A ceremonial groundbreaking this summer at Audubon Square marked the impending arrival of a much-anticipated residential project by Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, one of four bets the company has made on the rise of the Elm City.

Audubon Square, the company’s name for the downtown area between State, Grove, Orange and Audubon streets, is expected to begin its first phase of occupancy in the spring of 2019. A residential space will be created in the lot, which has served as a parking area for decades. The property, which housed the New Haven Register’s newsroom and printing press between 1921 and 1989, will consist of 269 residential units and several commercial storefronts within walking distance of the revamped State Street station, where residents can take the newly opened Hartford line to the state capital.

“Historically, this property has not contributed very much to the vitality of the neighborhood or New Haven,” said Matthew Edvardsen, a partner at Spinnaker and the project executive for Audubon Square. “We hope just adding a residence to the area and maybe a restaurant or two will make it more of a destination. Hopefully it serves as an anchor for the surrounding area.”

The developers bought the land from Frontier Communications in 2016. Spinnaker received unanimous approval for its Audubon Square plans from the City Plan Commission in February 2017, with an estimated first phase cost of $75 million. After months of planning and preparation, construction began a year later, in February 2018.

The construction ran into a potential issue when a subcontractor working on the building placed a $1 million lien on it in July, according to a report from the New Haven Independent. But Edvardsen said the the two parties resolved the issue “amicably” and confirmed that construction has continued on schedule.

Ward 7 Alder Abigail Roth, whose district includes Audubon Square, used to live on Audubon Street and said she believes the project will ultimately “enliven the block.”

Spinnaker is covering the entire cost of the project and is thus not obligated to provide accessible housing, unlike some other recent residential projects that have received assistance from the city and are, to varying degrees, mandated to provide accessibly priced housing. The units at Audubon Square, an all-rental property, will all be offered at market price. The building will consist of a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and some townhouse-style ground-floor units. Edvardsen estimated that monthly rent will fall between $1,700 and $1,800 for studios, around $2,000 one-bedrooms and $2,500 or more for two-bedrooms.

Jonathan Wharton, a political science and urban affairs professor at Southern Connecticut State University who serves as an alternate on the City Plan Commission, cast a vote in favor of the plan when it came up before the commission.

Wharton acknowledged the challenges city planners face in balancing commitments to development and affordability for residents. He said that compared to other states like New Jersey, Connecticut and much of the Northeast do not have structures in place to balance the need for affordable housing with other housing commitments.

Spinnaker expects to fill the first commercial openings around the same time as the first phase of residents move in. Edvardsen said the company has some idea about which vendors it would like to see, but would not comment further on who the vendors will be until plans are finalized. Wharton said he hopes see a grocery store, which he said would merge the residential and commercial aspects of the neighborhood.

“It’s right in that niche block between residential and commercial,” he said.

As the neighborhood transitions toward a more residential area, community members have raised several concerns, first and foremost about making the streets more pedestrian-friendly. The area currently has narrow streets and sees a high volume of fast-moving traffic due to its proximity to the I-91 highway exit.

In anticipation of the increased pedestrian activity, the city unveiled plans this month for a $120,000 traffic, safety and pedestrian update in the area. The design includes a speed table at the intersection at the end of Audubon Street, which should slow vehicles in the area. The city’s negotiations with Spinnaker resulted in the developers paying a one-time sum of $60,000 to fund half the project. Construction of the intersection will begin this fall, according to the Independent.

Spinnaker Real Estate is based in Norwalk.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu