Wikimedia Commons

About twenty community members gathered on Tuesday night in the New Haven Hall of Records on 200 Orange St. to hear the proposed plans for the development of multi-purpose urban “mini-city” on the site of the old New Haven Coliseum.

The 5.5-acre parcel of land is currently a surface parking lot nestled between Orange, George and State Streets along with Martin Luther King Boulevard. Representatives from Spinnaker Development LLC and their partners — the construction company Fieber Group as well as KDP Investment New Haven — shared their master plans for the project with the public.

“We’re calling for community involvement on how to conduct this development and get some feedback,” said Frank Caico, vice president of development at Spinnaker. “We’ve got to design something based on market realities as well as challenges of design and site.”

The development project has had a tumultuous history. Previous plans for the land were spearheaded by Montreal developer Max Reim, founding principal at the development firm Live Work Learn Play. Five years after the city approved a $400 million plan to construct a mixed-use building, Reim’s plans eventually ran into a logistical and financial hole, involving difficulties with moving utility lines and a prolonged lack of progress in construction. This failure led to the Harp administration partnering with Spinnaker to revive the drawn-out project.

Dylan Wassell, associate at partnering firm Beinfield Architecture, said that his vision for the project was a return to “traditional urbanism,” a trend he believes New Haven has veered away from in the last half-century. Instead of goods and services spread out through the town and only accessible by car, Wassell said he hopes to create a space where everything is compact and within walking distance.

“We’re combining healthy living practices with sustainable development practices,” Wassell said.

Wassell highlighted other advantages of the new development. He discussed how the space will provide novel opportunities for existing businesses, the possibility of using the public space for open gatherings, and the creation of a shared juncture for different neighborhood to mingle between. The team unveiled an illustrated projection of the final product, one that features numerous shops, restaurants, office spaces, a parking lot and more than 500 residential units. The prospective design also featured a long open-air passageway running between two buildings, in accordance with city plan laws which require public space.

Despite the extensive facilities and offerings the renovation will bring to the city, the project has received criticism for its lack of socioeconomic inclusivity for people of the Elm City.

Local artist Mona Berman voiced her concerns for the lack of inclusiveness the structure suggested in its current form.

“With this passageway, you’ve just cut everybody off from reality,” Berman said. “This is inward-looking as opposed to extroverted.”

Berman told the News that she was particularly unsatisfied with Spinnaker’s “half-hearted” attempts at seeking community input for the project, especially for their weak communication with the public surrounding their forums.

Several other people at the forum voiced their concerns for the project’s lack of affordability for New Haven residents at large.

“No resident in their right mind is going to go down the street and buy a pair of pants on Broadway for more than $100,” local resident Tasha Wormley told the room.

Wormley noted that the shops at the heart of Yale’s campus are targeted towards students, not the city as a whole, and expressed her worry that the Old Coliseum development would present similarly inaccessible options.

The project’s target market was not the only criticism aired Tuesday night. Many citizens voiced their disapproval of the addition of yet another unsightly parking lot in New Haven.

“We need another parking lot like we need another hole in the head,” Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colon ’91 told the News. “I’m unimpressed. [With] the way the buildings are situated, their body language is telling New Haveners to stay away. Unless they’re rich.”

In response to concerns from the audience, the development team was quick to highlight the flexibility of their plans and their desire to shape the space into one that best serves New Haven’s needs while also earning a profit.

“How do we get this site energized and make it a place that everyone in New Haven wants to experience?” said Bruce Beinfield, founding principal of Beinfield Architecture. “We need to be realistic about what people want and be idealistic about possibilities.”

Spinnaker hopes to break ground on the Old Coliseum site by spring 2021 and complete construction by spring 2023.

Meera Shoaib |