Residents, aldermen raise questions about Route 34 project

Residents and aldermen questioned city officials and developers at City Hall Tuesday night about a plan to renovate downtown New Haven.

Kelly Murphy, the city’s economic development administrator, and Carter Winstanley of Winstanley Enterprises, a major developer, updated the Board of Aldermen on plans to redevelop the area around College and Frontage Streets. The redevelopment plan, called the Downtown Crossing project, will create a new complex at 100 College St. and remove Route 34, a highway that separates downtown from the city’s medical district and the Hill neighborhood. Federal, state and city officials are working with developers to replace Route 34 with local streets, roadways, parking spaces and bike lanes that encourage traffic and pedestrian flow and enable the downtown area to expand beyond the highway, which has acted as a barrier to growth.

“This is a signature project for New Haven,” Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s deputy economic development administrator, told the News before the meeting. “It captures our policy initiatives — creating jobs, making a larger tax base, producing better urban design, reclaiming unused land and creating a welcome mat for those coming from Union Station.”

Piscitelli added that a project of this size inevitably runs into problems, and some residents have raised doubts about whether new roads and buildings will actually foster a long-term sense of community. The city’s bikers are also calling for more bike lanes and safer streets for cycling, according to Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca.

“There is tremendous demand for more space here in New Haven, which is essentially unheard of in other New England cities,” Winstanley said. The primary developer of the project, he told the Board of his commitment to New Haven and said, “I don’t come here and hope to end up in New York — I’ve been here for 11 years, and I plan on staying.”

Scheduled for 2015, the construction of a medical laboratory and office building on 100 College St. will create between 600 and 960 jobs, including laboratory technicians, researchers and doctors, according to Murphy. In addition, the project will create almost 2,000 short-term construction jobs. However, concerns arose about whether the new building fulfilled community needs.

“I don’t want to see the area closed off to regular people that may not work or have business specifically in the medical district,” Paca said before the meeting. “My number-one goal at the end of the day is economic development and creating jobs.”

Winstanley Enterprises has made a formal agreement with the city committing that at least 25 percent of its construction workforce will be comprised of New Haven residents. The project also includes funding for programs that would mentor students interested in architecture, biotechnology, medicine and engineering.

Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez questioned how accessible these jobs would be for New Haven citizens.

“I would really like to get something in writing about how many of those jobs are practical jobs you can train New Haven residents for, and what the plan is going to be,” he said. An observer also questioned whether attracting wealthier workers would drive out New Haven’s current workforce.

Despite these complaints, the project’s funding for science and technology mentor programs may benefit students, according to some in attendance.

“What we’re looking for is an opportunity for students to experience outside of the classroom what it would be like to be an architect or pharmacist,” Mary Ann O’Brien, supervisor of career and technical education of the Board of Education, said during the meeting.

The federal government awarded a TIGER II grant of $16 million to City Hall in October 2010 for Downtown Crossing. The project originally asked for $40 million when the developers applied for the grant, according to Murphy.

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