Aldermen question Route 34 development

Some members of the Board of Aldermen are skeptical that a planned development downtown will bring the promised number of jobs.
Some members of the Board of Aldermen are skeptical that a planned development downtown will bring the promised number of jobs. Photo by City of New Haven .

Nearly a year after the city first announced federal funding for a project to reshape the downtown area, members of the Board of Aldermen are expressing doubts over whether the plan will succeed.

At a Thursday-night briefing of the New Haven Board of Aldermen on the Downtown Crossing project, economic development administrator Kelly Murphy and her team presented an updated timeline and hashed out plans for the demolition of Route 34, the highway that divides downtown and the building of 100 College St., a biotech research facility. But Murphy and primary developer Carter Winstanley faced opposition from several members of the Board of Aldermen, who called into question whether the project could create as many jobs as it promised.

Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon, whose ward borders the area to be affected by the planned development, claimed that she had not seen the job results promised at Science Park and 300 George St., and said she worries Downtown Crossing will be unable to deliver 600 to 960 jobs as Murphy says.

“I am optimistic but a little skeptical yet about all these jobs that are coming. … [I]t seems that the only people that get rich are the richer,” Colon said, asking what progress had been made at Science Park.

Colon also raised questions about whether creating these jobs in downtown will actually encourage educated workers to remain in downtown. To prove her point, she related a story about an incident in which she was walking home after a meeting at City Hall and tripped at the corner of College and North Frontage streets, in front of a building that Winstanley claims is bringing economic activity to downtown. Though she said she screamed the loudest she’s screamed in her life, Colon said not one person came to the window of the building to ensure she was OK, demonstrating that the building is not being used at night. She called the area a “ghost town” after 6 p.m.

“There’s nothing going on there after dark,” Colon said. “I like what you’re saying, but unfortunately, come 5 or 6 o’clock, it all goes away.”

Winstanley challenged the claims of the aldermen regarding his previous developments’ success in job creation, but also emphasized that as the developer of 100 College St. his main responsibility is not to create permanent jobs. Instead, he said he plays a role in helping bringing small businesses to the city.

“All I try to do is to lure the tenants to come to New Haven and to locate their companies here,” Winstanley said.

In addition, Winstanley offered to take Colon and Ward 2 Alderman Greg Smith, who also expressed doubts about the plan, on a tour of Science Park to show them just how much progress had been made in recent years.

If the current timetable holds, the plans for parts of Downtown Crossing funded by the federal TIGER II money should be complete by the second quarter of 2012, with construction beginning next fall.

Last October the city received $16 million from the federal government for a project to replace Route 34 with a pair urban boulevards and office and lab facilities. When complete, the project will open up 10 to 12 acres of land in downtown for development.

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