A vibrant urban village could soon rise from the ashes of the New Haven Coliseum, as plans for a mixed-use development project on the site of the demolished sporting venue were submitted on Monday evening to the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

The project would erect residential units, office space and a hotel above a collection of ground-floor restaurants and cafes on a 4.5 acre plot between the central downtown area and Union Station. Situated next to the Knights of Columbus Building, the site, which played host to the 1984 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a series of other sporting events since its opening in 1972, runs alongside a stretch of Route 34. After the arena fell into disrepair, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. closed the space in 2002, and it was demolished by controlled implosion in 2007. It has since been turned into a paved parking lot.

The development plans — now awaiting Board approval — mark the latest phase in 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.

“The agreement submitted to the Board of Alderman represents the culmination of over two years of work engaging city and state leaders and — more importantly — the residents of New Haven,” DeStefano said in a Monday evening press release. “This project will create significant tax revenues for the city and create both construction and permanent jobs. The project [will] have a long term effect of revitalizing an underutilized area within the central business district as well as helping to create the conditions necessary for future commercial development throughout the city.”

The developer the city enlisted for the project, international real estate firm LiveWorkLearnPlay, unveiled its plans for the site in June. At a price tag of $360 million, the project would erect a mixed-use complex that will include retail establishments, nearly 1,000 residential units, a 15,000-18,000 square-foot conference center, a public square, underground parking and a nearly 200-room hotel on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Orange Street.

The project seeks to lure over 35 businesses to the refurbished space and also to attract a contingent of “seasonal incubator businesses” that will complement permanent retail options on site. 20 percent of the residential units will be affordable housing, and the entire housing stock will be mixed among apartments, condominiums, live-work units and town homes.

Max Reim, co-managing partner and founding principal at LiveWorkLearnPlay, said the project will be a boon not just for the downtown area but for the entire city.
“The development will become a thriving and activated community gathering spot for New Haven, filled with dozens of shops and restaurants and a brand-new hotel and convention center,” Reim said. “We think it’s going to revitalize all existing retail and bring more people to spend more time and energy in the downtown.”
He said the Coliseum project will complement existing improvements in the Ninth Square, a mixed residential and business district in the city’s downtown that has been a focus of redevelopment efforts in recent years.

Increased economic activity around Orange, George and State Streets will also improve students’ retail experience in the downtown area and link them to portions of the city currently cordoned off by vacant lots and underdeveloped properties, Reim said.

“It will be a fabulous gateway for the city,” he added. The proposal is founded on principles of new urbanism, he said, an urban design movement that seeks to combine smart growth with mixed-use spaces that promote walkable neighborhoods and public transit. He said the project will be environmentally friendly and bring thousands of construction jobs to the city.

The city estimates that the project will generate upwards of 6,000 jobs over more than a decade of construction, slated to begin in 2014.
Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said the mixed-use complex will provide a sense of place for people arriving in the city’s downtown, a clear symbol of the city’s retail hub for those arriving via the highway or train into Union Station.

“It means a new vision for how you enter New Haven,” he said.

Ward 21 Alderwoman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus, who chairs the Board’s community development committee, said she just received the design proposal on Monday and looks forward to learning about the potential of the Coliseum site. Ward 28 Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, the committee’s co-chair, also said she needs to familiarize herself with the details of the design but that she is tentatively supportive because she thinks the redevelopment will bring jobs to the city.

The community development committee does not have a meeting on the books until next calendar year.