City taps Northland Invesment Corp. to develop old Coliseum site

New Haven is about to get a 10th square.

After months of deliberations and behind-the-scene meetings, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced Thursday that he has appointed Northland Investment Corp. as the developer of the 4.5-acre former Veterans Memorial Coliseum site downtown, envisioned by city planners as a bustling business and residential district just several years from now.

The choice of a developer has been a tight-lipped secret until now. Although Northland was officially selected earlier this week, economic-development officials were mum on the details before today. But some officials suggested in recent weeks that the financial security of the firm would be the deciding factor. Although Northland is still formalizing plans with the city, it currently is slated to build a multi-tiered mixed-retail site featuring 80,000 gross square feet of office space, 978 feet of retail storefront and an elliptical residential tower.

The Newton, Mass., company will pair up with Yale School of Architecture Robert A.M. Stern ARC ‘65, whom University officials announced last week will be designing the school’s two new residential colleges.

Stern was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.

By selecting the group, recommended by an independent review committee this week, the mayor is looking to the past in order to set in motion one of the largest downtown redevelopments in the city’s recent history, set to begin as early as a year from now, according to city officials.

“Northland’s exciting ideas and designs for this site and the investment they are prepared to make to achieve this project demonstrate the strength and vitality of our downtown,” the mayor said in a statement.

“AN EXCITING NEW LANDMARK”

The Veterans Memorial Coliseum was a major cultural center during the 1970s and 1980s, but its popularity slowly declined during the 1990s. The 18-second demolition of the 35-year-old structure occurred on January 20, 2007.

As part of its pitch, Northland said that a major theme for the site development is the historical “Tenth Square,” an area once considered a bustling business area.

The company said it hopes to revive the area there. And with the area’s close proximity to Union Station, the company can shift the center of downtown closer to the city’s rails.

Lawrence Gottesdiener, chairman of Northland, said in a statement that the company is “honored” to “create an exciting new city landmark.”

According to Northland’s proposal, the site — the largest vacant lot in downtown New Haven — will feature 550 residential units and about 1,000 parking spaces in its 1.3-million-gross-square-foot complex.

The area will also feature a new site for the Long Wharf Theater, with 76,000 gross square feet in what the company calls a “highly visible location.”

The developer plans to use a New Urbanist theme to create mixed-residential-and-office complex in the curved plot formed by George Street, South Orange Street, State Street and North Frontage Road.

Supporters of the New Urbanist movement, which arose in the 1980s, encourage balancing housing units and work space and often try to prepare strategies to curb traffic congestion, increase walkability within the grounds and add retail in the area.

“STRONG TRACK RECORD”

Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said in the city press release that Northland’s “strong track record of working closely with the community” made the developer stand out.

In July, Northland purchased Church Street South, a property containing 310 subsidized housing units along the train station.

Some city economic-development officials have suggested throughout the selection process that when deciding between the two finalists for the job — Northland and Colorado-based Archstone, which they considered equally qualified — the deciding factor was financial security.

Archstone — which teamed up with, among others, former School of Architecture dean Cesar Pelli’s firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects — was bought by Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc., for $22.2 billion in October 2007. The sale was on reason Lehman Brothers lost an estimated $2.8 billion in the second quarter of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported in June.

The Journal also reported that Lehman Brothers plans to sell off apartment properties to help pay off the debt, but the Archstone group has not bought any properties because of the wavering housing economy.

According to the city press release, Northland was found by city officials to have a more “secure” financial base that “provides confidence of the firm’s ability to complete the project in its entirety.”

Northland, founded in 1970, owns and operates 101 properties and buildings in 14 states, valued at a total of $2.5 billion.

It is well-known within the state for its work on the Hartford 21 luxury apartment tower. Hartford officials had supplied the city with several letters of recommendation for the developer.

Michael Allard, regional marketing director for Archstone’s New York office, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday night.

City officials visited Hartford and other cities to inspect the two final candidates.

Check www.yaledailynews.com for more updates.

-Eileen Shim contributed reporting.

Comments

  • HBH

    Nicely done story!