City plans to redevelop River Street

In a move intended to boost job creation in an area of New Haven that has lost several major employers in recent years, city officials are pursuing a $24 million redevelopment project of the River Street section of Fair Haven.

The River Street Municipal Development Plan ­— which the New Haven Development Commission approved in 2002 — aims to restore and redevelop the River Street area to attract light industrial companies to New Haven, said Helen Rosenberg, a business service officer at the municipal Office of Economic Development. The site consists of 25 acres bounded by James, Chapel and Ferry streets, east of the central Yale campus.

Rosenberg said the plan is intended to alleviate the shortage of land in the city. The need for more space, she said, arose following two periods of sustained economic growth — one in the 1990s and a more recent one in the last few years.

“There was reason to look at this because we have very little industrial space for lease or for sale, [and] there is a need for space to accommodate the job growth,” she said. “The point is to encourage job creation and investment.”

Under the current plan, New Haven will acquire 11 separate properties, redevelop them and sell them to businesses that meet the city’s environmental and economic demands. The plan also includes proposals to renovate the infrastructure in the area and create a 50-foot-high public walkway along the Quinnipiac River to link Front Street Park and Criscuolo Park, which are on either side of the construction zone.

Rosenberg said the city has acquired eight of the 11 properties so far. Under Connecticut General Statutes, the city can exercise eminent domain to move forward with the current plan, thereby forcing the owner of a property to sell his land to the city for the purposes of commercial redevelopment.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James, who is a member of the Aldermanic Community Development Committee, said the Board of Aldermen has played a minor role in the plan so far.

The city already invested $10 million from bonds into the project in November 2001, and the rest of the costs are expected to be covered by state and federal grants, though many of these are yet to materialize, Rosenberg said. The state funds took more than four years to arrive, she said. New Haven applied for $8.1 million of state aid for the project in April 2002 and is expected to receive a first payment of $2.5 million in the coming weeks.

Rosenberg said the first state grant will allow the city to continue negotiations with the owners of the three properties still to be acquired. The Elm City also received a $1.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which has been used to repave the Blatchley Avenue and Ferry Street side-streets, which are to be extended to the riverfront under the plan.

“We’ve done most of the groundwork and are ready to see some significant changes arise in the coming years,” Rosenberg said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, private investors and revenue from the sale of property are expected to cover the remaining costs of the project.

The neighborhood has historically been an area of heavy industry, but many of the companies based there have closed down in the last few decades. Rosenberg said a number of redevelopment plans have been generated for the site in the past 30 years that never came into effect.

Chief Executive Officer Bruno Suraci of Suraci Metal Finishing, which has already purchased some land from the city in the area, said the new acquisitions will allow the company to expand and remain competitive with its overseas competitors.

“It was really important to us that we could stay here, [but] to compete we have to maintain lower overhead, which is a struggle already in Connecticut,” he said.

Saraci said the expansion has already created 12 new jobs in his company, and he said he expects the creation of another 50 in the next three years if the economy maintains its current level of growth. In addition, Saraci said a number of affiliated companies are planning to move to the city, creating further jobs.

Rosenberg said the city is in negotiations with other companies to sell more of the properties in the project, but no other deal has received the Board of Aldermen’s approval yet.

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