IKEA, the popular Swedish furniture and housewares maker that boasts 143 stores in 22 countries, may soon add a New Haven location in the Long Wharf district.
New Haven and IKEA officials said the furniture chain will likely open in the former Pirelli Tire building on Sargent Drive, easily visible from Interstate 95, in the spring of 2004. The city has worked with IKEA, preservationists and local merchants over the past year to resolve problems that may affect the proposed site.
Pat Smith, IKEA’s real estate manager for New England, said a package of paperwork that includes the revised plan and environmental, traffic and economic reports should be delivered to the New Haven Board of Aldermen sometime between Sept. 17 and Oct. 7. A public hearing will then be held in the second or third week of October to discuss the revised plan. Smith said he hopes that construction will begin at the end of this year and take about a year to complete.
Craig Russell, a business services officer in New Haven’s economic development office, said initial plans for the IKEA site called for demolishing the first floor of the Pirelli building and essentially putting the IKEA store on stilts. But preservationists objected on the grounds that the Pirelli facility, designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer, is a landmark building. Breuer also designed the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as one of Yale’s engineering buildings.
Russell said the building plan has been revised to appease preservationists and historians, and no part of the Pirelli building’s original exterior will be removed.
But IKEA’s plans might still encounter some logistical problems. Russell said a trail currently runs through the land slated to be used as a parking lot, and that the city must also address various traffic issues.
He added that downtown businesses have also supported the city’s plans because IKEA will not be competing with local small merchants but will instead bring more people to the New Haven area.
As well as providing a retail outlet to the public, IKEA officials said they hope it will be a positive force in the New Haven community. Russell said he is pleased by the prospect of IKEA creating over 400 jobs in New Haven. IKEA has also received praise for participating in programs like the children’s organization UNICEF in India to help stop child labor and promote education for children, as well as for its attitude of corporate responsibility.
“IKEA offers full benefits to all its employees who work 20 hours or more per week,” Smith said.
Nir Harish ’05 said he is excited about the prospect of IKEA opening in New Haven.
“IKEA is awesome. The furniture isn’t pretentious, but still looks sophisticated,” Harish said. “The prices are probably a little beyond a college student’s budget, but it’s still relatively affordable. Besides, they have a really cool Swedish restaurant built in.”