End near for N.H. Coliseum

This Saturday, the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum will be imploded in a matter of 18 seconds — a quick conclusion to a structure that has subsisted for over 30 years as a sporting arena and concert venue adjacent to New Haven’s Ninth Square district.

The Coliseum’s destruction has been scheduled for 7:30 a.m., with nearby commuter traffic blocked off just before and after the implosion to protect drivers from distracting noise and vibrations. A safety perimeter extending from the edge of the Temple Street Garage to Union Avenue and from Crown Street to South Frontage Street will also be closed to traffic and pedestrians until 9:30 a.m.

Beforehand, about 200 Ninth Square residents will have to evacuate their homes and stay out of the area for three hours while the Coliseum crumples and cleanup crews enter the scene. Around 5 a.m., locals can visit the Carriage House common room for continental breakfast and temporary shelter or, the night before, they can walk into ArtSpace with sleeping bags and pillows for “A Night at the Museum,” the gallery’s all-night celebration chronicling the Coliseum’s legacy. Coinciding with the closing night of Artspace’s “Don’t Know Much About History” exhibit, the event will feature an open-mic session for residents to share stories about the Coliseum. Nine films will also be screened well into the next morning.

From the top of Temple Street Garage, citizens can watch the Coliseum collapse firsthand with Cobalt Rhythm Kings, a local blues band, while enjoying donuts and coffee.

“There are people who love the Coliseum and there are people who hate the Coliseum, but there’s something for everyone this weekend,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said. “ArtSpace is having many people who are coming to reminisce about the things that they loved about the Coliseum, so that’s a kind of wake.”

Like Clark, New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said he recognizes locals’ varying degrees of attachment to the Coliseum. But while many residents have lots of memories of the arena, its destruction also marks a changing point for the city in terms of creating a better urban environment, he said.

The coliseum demolition and the vacating of nearby land formerly occupied by Macy’s and Malley’s will clear the way for the $230 million Gateway redevelopment project, which will relocate Gateway community college to the downtown area while also creating a theater, stores and housing units.

Since Mayor John DeStefano Jr. closed the Coliseum in 2002, its actual destruction has met a number of delays, the most recent being a 2005 controversy over whether the building’s collapse would harm sensitive underground utility lines. After a year of examinations by engineers — which cost $1.8 million — destruction was approved. Currently, crews are transferring 15,000 spare tires to the site to absorb the impact of falling steel and concrete.

Such protective measures, alongside city meetings with community members, have reassured residents that the $6.6 million demolition project will go smoothly.

“The major concerns that the people had were ‘Were any windows going to be broken?,’ ‘Was there going to be any dust?’” Clark said. “But on the whole, the answers from the officials that are in charge seem to satisfy the people in the area.”

Under the direction of Stamford Wrecking, Co., Demolition Dynamics of Franklin, Tenn. will carry out the actual implosion. The building’s interior stone has already been dismantled, guaranteeing that relatively little dust will drift out after the collapse. City officials estimate it will take two to three months for the remaining debris to be removed, which some say will reach a height of 50 feet. After that period, a temporary parking lot will be paved and in use until Gateway redevelopment is finalized, they said.

Jeff Wong has worked as a server at Orange St.’s Bentara restaurant for four years, and although he did not think the Coliseum adversely affected the region’s business since its closure over four years ago, he said an additional business district in the area would bring much-needed improvements to Ninth Square.

“Ninth Square as an area generally is not really great … it’s not 100 percent safe around here because it’s near low-income housing, so a lot of people think it’s unsafe,” Wong said. “If the city built more businesses or theaters I think it will be good … because this part right here is like the outskirts of downtown, so by having that Coliseum there there’s no effect on us.”

Tony Chin, the owner of Orange St.’s Royal Palace restaurant, said the publicity of the event would attract business and new residents by improving New Haven’s image as a progressive city.

“Everybody will be watching the news and will now know that New Haven is changing a lot for the better,” he said.

Chin’s prediction rings true even this weekend. Many former New Haven residents are returning to witness the Coliseum’s final destruction, Clark said. As for the alderwoman herself, she plans on celebrating right along with her constituents.

“I’m going to get up at 5 [a.m.] and drive down to the garage and go up … who knows, maybe people will bring Mimosas,” Clark said. “It’ll be a real party.”

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