City receives six bids for old Coliseum site

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The former home of Elm City rock concerts and New Haven Nighthawks hockey games — and a current parking lot — is one step closer to being redeveloped as a downtown urban center.

New Haven has received proposals from six developers for the redesign of the 4.5-acre site of the now-demolished New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which lies on South Orange Street along the edge of the Ninth Square district, the city announced Tuesday. City officials said their selection of a developer will reward the firm that both provides a plan for the most effective “mixed-use urban streetscape” and has a record of successful development projects.

According to the press release, the list of potential developers features Archstone, AvalonBay Communities, Inc., Heyman Properties, Northland Investment Corporation, Related Companies and the Richman Group Development Corporation.

The city declined to release the details of the proposals.

The move is part of the city’s Gateway Downtown Development Project — a $230 million plan, announced jointly in 2004 by the State of Connecticut and New Haven, that aims to revitalize the city by moving the theater, as well as Gateway Community College, downtown.

Tony Bialecki, deputy director of New Haven’s Office of Economic Development and a member of the committee that will select a developer, said the city is currently assessing the merits of the six companies. The vetting process comes after the city issued a Request for Qualification, the statement asking for proposals for the Coliseum site, in February.

“With an RFQ, the primary thing we’re looking for is the qualifications of the firm, the depth of the experience and their ability to finance a project of this size,” he said.

But, Bialecki said, the ad hoc committee, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy will task with reviewing the proposals will also evaluate the firms’ broad conceptual ideas for the site. The members of the committee have yet to be finalized.

When reviewing the proposals, Bialecki said, the committee will look for one offering a plan for a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development that combines office, retail and residential spaces.

The selected plan will also have to incorporate the Long Wharf Theater, which the Board of Aldermen voted to move from its current location near Interstate 95 to the old Coliseum site, Bialecki said.

Once the proposals have been reviewed by the committee — which will likely include the city planning and traffic and parking directors, an alderman and members of the redevelopment agency that owns the Coliseum site, in addition to Bialecki, DeStefano and Murphy — the city will set up interviews with the prospective development teams, Bialecki said. This portion of the review process will likely begin within the next month, he added.

Representatives from two of the prospective firms, Archstone and Heyman Properties, declined to comment on their proposals, saying they wanted to allow the city to decide when and how to make the plans public.

Chuck Coursey, spokesman for the Massachusetts-based Northland Investment Corporation, also said that, in order to be respectful of the city’s selection process, he could not provide explicit details about the firm’s development plan, but he outlined the general concept of Northland’s proposal in an interview Wednesday.

The firm’s plan adheres to the principles of new urbanism, Coursey said, an approach to city planning that “gets people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks” through the development of mix-used designs.

“We want to get back to people living, working, playing and recreating all in one area,” he said, adding that such a plan would also be environmentally beneficial because of its emphasis on the pedestrian rather than the driver. “[We] embraced [DeStefano’s] vision not only for this site but [for] all of New Haven.”

Northland’s plan seeks to complement the existing structures in the area, respect the historical significance of the Ninth Square district and incorporate the needs of the Long Wharf Theater in its planned new location, Coursey said.

Representatives from AvalonBay Communities, Inc., the Richman Group Development Corporation and Related Companies — which designed the Time Warner Center in New York — were not available for comment Wednesday.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, whose constituency includes the site of the former Coliseum, echoed both Bialecki’s and Coursey’s endorsement of a mix-used development strategy.

Although she has not yet seen the proposals and does not know whether she will serve on the committee that makes the final selection, Clark said she is open to different ideas, including housing, a public market or some kind of art center — perhaps a symphony hall. Ultimately, she said, the selected proposal should simply be the one that is best suited for the area’s unique economic climate.

When evaluating the proposals, Clark said she hopes committee member will ask themselves, “What is the market? What do developers think would be a fun and a good and a sensible and a lucrative thing to put in there?”

The demolition of the Coliseum, a sports arena and concert venue, was marked by its implosion in January 2007. The space opened as an interim surface parking lot Dec. 1, 2007.

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