Coliseum Plan Approved

After eight years of deliberation, the Economic Development Commission unanimously approved the city’s plan to redevelop the Coliseum on Tuesday morning.

With the commission’s approval, the Board of Aldermen will review the project proposal in December to decide its ultimate fate by the end of the year. The Coliseum, which served as a sports arena until its demolition in 2007, is now an empty parking lot. If approved, construction will begin in summer 2014 and finish tentatively in 2020.

Plans to revitalize the area were first formed in 1996, though the commission revised the project in 2005 to include housing units for middle- and low-income families. The latest version of the project proposes a mixed-use redevelopment plan, including residential, hotel, retail and office units.

International real estate firm LiveWorkLearnPlay was selected in 2011 to develop the 4.5-acre site. The first of the project’s two phases, slated to begin next summer, will start construction on 40,000 square feet of active public space — something Max Reim, developer at the Montreal-based LiveWorkLearnPlay, said the city notably lacks.

The second phase, set to launch in 2018, will develop an office space intended to house a “Class A” business. It will also begin constructing the site’s affordable housing, which will favor larger family units over one-person apartments.

“This is about creating a fully mixed-use, completely diverse neighborhood where New Haven gets to welcome students and visitors of all typologies,” Reim said. “We see the Coliseum site as a way to reconnect Wooster Square to downtown, but also as a catalyst for years to come — to better connect the 9th Square and the Yale Medical District.”

The project will yield 2,800 full-time jobs, a figure Reim noted as 10 times larger than most large-scale construction projects in Connecticut. LiveWorkLearnPlay has committed to tailoring those jobs to New Haven residents. To foster a sense of “personality,” Reim pledged that local businesses would compose eighty to ninety percent of the site’s ownership. The space will ultimately house 35 permanent and 20 seasonal businesses.

The project will cost an estimated $395.5 million in all. New Haven economic development administrator Kelly Murphy said the city has pledged a combined $12 million for the project and hopes to fund the rest of the project through state grants.

Since 2011, LiveWorkLearnPlay has invested $2 million in the project’s development, despite the fact that the Board of Aldermen has yet to approve the plan. Reim noted that New Haven has become “less risky” for investors given the recent success of development projects — including the 2010 completion of the 360 State St. apartments and the upcoming completion of an 11-story international headquarters for Alexion Pharmaceuticals at 100 College St. by the year 2015.

Murphy said the redevelopment of the Coliseum underscores a commitment to fostering connections among the city’s isolated neighborhoods. Union Station is “not a very pleasant walk for most people,” she said, despite its central location in the city.

Murphy also emphasized the plan’s potential to revitalize the economy. The construction of a four-star hotel, a focal point of the plan, provides an opportunity for expansion into the Elm City, Murphy said. While she expressed doubts about the feasibility of a multiuse office space, Murphy remained optimistic and said she hopes the idea will work.

Commission Chairman Peter Wilkinson said the project passed unanimously because of its projected economic benefits and potential to increase foot traffic in the city, but worried that the plan might not allow residents to access Union Station.

Reim stressed the need for a swift approval of the project, citing the market’s rising interest rates as an incentive to move quickly.

The proposal will be presented to the Aldermanic Chamber at 7 p.m. Wednesday. If the Board of Aldermen proposes any changes, the plan will return to the Economic Development Commission for re-approval.

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