As vacant buildings are filled by new tenants and empty lots are replaced by new shopping venues, the last of New Haven’s original nine squares to undergo redevelopment is edging closer toward renewal.

New Haven’s Ninth Square, the downtown region bound by Chapel, Church, George and State streets, is currently a focus of the city’s rehabilitation efforts. The Elm City’s downtown has recently been the focus of significant developmental planning, including the ongoing Chapel Square Mall renovation.

The first phase of what city business services officer Craig Russell called the “uplift project” was completed in Ninth Square two years ago, resulting in the restoration of vacant spaces and abandoned buildings.

“We’ve seen the area really develop,” said Russell, who works in the city’s economic development office. “We’ve seen quite a bit of change over the last two years.”

The project’s current phase centers around the area surrounded by Orange, Church, Chapel and Crown streets and other adjacent areas. A $13 million state grant was announced last month, and the remainder of the total $30 million allocated to the project is being attained from private investments.

Russell said one of the developers’ primary goals is to create a retail sector that will be attractive to potential residents. While most of the existing retail venues will stay, many more will be added. Another key addition is a large parking garage for customers and residents.

Many of the upper floor office spaces will be converted into residential units. Currently, remediation of property work is underway and the search for tenants has begun.

Russell said the area’s overall appearance is changing dramatically.

“It’s safer, more attractive to customers, and now is a destination area rather than a place that you pass by,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

The first store to open in Ninth Square is Andrea Ward, a “lifestyle store” owned and operated by Andrea Ward and her husband. The store specializes in women’s clothing, but offers everything from cuff links for men to intricately packaged holiday food. Ward said a unique feature of the store is that it offers products from around the world, including Harrari dresses and women’s apparel of Asian influence.

Ward said she relocated her store from Whalley Avenue, its location for seven years, because she wanted the store to have a more urban feel and because she was attracted to the promise of a newly-renovated sector.

She added that while being the first store in the area is a challenge, she has had customers come all the way from New York to shop in her store for unique gifts and clothing to wear on special occasions. Many other shoppers are drawn to the area because of the variety of restaurants, Ward said, and daytime traffic is increasing daily.

“There is a renaissance going on here,” Ward said. “It’s part of the rebirth of New Haven.”