Aldermen unanimously approve Coliseum project

The Coliseum project, which will bring 55 new businesses to downtown New Haven by 2016, was unanimously passed by the Board of Aldermen in a Monday evening vote.

After three years of planning and discussion around the initiative, the Board of Aldermen approved the city’s plan to redevelop the New Haven Coliseum site in hopes that it will stimulate economic activity downtown. The Coliseum, which served as a sports arena until its demolition in 2007, currently stands as an empty parking lot next to the Knights of Columbus building. The approved project will create a mixed-use space that includes residential, hotel, retail and office units.

Under the ratified development and land disposition agreement, the first of the project’s two phases will begin next summer, when international real estate firm LiveWorkLearnPlay begins constructing 40,000 square feet of active public space, in addition to laying the groundwork for a four-star hotel. 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.

LiveWorkLearnPlay developer Max Reim characterized the approval as a move that will increase the city’s appeal for residents, tourists and new businesses, predicting that the new site will become an “iconic destination in the neighborhood.”

“This is a truly great community redevelopment project,” Reim said. “This is about bringing communities that have long been separated together once again.”

Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colón, who lives in the area where the majority of the Coliseum redevelopment will take place, said she applauded the way Reim reached out to the community to ensure the concerns of Ward 6 residents were heard.

Before the measure came up for a vote on Monday evening, aldermen in a Nov. 13 joint Finance-Community Development Committee meeting proposed several amendments clarifying the scope of the project. One amendment would ensure that a set proportion of residential units built would be set aside as affordable housing. Another would guarantee the Board of Aldermen veto power over any substantial changes to the project. A third amendment stated that, if LiveWorkLearnPlay were to sell the site to a nonprofit organization, that entity would have to pay taxes for 30 years.

All of the changes proposed were included in the final plan passed Monday evening.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said the city still needs approval on the state level for the project, adding that the Economic Development office has been working with state leaders.

“[Reim] has had a lot of great meetings with Governor Malloy, and I think the approval on the local level will only help,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that this development project is more economically beneficial when compared with other projects that have passed, including the 360 State St. apartments and the upcoming completion of an 11-story office building that will house Alexion Pharmaceuticals. The Coliseum redevelopment will cost an estimated $395.5 million in all and yield 2,800 full-time jobs, she said.

Although Mayor-elect Toni Harp ARC ’78 will usher in a new economic development administrator when she takes office on Jan. 1, Murphy is confident the project will proceed, especially given its unanimous aldermanic support. Indeed, Harp issued a letter of support for the project in November.

With Economic Development Officer Christopher Canna, Deputy Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli and LiveWorkLearnPlay officials still at the helm, Murphy believes the team has the resources to follow through on the project.

The Coliseum site encompasses a total of 4.5 acres and plans to connect Wooster Square to the downtown area.

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