Future for Coliseum site: Stern or Pelli?

Two teams — each with a tie to the Yale School of Architecture — are now the only candidates remaining for the title of developer of the old Veterans Memorial Coliseum site.

The two planners left, confirmed by City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga, are: the Colorado-based Archstone group, partnered with, among other groups, former School of Architecture Dean Cesar Pelli’s New Haven-based firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects; and the Northland Investment Corp., which has partnered with architect and current School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 ­— who has just been commissioned to design Yale’s two new residential colleges.

These two, along with four other developers, answered a city request for qualifications (RFQ) earlier this year to win the rights to design construction over the old Coliseum site downtown.

“We have two really strong candidates,” said Jonathan Koppell, a member of an independent commission charged with reviewing prospective developers.

The development will feature mixed residential and office space and serve as the new location of the Long Wharf Theater, on the 4.5-acre plot of land near North Frontage Road.

Although commission members say the selection process is still on schedule, they also say that the announcement on the recommendation should arrive in the next few weeks or even a month. Mayorga said Thursday night that the city expects the commission to issue its recommendation by the end of next week.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will not announce a final decision until after the recommendation has been made, she said.

Originally, economic-development officials had hoped to issue a recommendation for the commission by early September.

But the review commission, which includes Long Wharf Managing Director Joan Channick and Redevelopment Authority Chairman Jorge Lopes, submitted a slew of questions over the summer to the two frontrunner candidates on general design of, financial ability for and dedication to the project. The developers have yet to respond to all the questions, several commission members said..

“The biggest concern for me is being confident that the developer will be in a position to see the project from the beginning to end,” said Koppell, also a Yale School of Management professor. “You just want to be comfortable that the project is not going to get caught up in other issues.”

‘FLEXIBLE’

The delay may also be due in part to the way the city solicited applicants for the site development.

For developing the site where the former Shartenberg department store stood in the 1960s, the city sent out a request for proposals (RFP) in order to search for interested developers.

After deliberation with city officials, DeStefano appointed developer Becker and Becker to construct over the Shartenberg site.

But since then, progress has slow, as multiple delays on the start of construction and a recent change in design have ended with developers’ being unable to start construction. Becker and Becker officials said in early August that work on the site would begin by the end of that month.

With RFQs, the officials can assess the developer, its experience and financial resources first, before they work with the developer on designs. With RFPs, plans themselves are emphasized and reviewed, leaving officials to trust the developer can effectively carry out the plan itself.

The RFQ allows city officials to work more closely with the developer, whichever is chosen, to create a plan.

“One of the questions [the commission asked] was ‘Are you willing to be flexible?’ ” said Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, who is also on the commission. “That’s one of the things we are looking at.”

‘NO CONCLUSIONS’

In a closed-to-the-press early-morning meeting Thursday, city staffers, representing DeStefano and Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy, briefed review commission members on updates on developers and the Coliseum site.

There, members discussed the two developers’ relationships with the Long Wharf theater, the state and the city, as well as financial issues with the two, Clark said.

She stressed that the city is “still deliberating,” and “a lot of things” were discussed. She declined to discuss the specific meeting agenda, but she added that the commission and city officials “came to no conclusions” at the meeting.

Koppell said the representatives of the developers were not present at the meeting. Channick was also not present at the meeting, she said.

Northland originally proposed an eight-story office building and a 550-unit apartment building with an elliptical residential tower and a 1,000-car garage.

Meanwhile, Archstone wants to construct a hotel and a mixed-retail and office space.

“They’re both extremely qualified,” Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno said Thursday. “We’d be lucky and be fortunate that either do the project.”

He added: “I could very easily make the decision today if I had to.” He declined to say whom he would pick.

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