As the Elm City economy expands through real estate development, local workers are asking for a share of the growth.
On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Downtown Wooster Square Community Management Team in City Hall, members of local trade unions asked one of New Haven’s fastest-growing real estate developers — Spinnaker Real Estate — to commit to hiring local workers at fair wages as it continues to transform the downtown landscape. The company, which is based out of nearby Norwalk, has several major real estate projects in the works for the downtown area and has invested nearly $250 million into the Elm City in the past year. But carpenters and other laborers from the area requested that Spinnaker commit to hiring locally in the completion of its projects, highlighting the tensions and growing disparities that often accompany economic growth.
“It’s our ongoing concern which is related to our mission about good urban planning,” Anstress Farwell, president of the Urban Design League, said. “This has been a deeply frustrating thing for local workers. The union laborers issue is such a large issue in public policy.”
Spinnaker currently boasts four high profile projects in the Elm City, several of which have faced scrutiny from local community members. The company is about to complete the first phase of its Audubon Square project, which will create hundreds of units of new apartment housing at the intersection of Orange and Audubon streets.
Last month, the company gained approval from the City Plan Commission to build a Hilton Garden Inn in the historic Elm City building that once housed a branch of Webster Bank. The building, located at 80 Elm St., was designed by Robert Foote in the art deco style in 1948. Spinnaker purchased the building in 2017 and anticipates completion of the new outpost of the chain hotel in the fall of 2020.
Two other Spinnaker projects in the works include participation in the Comcast building and the New Haven Coliseum project. Despite Spinnaker’s large and ever-growing presence within the city, it is under no local hiring obligations — because the company undertakes its projects without help from City Hall. At Tuesday’s meetings, union members brought up issues in contracts and argued that the developers should contract locally and offer fair wages.
“It’s upsetting to me that the Hilton [project] is not hiring local workers,” Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 told the News. “If the Hilton’s goal is to ultimately attract as many patrons as possible, it would be in their best interest to hire local workers. When they do so, it improves the lives of our residents and the marketability of our city as a whole, which will attract more people to New Haven, which will bring more patrons to the Hilton. I hope they reconsider.”
Spinnaker’s representatives told attendees at the meeting that the company is committed to a bidding process. Spinnaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
New Haven was founded in 1638.
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