For over a year, the site of the former New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum has stood empty and deserted — and to Alex Garvin ’62 ARC ’67, the CEO of Alex Garvin & Associates who teaches “Introduction to Study of The City,” that is unremarkable. It is an open question, he said, whether the market is demanding “another open space.”
“I do not see why New Haven needs another open space or what it will accomplish,” Garvin wrote in an e-mail message to the News last Thursday. “Why would retailing far from the Green do better than Chapel Square Mall or the ground floor retailing in the ninth square? It will probably be empty.”
In the two weeks since Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced that Northland Investment Corp. would develop the old Coliseum site into a mixed-use commercial and residential space, members of Yale’s architecture community have reacted to the proposal with a combination with skepticism and cautious optimism that the plan will revitalize an oft-neglected area of downtown and connect the heart of the city with rail transportation.
Northland’s proposal for the “10th Square” development — so called because it will sit on a plot of land proposed by city planners in the mid-18th century as an addendum to New Haven’s original nine squares — will feature 550 units of housing, a 70,000-square-foot Longwharf Theatre, 816 units of parking, 53,000 square feet of retail, a YMCA complex and around 100,000 square feet of office space.
Ever since the destruction of the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in 2007, an empty space has sat next to The Knights of Columbus tower on the edge of New Haven’s Ninth Square area. The 4.5-acre triangular curved lot is bounded by South Orange Street, George Street, State Street and North Frontage Road.
Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern ARC ’65, who has been commissioned to work with Northland Corp. to redevelop the area, said the proposal would not make any changes to the nine-square plan, but that it would “complement” the existing nine squares.
“I don’t think we’re changing the nine-square plan, but we’re certainly looking at the principles of the nine squares as they evolved, such as the streets that run through some of them that were later added,” Stern said. “We won’t be refocusing the [nine square] plan from its key, the Green at the center.”
Most of the School of Architecture professors and students interviewed said they agreed that the Northland development would not signify major changes to New Haven’s 1638 plan, which divides the original boundaries of the city into the requisite nine squares and has been designated a National Historic Planning Landmark.
Garvin said he did not realize there was demand for 550 more market-rate housing units and raised questions as to whether they would need to be subsidized by the city. But he said a theater would be “wonderful” addition to the area if a company were willing to operate it without subsidies.
Stern called the Longwharf Theater an “amazing point of interest” for the project.
School of Architecture professor Alan Plattus ’76 said that although he agrees the plan is necessary, he thinks that the current economic downturn might prove unfavorable to the plan’s implementation.
“When you take a project that’s such a big part of a small city’s economy, you don’t want to be in danger of getting rid of it in 20 years,” he said. “You don’t want a cheap version.”
But he said there is a need for a development that reconnects downtown with Union Station and ultimately, Long Wharf, both of which were cut off by the Route 34 Connector and the Coliseum in the ’60s.
Rubin, however, argued that planners should consider carefully how the new development will fit into the surrounding landscape. He noted that Northland’s plan features a design for an oval high rise with an art-deco-style roof that architecture professor Elihu Rubin said “might very nicely link the now isolated Knights of Columbus tower to the towers of New Haven’s Church Street business district.”
“What we need is contemporary urban fabric of a scale and density compatible with what we have in the current 9th Square, and not another superblock development,” he wrote in an e-mail.
While affirming the need to connect the square with other districts, architecture professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen ARC ’94 said that “building upon the legacy of New Haven as a haven for progressive modern architecture” should be a top priority for the plan.