Coliseum project nears passage

After a marathon three hours of public testimony and committee deliberations, a collection of city lawmakers on Wednesday evening backed a land disposition agreement aimed at revitalizing the former site of the New Haven Coliseum.

The agreement, favored unanimously by 13 members of the Board’s finance and community development committees, would hand over 4.5 acres of the site of the demolished sports arena for redevelopment by the international real estate firm LiveWorkLearnPlay. The plan faces a final zoning hurdle set to go before the Board’s legislation committee on Thursday before the full body votes on the agreement on Dec. 2.

The redevelopment project represents the second phase of New Haven’s Downtown Crossing project, which seeks to reconnect the city’s downtown neighborhood with Union Station, the Medical District and the Hill neighborhood, and to bridge the portions of South Orange Street currently separated by Route 34. Pending approval by the full Board, which rarely strays from the recommendation of subsidiary committees, building for the project will begin in 2014 and is slated to be completed in its entirety by 2020.

At a price tag of nearly $395 million, the project will erect a mixed-use development complex boasting 719 residential units, 76,900 square feet of retail space, a four-and-a-half-star hotel, office space, a major parking lot and a public square and promenade. The complex will grow the city’s tax base and provide roughly 2,720 construction jobs, in addition to another nearly 2,000 ensuing employment opportunities on the site, said New Haven Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy. At least a quarter of those jobs will be reserved for New Haven residents, Murphy added, and another quarter will be reserved for minorities and 6.9 percent will be reserved for women.

Housing units will be mixed-income, and will include both town houses and lofts and feature a collection of two-bedroom and three-bedroom family units.

Redevelopment will discontinue a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between State Street and South Orange Street, Murphy said, and involve bikeway and pedestrian improvements as well as storm water upgrades to better prepare against extreme weather incidents.

“This creates a place and a vision where New Haven truly welcomes the world,” Max Reim, co-managing partner and founding principal at LiveWorkLearnPlay, told roughly 80 people gathered in the aldermanic chambers of City Hall to watch the project’s leaders make their pitch to city lawmakers.

The designs will transform the sight that greets people arriving in New Haven, Reim said, creating a “21st century urban boulevard” connecting the Hill neighborhood to the downtown in the place of a portion of a highway that has separated communities since the 1960s.

He said the designs grew out of conversations with community members and are inspired by a keen desire to boost the quality of life in New Haven.

“We have truly fallen in love with your community,” Reim said. He concluded by reading aloud a letter of support from mayor-elect and Connecticut State Sen. Toni Harp ARC ’78, who wrote that the project’s “New Haven-first approach” won her approval. He also submitted letters of support from organizations including the New Haven Chamber of Commerce and Southern Connecticut State University.

Over a dozen city residents, business owners and public officials testified in favor of the development plan, hailing the influx of outside capital destined to increase commerce, employment and neighborhood density. They also said it would link neighborhoods currently divided by blight and vacancies and furnish the city with an attractive new center that will make it a destination for people across the Northeast.

Equalla Salters, a single mom and student at the Construction Workforce Initiative Career Development School, spoke on behalf of a collection of her classmates who arrived at City Hall in construction uniforms and hard hats to offer their support for the project.

“We would love to work with you,” Salters said. “We’re ready to work. We need jobs.”

Leslie Radcliff said the city needs more moderate-income retail establishments that are not just dollar stores or firearm shops. Lynne Fusco, president and CEO of Fusco Corporation, praised LiveWorkLearnPlay’s track record as a developer, saying the real estate firm is a largely family-owned business that prizes community engagement.

Murphy said not all details of the agreement are ironed out, including its precise financing. The city’s contribution will be capped, she said, supplementing potential state funding and independent fundraising.

Committee members queried the specifics of the tax revenue reaped by the development and the timeline of the project — as well as minor wording in the agreement —before unanimously passing it on to the full Board for final approval.

Total expenditures on labor income throughout the project are estimated at approximately $288 million.

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