Developers unveil downtown redesign plans

The former home of New Haven Nighthawks hockey games and Elm City rock concerts is on its way to becoming a vibrant downtown urban center, according to plans unveiled Tuesday night.

Following three years of discussions with city officials, the site of the demolished New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum — a sports entertainment arena turned into a parking lot on South Orange Street — may soon be redeveloped as a dynamic mixed-use urban streetscape that would bring new housing and commercial opportunities to New Haven residents and visitors.

Newman Architects, a New Haven-based architectural firm, and Canadian development firm LiveWorkLearnPlay, or LWLP, held an open forum Tuesday to share their tentative plans for the redesign of the 4.5-acre site in downtown New Haven and to gather community input on the project.

The $370 million redevelopment plan, which will be entirely financed with LWLP funds, includes a high-rise office tower, a four-star hotel and more than 700 residential units rising over a vast array of commercial spaces, dining venues and pedestrian lanes.

“We want to create an urban space where shopping and retail can thrive underneath the houses,” said architect Herbert S. Newman ARC ’59, emphasizing his commitment to mixed-use development that blends together residential, commercial and cultural spaces. “It’s really an exciting time for New Haven.”

Max Reim, founder and principal at LWLP, said his firm committed to the redevelopment project after witnessing the “tremendous vitality and greater political functionality” that the Elm City has achieved in the past five years. Building on the momentum of groundbreaking projects such as the ongoing transformation of nearby Route 34 from a highway stub to a pedestrian, bike-friendly corridor, the redevelopment of the Coliseum will catalyze further economic development in the city’s downtown, Reim said.

“Because of all the projects that were starting to emerge around this area, this site was becoming the epicenter of where the city could further grow,” Reim said, comparing the former sports arena to “the hole of a donut” that has been separating the Hill neighborhood from the rest of New Haven’s downtown for years.

If completed, the redevelopment project will bridge the gap in the city’s urban layout by bringing downtown residents the promise of new residential spaces, additional shopping and dining venues, 2,000 construction jobs and over 900 permanent jobs — a promise that Hill neighborhood Alderman Dolores Colon has been fervently advocating for years.

“It’s truly the rebirth of an area,” Colon said, adding that residents of the Hill neighborhood have met the proposed redevelopment project with great enthusiasm.

Tuesday’s open forum was also an opportunity for developers, architects and city officials to seek input from the community, encouraging the crowd of nearly 60 attendees to voice any “constructive criticism.”

“The faster we get your input, the faster we get to see this [project completed],” Reim said.

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez said that seeking community input this early in a project is not typical, though residents at the meeting were very supportive.

Perez added that he is “very excited for the potential impact” that the new development will have on downtown’s socioeconomic scene and job opportunities.

If the city signs the contract with LWLP, the project will be developed in two phases, Reim said. Construction for the hotel and the residential units along Orange Street is expected to begin in 2014 and will finish by the end of 2016, and the full project will be brought to completion between 2020 and 2023, when the office tower and a parking structure will be erected at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and State Street.

Barbara Montalvo, a longtime New Haven resident who participated in Tuesday’s open forum, commended the city’s efforts to revitalize the former Coliseum site.

“I lived in New Haven when the Coliseum was still here, then I saw it become a parking lot, but I can say that [this redevelopment project] is the most vibrant and worthwhile use of the space so far,” Montalvo said, adding that she is looking forward to having access to more dining and entertainment options within walking distance from her Hill neighborhood home.

The New Haven Coliseum was demolished in January 2007.

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