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“These People Listen”
by Allan Appel | Aug 28, 2013 10:43 am
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Ninth Square
A climbing structure. More live/work spaces. Smaller retail spaces so more local merchants can participate. Access to all the rooftop gardens. Concerts and other events during an expected decade of phased construction. Plus a learning center designed to inspire and stimulate urban kids.
The public asked the designers of downtown’s next big building project to include those ideas. They did.
Call it architecture by committee. In part.
Those ideas won’t change the basic architectural footprint. But they have become a meaningful part of the plan for a $250-350 million project under development for the former New Haven Coliseum lot at Orange, George, and State streets and MLK Boulevard.
Montreal-based LiveWorkLearnPlay, the city’s preferred developer, is putting the plan together.
The ideas arose during a friendly, free-flowing discussion Tuesday night that drew 50 officials, architects, Hill neighbors, and other interested citizens to the Bourse gathering space above the English Market on Chapel Street.
The builders hope to construct 524 apartments in five-to-six-story mixed-income buildings with stores all along the landscaped streets; a distinctive hotel rising on the corner of MLK Boulevard and Orange that would run along Orange across Route 34 into the Hill neighborhood; an office tower on State Street; a fitness center; a public square vibrant with community-planned events; and a “laneway” with spots for carefully screened New Haven businesses.
If all goes well, officials expect to submit a development agreement to the Board of Aldermen in the fall, with shovels in the ground in 2014 and a full build-out in phases culminating a decade later, said Max Reim, one of the LWLP principals who addressed a generally very approving audience.
“All goes well” assumes approval from the state Department of Transportation for filling part of the Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere. That will enable Orange Street to cross the former connector at grade and curve gently all the way to the train station. It would also become a welcoming front yard for the proposed luxury new hotel that developers hope will become a destination for travelers now just scooting by on the highway.
Click here for a previous story with more details on the plan as developers rolled out of their idea in the Hill. And click here to read how the New Haven Development Commission received the proposal.
Ideas for adding to the design have emerged at a series of community planning meetings like Tuesday evening’s at the Bourse.
Reim credited Hill South Alderwoman Dolores Colon for illuminating to LWLP the need for day care, yoga and other exercise opportunities in the project. Her latest suggestion: a learning center.
“A lot of what you see here is inspired by Dolores Colon [and others] to make [the development] a livable neighborhood,” Reim said.
Participants in these meetings have found in developer LWLP and architect Herb Newman, who helped build the Ninth Square, receptive to their ideas.
Colon recalled her early days in New Haven, around 1989, when in her walks around town she saw the buildings of the Ninth Square just seem to sprout up without anything like the current level of public dialogue, she said.
That doesn’t mean “this is being built by committee,” emphasized Reim of LWLP. The feedback has not altered the fundamental vision for the site.
LWLP hasn’t changed the footprint or the height of buildings or the vision. Yet in conversations formal and informal , public input has resulted in these added touches, altered emphases, and refinements.
“Refining is always the hard part,” he added.
“People were [from the beginning] receptive to the vision,” said LWLP Director of Planning and Development Kiran Marok.
She heard from people about the need for more local stores, for more live/work spaces, for more bike racks, and maybe for a buffered bike lane on Orange Street, she added.
“These people are listening,” said Colon.
Will ConnDOT Listen?
“We’re looking to transform traffic volume projections in New Haven,” said project traffic engineer Joe Balskus, of Tighe & Bond, speaking about the pitch his team will make to the state DOT to fill in the portion of the Route 34 Connector abutting the project area. The state and city are already filling in the western portion of the mini-highway to make way for the 13-story new home for the Alexion pharmaceutical firm at 100 College St. Balskus said his team hopes to convince DOT to lower its estimates of hpw many cars need to drive along that stretch.
“We’re saying higher volumes of people are using other areas and exits. It doesn’t all come in and leave through Route 34. People were skeptical about closing Exit 3 [for 100 College Street]. ‘The world is coming to an end!’ It hasn’t happened,” said New Haven traffic tsar Jim Travers.
“We see a decline in single-occupancy trips downtown,” added Travers.
Other examples of facts he and Balskus are marshaling to make the case to DOT: Gateway Community College’s garage after all these months since opening is still only at 80 percent capacity. And the school’s students have tallied a dramatic 180,000 mass-transit trips.
‘We hope to resolve the [traffic volume discrepancy] issues by the end of the year to support the development agreement,” said Balskus.
That was music to the ears of Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez, who performed the crowd-welcoming honors. “We look forward to getting the development agreement approved,” Perez said.
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Hey, don’t forget EatPrayLove!
I don’t understand social engineering through architecture. We already have learning centers called schools. We also shouldn’t be programming uses such as yoga or daycare. The use table permits all kinds of things. Let the market dictate who rents space.
The public shouldn’t get vet uses project by project. That’s done through zoning.
Many “ifs” on this project. Even once it gets started, it will take a decade to finish, and so much can go wrong. I hope at least that Long Wharf Theatre will move here as they planned under the old proposal.
This is an awesome project. It will be great to have centralized shopping district that is “open air” and not Yale owned. I believe Yale has done a great job bringing big retailers downtown to make their students feel more comfortable but that has left many smaller retailers behind. I’d love to see this project truly be a haven for small businesses.
Is LWLP still committed to not using any government subsidies or tax breaks? Not that I care, but I do wonder how the changing composition of the project and/or traffic analysis will impact their ultimate decision.
Lastly, is this deal permanently in place once approvals from ConnDOT are received or is this a possibility it could get blown up for other reasons? Again, it looks awesome - not sure we need 540 new market rate units in a City where the average family income is roughly $40,000 per year - but I’m just curious what other conditions might exist to its completion.
This project may or may not happen. But zoning should be changed up front so that developers throughout New Haven receive a large bonus, like the complete elimination of parking requirements and height restrictions, when they agree to set aside units for lower-income families. That’s one of the only ways we are ever going to get more affordable housing units in our city.
New Haven needs to raise the average family income. And New Haven certainly needs fewer poor people as a percentage of population. The market rate apartments are for new residents—not “underclass”, not “working poor”—of which NH could use a few thousand more.
“People were skeptical about closing Exit 3 [for 100 College Street]. ‘The world is coming to an end!’ It hasn’t happened,” said New Haven traffic tsar Jim Travers.”
Coming to an end? Perhaps not, but has Jim had to drive through that area at morning or afternoon rush hour? It’s a miserable experience, made worse by lanes closed for the construction. The impact of such situations may be difficult to quantify, because it includes potential decrease in visitors making downtown a destination for eating, shopping, and other important revenue generation based upon out of town customers. If it hurts business but not city hall (clearly and/or directly), there is no working negative feedback loop to pass along the pain signals.
I find the idea that through hand-waving a significant amount of vehicle trips can be magically, and conveniently, made to “disappear” to be a questionable exercise that needs to be based upon hard data rather than driven by desire for the development of that block. There are a finite number of feeder routes from the highway into the general downtown area: if traffic is being moved from Rt 34, where is it going? That should be a quantifiable number with implications regarding whether the new alternate routes are properly setup to handle the increased traffic. Someone, somewhere is going to be dealing with that traffic.
posted by: Kevin on August 28, 2013 4:24pm
@anonymous and A Contrarian
At last night’s meeting Max Reim stated that he anticipates that 20% of the units will be affordable (he did not specify for whom.) As I recall, he said something similar at the first presentation. This strikes me as a reasonable number, particularly since the other major downtown developments will be 100% market rate.
Kevin, yes if 20% of adults in the broader region are considered low-income by some measure then 20% of units should be accessible to whatever that income may be. Same goes on up. The trouble is, the % of adults in CT with low or moderate incomes is more like 50%. So we should have 20% affordable, but another 30% on top of that targeted to people who maybe make around $50,000-80,000. The only way to do that is to reduce construction costs which requires zoning reform.
I do hope that these are “suggestions” and not mandates for the project. How many small, locally-owned businesses have gone under not from competition from chains, but simply because they couldn’t make a go of it? It might be nice to have bookstores, record shops, and banks, but they’re on the endangered list. I like yoga—and Pilates, too—but why wouldn’t a studio owner/manager find an appropriate space without “official designation?”