The former branch of Webster Bank on 80 Elm St., originally constructed as St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, has been approved for demolition and will be replaced with a Hilton Garden Inn in September 2020.

Last Wednesday, the City Plan Commission unanimously voted to demolish the building and replace it with an over-100-room hotel, much to the dismay of local historic preservationists. The art deco building, designed by architect R.W. Foote in 1948, was purchased by Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners in November 2017. The Art Deco building has partnered with Olympia Companies to develop the new hotel.

In the past year, Spinnaker Real Estate has invested approximately $250 million into four projects in New Haven — including a project to renovate the building formerly occupied by Comcast on 630 Olive St. and the construction of new developments on the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Representatives from Spinnaker Real Estate could not be reached for comment.

The vote of approval will allow the developers to move forward with their plans for demolition and construction, and the six-story Hilton Garden Inn is expected to be completed by September 2020. In addition to its 132 guest rooms, the hotel will house a 31-space valet-operated parking lot, as well as a ground-floor restaurant and bar that will be open to the public.

Over the last year, the fate of the historic building has been up for debate, with citizens and various preservationist groups fighting to protect the building’s current structure. The New Haven Preservation Trust, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the New Haven Urban Design League are just a few groups who have rallied around preservation efforts.

“Members of the community were not given the chance to voice their concerns on the future of the building,” Anstress Farwell, the president of the Urban Design League, said. “The developers very clearly did not do their due diligence in assessing the building and potential alternatives to demolition.”

Farwell has been actively working to protect the building since its purchase by Spinnaker. She voiced concerns at the Jan. 23 City Plan Commission meeting, where developers and their attorneys were present.

According to Farwell, the developers had previously said they would ask their architect to draw up some sketches of what the building could look like if they kept a lot of the original structure. But when she periodically went to the City Plan Commission asking for updates about the sketches, she was “repeatedly dismissed.”

Other community members have joined in on Farwell’s sentiments. According to the Independent, Commissioner Susan Godshall expressed her concerns at a City Plan Commission meeting last May. At the time, she noted that plans were not being discussed between Spinnaker and city staff and steps to evaluate options for preservation were not being taken.

Farwell said the developer eventually hired a historic consultant to write up a “historic building report.” Months later they told her the report was complete, and she asked if the Urban Design League could be sent a copy of it before it would be presented at a meeting on Jan. 7. According to Farwell, she asked the City Plan Commission if they ever received the report, and she was told that they had never seen it.

Both Commission Chair Edward Mattison LAW ’68 and interim director of the City Plan Department Michael Piscitelli could not be reached for comment.

On Wednesday, Farwell urged the Commission to postpone the vote and allow for a public hearing before giving developers approval for demolition. Farwell told the News that the Commission, which has the responsibility to vote on an application for approval within 90 days of its submission, had “plenty of time left” to evaluate other options for construction, but “decided not to.”

According to the New Haven Independent, Spinnaker’s Frank Caico refuted Farwell’s claims, saying that her assertions “flatly didn’t happen.”

Jim Perito, an attorney for the development, also argued to disqualify Farwell’s petition for intervention. He told attendees at Wednesday’s meeting that the building is not currently listed or in consideration to be listed on the historical register, and is not in a designated historic district, therefore making it eligible for reconstruction.

Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, LLC was founded in 1950 and is based in South Norwalk.

Caroline Moore |