When CT Transit moved its hub to Hamden six years ago, it left the cavernous former bus depot at 470 James St. vacant, and it has remained empty since. But after a favorable vote from the Board of Alders’ Community Development committee Wednesday night, the property is one step closer to a major transformation.
Nestled between East Rock and Fair Haven, the nine-acre property at 470 James St. — which houses a 195,000-square-foot building — is currently heavily polluted by the petroleum in its soil, the result of environmental neglect throughout the 20th century. The state approved $5.5 million in bonds to clean the brownfield between Interstate 91 and the railroad tracks in January. Now developers David Salinas and Eric O’Brien are making their final push to turn the building, which sits on state-owned property, into a center for both work and play in the Upper State Street area. The aldermanic committee preliminarily gave the green light for the city to sell the property to District NHV — Salinas and O’Brien’s company — for one dollar once the city receives the land for free from the state. Only after this vote can the proposal come before the full Board of Alders for official approval.
Speaking before the alders, Salinas said the plans will be the first step in turning the area into a tech hub — the sort of place that might foster a burgeoning tech scene in New Haven itself.
“The concept behind District NHV is that today, companies and people — young people, people in general — are looking for different types of workspaces, workspaces that have energy, workspaces that combine a balance for both work and life,” he said. “The traditional corporate building is not exciting to people.”
Salinas and O’Brien’s plans are wide-ranging. After demolishing half the current building to clean the underlying brownfield, they plan to make the remaining 100,000 square feet into a home for local companies. Their renovations will also see a courtyard built in the middle of the building and a park constructed alongside the nearby Mill River Trail.
City officials at the meeting said the local government will benefit on multiple levels from the development. For Economic Development Administrator Matt Nemerson SOM ’81, the building’s 5,000 square feet of “incubator space” is particularly exciting.
“If you go somewhere like Cambridge, Lower Manhattan, San Francisco, you see a whole new era of incubation space,” he said. “The idea of innovation and collaboration has reached a whole new level of design and architecture, and we really don’t have space in the city like that.”
Matthew Smith, the economic development officer responsible for the project, said the city is likely to see tangible economic benefits from the development. He said the city currently hopes District NHV will create 200 to 300 local jobs, many of which would be allocated in accordance with skill level and bear little reference to each candidate’s level of education.
Smith added that the state’s current ownership of the property makes it tax-exempt. Once District NHV begins to operate on the property, however, its tax revenue will contribute to the city’s coffers.
Andrea Konetchy, a 40-year resident of Orange Street, said she believes the development will make the area safer and more vibrant.
“It brings vision for the future, and it links the wards together in a healthy way,” she said. “We had nothing there — it was a no man’s land. You were afraid to walk into this area. Now we’ll have something there that brings the area alive.”
Kevin McCarthy, the vice chair of the East Rock Management Team, said neighborhood residents have expressed considerable enthusiasm about the project. East Rock Alder Jessica Holmes — who attended the meeting though she is not a member of the committee — said she has heard similar sentiments from her constituents throughout the planning process.
District NHV will not only be a business space, Salinas said. Instead, 30 percent of the property will be a park on the Mill River, with the physical building containing a bakery, restaurant and beer garden alongside office space for local companies like SeeClickFix and Launch Capital.
Smith added that developers will also build an outdoor stage for public events, where an annual community festival may be held.
Salinas and O’Brien — who own design firm Digital Surgeons and a nearby CrossFit gym, respectively — will also move their businesses into the space. Much of the building, Salinas said, will be composed of small office suites and meeting rooms for small businesses to rent on an ad-hoc basis.
Smith said the project was only made possible by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s bonding of $5.5 million to pay for cleanup of the site — without that money, he said, the project would have been unaffordable. Speaking to reporters after bonding the money in January, Malloy said the bonding was part of an investment program that aims at “long-term revitalization” of the state’s economy.
Although there was some confusion about how best to maintain decorum during the meeting , the plans for District NHV passed the committee unanimously at the end of the meeting. The full Board of Alders will vote on the plans in its meeting in early March.
“To actually have a place where people are working — you can have people walking around, people cycling, an active community — I think that this is the step to go,” Fair Haven Alder José Crespo said. “Kudos to those who are part of this project — keep doing what you’re doing, and thank you for considering us, the residents of New Haven.”