Delayed Coliseum demolition proceeds

Due to a host of logistical problems, the massive concrete structure that stands partially demolished on the intersection of Orange and George streets has managed to escape the chopping block month after month. But officials now say the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum — originally slated to be demolished early last year — may finally be reduced to a pile of rubble in the coming weeks.

City officials say they are closer than ever to demolishing the New Haven landmark, a vestige of the city’s tumultuous urban development period that was originally expected to be demolished by the first half of 2005. The vacated coliseum site, along with plots of land formerly occupied by the Macy’s and Malley’s department stores, will make way for the $230 million Gateway redevelopment project that city officials say will revitalize downtown New Haven’s aging urban core. New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said Wednesday that although officials hope the implosion of the Coliseum’s superstructure will be completed by late October, the demolition will most likely happen in November.

“We’re getting closer,” he said. “They are down to the final couple of weeks worth of preparation. … There are two or three things left to be done.”

Officials have been saying for months that the Coliseum’s demolition date is coming soon, but delays have kept the 18.5-second process from taking place. Last October, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. took the first ceremonial step in dismantling the structure when he manned a 175-ton excavator and tore a piece of masonry off the coliseum. The implosion, already behind schedule, was to take place in the following months, but officials said they found an extensive network of utility lines running under Orange Street that could be destroyed in the process of demolishing the Coliseum, Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsy Clark said. As the contractor, city officials and engineers tried to find a way to protect the utilities from possible damage, the final implosion date continued to be pushed back.

Clark said the additional work that the contractor has done — which includes dismantling the parking deck with power tools — has disturbed nearby residents.

“They’ve been up there with jackhammers,” she said. “That has been very loud and disturbing to the people who live down there, and there was nothing you could do about it.”

Bialecki said that although an exact date for the implosion has not yet been set, public safety officials will hold meetings in Ninth Square to brief residents and tenants on necessary preparations for the implosion once a date is chosen. The subcontractor in charge of the demolition will require six consecutive days on-site before demolition can proceed, he said, and the date chosen will have to accommodate the schedules of the police and fire departments, contractors, subcontractors and public safety officials involved.

Employees of Stamford Wrecking Co. are currently building barriers made of tires and soil to protect utilities from possible damage during the implosion, Bialecki said. To reduce cost and environmental impact, he said, used tires are being collected from local companies and soil is being taken from city construction sites that have excess soil on their hands.

On the day of the implosion, Bialecki said, streets in the general vicinity of the Coliseum will be closed off, and extra police forces will be dispatched to make sure passersby do not accidentally wander into the demolition site. He said that although residents might have to evacuate the area for a few hours as the implosion takes place, after the dust from the implosion settles and engineers conduct environmental quality tests, residents will be able to move back into their homes immediately.

Jason Chou, manager of J-Mart, an ethnic grocery located on Orange Street a block away from the Coliseum site, said the effect on local businesses has been tangible.

“There is certainly more or less of an effect,” Chou said. “People are more deterred from coming down to this area due to the noise.”

The demolition of the Coliseum will make way for the Gateway Project, which will move Gateway Community College into a new downtown campus, along with the Long Wharf Theater and associated mixed-use buildings. Fall 2011 remains the target date for completion of that project.

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