Tuesday, completing the first phase of a $230 million plan to revitalize downtown New Haven.

The 42-page document, prepared by Herb Newman and Associates, the chief architectural firm for the project, started out as a concept plan that went through a public review process, incorporating a design workshop and public hearings, Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said. The finished product is essentially a “how-to manual” for developers and architects joining the project and a summation of the ideas of community members, architects and city officials, Bialecki said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by members of the development commission, city officials and a handful of community members, the guidelines were approved with little dispute, Bialecki said. But some commission members expressed concern with parking issues, and asked for the guidelines to include stipulations encouraging public transportation solutions and time-limited on-street parking, he said.

The chair of the development commission, John Esposito, said the document is not the final word on the Gateway Project’s final appearance. The actual look of the finished product, he said, will depend on the decisions of private developers and on a number of small details that have not yet been finalized, such as where bus stops are located or what signs and facades are used.

“There are still many moving points,” Esposito said. “Five years from now, maybe longer, what actually happens may be very different from these guidelines. There are larger things that need to put in place before we can make intelligent decisions about where buses should stop.”

Other components of the project are also still in their preliminary stages, Esposito said. For example, Long Wharf Theatre, which is supposed to move downtown along with Gateway Community College, has just begun conducting land-use studies and will not have concrete plans for the theater for months, he said. A hotel and conference center, pushed by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. when the project was first proposed in 2004, is also up in the air, Esposito said.

“There may or may not be parties interested in the hotel and conference center on the original site that was indicated,” he said. “That might be a stumbling block we may have to maneuver around.”

The completion of a feasibility study of the hotel and conference center was announced at the meeting, Bialecki said. The study will be available to the public later in the week, he said.

Bialecki said the guidelines will serve as a template for the development commission when private developers start getting involved. The project will employ a two-tiered approval system: The development commission will review the sale of parcels, and the city plan commission will have the final say over details of individual sites, he said. These steps will help ensure that development — which was originally conceived as a Roman-influenced plaza surrounded by large parcels — follows the revised vision of the Gateway project as a pedestrian-friendly development knit into New Haven’s city grid with smaller land parcels, he said.

Although community groups and members have accused city officials of bringing the public into the project too late to make effective changes, Michael Morand, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and State affairs, said he applauds the way the city has handled the process.

“There has been very good input by citizens, city officials, design professionals and others into this process,” said Morand, who is a member of the development commission. “The guidelines make clear the intent for streetscapes that are lively and maximize ground-floor spaces for uses such as retail, galleries and the like that will increase foot traffic in the area.”

A date for the demolition of the New Haven Coliseum, the first concrete step of the redevelopment project, has not yet been set. Bialecki said city officials, who have been consulting engineers to make sure the implosion of the Coliseum minimizes impact on surrounding businesses, expect to have a date set by the end of the month.

The New Haven Coliseum, above, is being demolished as the city makes room for its downtown development plans. Design guidelines for the project received final city approval Tuesday.
Jie Zhou
The New Haven Coliseum, above, is being demolished as the city makes room for its downtown development plans. Design guidelines for the project received final city approval Tuesday.

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