In January 2007, tens of thousands of people showed up to watch 2,000 pounds of explosives demolish the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Almost 12 years later, Spinnaker Real Estate, a Norwalk-based real estate developer, recently signed on to construct new developments on the coliseum grounds, reinvigorating stalled plans to build a hotel, among other structures.
Spinnaker Real Estate have been notably active in the Elm City in recent years, and recently partnered with LiveWorkLearnPlay, a Montreal-based international real estate company whose mission, according to its website, is to conceive of and develop complete mixed-use communities — either from the ground up or by revitalizing existing assets. LWLP signed a deal with the city in 2013, in which they agreed to build $400 million’s worth of apartments, shops and other structures. The project’s main attraction is a hotel, which has been supported by LiveWorkLearnPlay and members of the city government.
Yet, the viability of the hotel has come into question over the last few years. LiveWorkLearnPlay faced backlash from both city officials and Union 35 of UNITE HERE — a labor union that represents 270,000 working people across Canada and the United States — throughout the project. Union 35 represents Yale’s custodial, dining and maintenance workers, as well as some of New Haven’s hotel employees.
UNITE HERE did not respond to request for comment via phone or email.
Mayor Toni Harp blamed the project’s almost 6-year delay on LiveWorkLearnPlay’s lack of capital and funding, while UNITE HERE has been fighting to secure a neutrality agreement — a formal and binding statement of the union’s right to organize.
“I think what we’re now realizing is that it is very likely that [LWLP wasn’t] in a position to do the development and for whatever reason didn’t have the capacity to actually develop the site,” said former New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, who oversaw the project during his tenure. “There are many other issues that came up along the way before we knew that, such as needing more land, time and state money.”
Backed by UNITE HERE, members of the Board of Alders have fought to prevent new hotel projects in the city unless they include neutrality agreements that support labor representation.
In September, the union wrote a letter to Nemerson regarding a plan for IKEA to convert the historic Pirelli Building at 500 Sargent Drive into a 165-room hotel.
The letter asked that Nemerson pull the proposal from the City Plan Commission’s agenda and instead give the Board of Alders the legal jurisdiction to review it. The letter was signed by seven leaders of the Board of Alders, three of which — Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, Dolores Colón ’91 and Tyisha Walker-Myers — have held leadership positions in or worked for UNITE HERE.
But including union representation in their contracts means a higher potential cost for hotels, which drives away potential builders.
“I think that if there is going to be a hotel, of course it is going to be a union hotel,” Harp said on WNHH FM Radio on Monday. “I argue that we need a hotel that can give us small to medium-sized conventions.”
Harp noted that, although there is a wealth of new hotel developments in New Haven, the new proposed hotel would be necessary, due to New Haven’s lack of large conference venues. Although the Omni Hotel has a conference room, she said, the room does not have adequate capacity to host large conferences.
Spinnaker Real Estate has in the past year put down $250 million toward four projects in New Haven, including a project to renovate the building formerly occupied by Comcast on 630 Olive St.
In her Monday interview, Harp said that LiveWorkLearnPlay had been struggling to acquire capital, which proved an obstacle in the development, despite allegedly already finding a hotel to inhabit the building. She added that the Spinnaker and LiveWorkLearnPlay were debating whether a hotel would be the most effective centerpiece to push the project forward.
Yet, Harp emphasized her support for a hotel headlining the project.
“I think we need a big hotel,” she said. “So I’m waiting to see whether or not this collaboration will provide that or not.”
The New Haven Coliseum opened in 1972 and hosted multiple minor league hockey teams.
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