State officials expressed concern this week that the Gateway Project has “fallen badly behind schedule,” saying they may need to review their $140 million funding to cover increases in the cost of preparing the site for new construction.
Long delays in the city’s demolition and environmental remediation of the abandoned Macy’s department store site — a step that must be taken before the Gateway Project can go forward — prompted Department of Public Works Commissioner James Fleming to send a letter to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. Wednesday. In the letter, Fleming said he is concerned with delays that have plagued the site over the past year and that are very likely to force an increase in required funding, which would force the state to seek the General Assembly’s approval.
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“The state is now unable to proceed with this project beyond the design work that has been completed to date until such time as the City is able to obtain performance from its demolition contractor and provide the state with assurances that the site will be ready for transfer to the state,” Fleming said.
The state must gain ownership of the site before work can continue on the $230 million project to redevelop New Haven’s aging urban core.
Tony Bialecki, New Haven deputy director for economic development, said the letter was not a threat but was sent out of concern that the city’s long delay in demolishing the building would increase the Gateway project’s costs. The delays were caused by the unexpected discovery of toxic materials at the site, and Bialecki said the city is resolving a related dispute with the Stamford Wrecking Co., the company it contracted for the demolition, to make sure the job is completed by the summer.
“The state is concerned that the delay will go into their time schedule,” Bialecki said. “We are in the midst of a contractual dispute with [Stamford Wrecking Co.]. We are working with the state.”
Similarly unexpected delays plagued the implosion of the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum for over a year after wiring and gas-pipes were found below the site.
The Gateway Project is a $230 million plan to bring Gateway Community College, which is currently located on the outskirts of the city, to the downtown. It also involves the relocation of the Long Wharf Theater and the addition of other retail and residential units. The project forms the centerpiece of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts, along with the development of the Shartenberg site — a 1.5 acre parking lot on the corner of State and Chapel Streets that is being redeveloped into a residential complex.
Jeffrey Beckham, managing attorney at the Department of Public Works, said the state will not be able to proceed with its initial schedule for opening Gateway’s doors in 2011 unless the city is able to transfer the title of the land soon. Drastic delays could cause significant modifications in the project, he said.
“We are unable to commit additional state funds to a project where we do not own the land it is to be built upon,” Beckham said in an e-mail. “The site is still owned by New Haven, it is still not free of the Macy’s building, the building must first be demolished and the site remediated before the state can take title. New Haven must get its demolition contractor to perform.”
While city officials said there is a contractual dispute with the Stamford Wrecking Co., they denied there was any mismanagement of the project.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said there are always some unexpected surprises with any construction project — especially of a size and scope like Gateway’s — and that the delays are just a part of the process.
“I don’t think somebody is being lazy on the job,” she said. “Any kind of construction has got this kind of problem. You have to respond to that, and what can you do if it will end up costing you more money?”