$395M Coliseum Remake Still Faces “Fight”

Paul Bass Photo(Updated) The fate of the biggest proposed downtown development project in New Haven’s history now rests up in Hartford—where its prospects are by no means certain, according to lawmakers who’ll lead the charge on its behalf.

The project is the $395 million remaking of the old New Haven Coliseum site into a busy new-urbanist mini-city of apartments, stores, offices, a hotel and a public plaza.

The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to approve a land disposition agreement for the proposal, a new development to be built on the former site of the New Haven Coliseum.

The developer, a Montreal-based company called LiveWorkLearnPlay, intends to build a two-phased mixed-use development in the block bounded by the block bordered by Orange, George and State streets, and MLK Boulevard.

LiveWorkLearnPlay claims it will spend about $363 million to develop the block. It hopes to begin construction next summer, said Max Reim, principal of the company. Before then, the project will need “state commitments,” he said. Those include approvals for new infrastructure, including from the Office of the State Traffic Administration.

And lots of money—from governments facing fiscal crises. Reim said LiveWorkLearnPlay won’t build the project unless the state and federal governments come through with some $20 million on top of now-approved $12 million in city money to reconfigure Orange Street and the I-95/I-91 exits there. The money would go toward reworking the exits so all the traffic lets out onto Orange Street, rather than onto Church Street. Then Orange Street would be reconnected to South Orange Street at grade level, eliminating that stretch of the Route 34 mini-highway-to-nowhere that the state has already starting filling in for the Alexion Pharmaceuticals tower down the road at 100 College St.

City officials and the developer have been making the case already to state decision-makers in hopes of obtaining the money.

“I don’t bet on these kinds of things,” New Haven state Sen. Martin Looney said Tuesday when asked the likelihood that the state legislature and governor will come through with the money this year.

“I think it’s certainly an exciting project. That’s a huge gap in the center of downtown. I think the proposal is one that could have a transformative effect there. I think it’s certainly a case worth making,” said Looney, who as majority leader of the state Senate will be in a position to make that argument. “We’re going to try to obviously make the case for it.”

Toni Harp said Tuesday that she will make that argument to the governor and legislative leaders as well. Harp is retiring as one of those legislative leaders, in the state Senate. Jan. 1 she takes over as New Haven’s mayor, the driver behind the engine to make development projects happen.

Harp said she supports the LiveWorkLearnPlay project. But she said it’s too early to say how big a priority it will be for her compared to other major “asks” of the state government. She said she wants to wait on a report from her transition team before laying out priorities.

“It’s a big ask,” she said of the project. “I think it’s not unreasonable to ask for that. It’s important to finish what has occurred downtown.

“Am I going to say it’s at the top of my list [of priorities]? I could say it’s at the top of [current Mayor] John DeStefano’s list. The Board of Aldermen thinks it’s important. I certain support it; I don’t know what our other asks will be.”

Harp, like current city officials, noted that the federal government and Gov. Dan Malloy have already poured tens of millions of dollars into the Downtown Crossing project, including the 100 College St. tower and the filling in of the Route 34 Connector at that end. She called the LiveWorkLearnPlay project a continuation of that effort to remake downtown.

“The state has already invested. I think they’re going to see that as part of the overall economic development of the town,” Harp said.

New Haven state Rep. Roland Lemar agreed that people shouldn’t consider state support a given. He did predict that receiving approvals from state agencies could take less time than in the past because the process has been “expedited over the last year.” As for the funding, Lemar said LiveWorkLearnPlay has already met with him and other members of the New Haven delegation, as well as the governor.

Lemar said he will push for the funding for the project, but it won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be a fight,” he said. “We have to make our case that this is a smart investment for the state.” Lemar called the project a potential job- and tax-creating “boon for the city.”

Lemar noted the legislature is not in session again until February, and will have to act fast to secure the money.

“A strong case can be made based on the investment the city and state have already made [in Alexion]” and based on jobs, said Kelly Murphy, the city’s economic development director. The Alexion project will produce an estimated 1,000 jobs, she said; the LiveWorkLearnPlay project will produce 2,800 permanent jobs.

Approved, With Amendments

Aldermen Monday night approved three separate measures related to the LiveWorkLearnPlay development.

The first was a change to the city’s zoning map, designating the project site as a BD-3 zone, rather than BD. A BD-3 designation allows for mixed use development: retail and residential in the same building.

The second two approvals were for the land disposition agreement and the abandonment of a section of MLK Boulevard to make way for the project. Aldermen approved those items unanimously, after attaching a couple of amendments.

One amendment contained some minor tweaks that came out of the committee process, like adding car-sharing to the deal’s transportation plan and clarifying what the words “substantially similar” mean.

The other amendment, offered by Alderman Mark Stopa, clarified some language about a 30-year “compulsory taxable period.” The deal states that if, for some reason, LiveWorkLearnPlay sells the land to, say, Gateway Community College, which is exempt from property tax, Gateway would nonetheless have to pay payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for 30 years.

“Generous In Spirit”

Hill Alderwoman Dolores Colon (pictured with Reim), in whose ward the project will be built, hailed the plan as a step forward for her neighborhood and for the city. She thanked LiveWorkLearnPlay for “reaching out to neighbors” and creating a lot of opportunities for community input.

In a letter to the developer sent Monday, Anstress Farwell, head of the New Haven Urban Design League, called for the establishment of “procedures for public participation” as the design process goes forward.

Reim called LiveWorkLearnPlay’s process “extremely inclusive forever and forever.”

He said public input can continue through social media, formal and informal workshops, and work with management teams and aldermen in various neighborhoods.

Colon said that although the agreement doesn’t include requirements for ongoing public input, she’s confident LiveWorkLearnPlay will be responsive, based on the company’s past performance.

“I think they’re conscientious,” she said. “They seem generous in spirit.”

She said LiveWorkLearnPlay has always responded to requests for community meetings. “I might be being naive,” she said. “But I have a good feeling.”

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posted by: DingDong on December 3, 2013  9:56am

““It’s going to be a fight,” Lemar said.”

Alright Toni Harp—-you want to win over everyone who voted against you?  Use your much-vaunted state connections to get the funding in Hartford.

posted by: robn on December 3, 2013  10:14am

The discussion about a “30-year compulsory taxable period” is strange. If gateway bought the executed project, it remains a profit bearing property and wouldn’t be exempt (Yale pays taxes on its profit bearing property). This makes me think that the exit strategy for an unexecuted project DOESN’T revert the land ownership back to the city. Shouldn’t that be the case?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 3, 2013  11:28am

What happens when Phase II of this project never happens?

Has due diligence been done? Or has everyone simply bought into the fluff and promises that have been used to sell us this project?

Also, where is any hard-nosed discussion about what the affordable housing will ultimately look like? Will it be a joke a la 360State’s discounted studios for yuppies?

Fwiw. And I’m not necessarily against this project. I just know that on the last project, (360 State), we went forward without even being clear on the property tax dollars that would be generated.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 3, 2013  11:36am

As I always say.Snake-Oil being sold!!!


P.S. My bad Forgot Three Card Monte.


posted by: anonymous on December 3, 2013  1:35pm

Talking about “other priorities” is only possible if the city boosts its property tax base. Downtown development is the only way to do that.

I know that Harp wants to bring investment to neighborhoods But with apologies to Harp’s Transition Team and Dixwell (which is a great neighborhood), the economic reality is that not a single developer is going to even build a gas station on Dixwell Plaza, much less something larger that produces more than a few thousand dollars per month in taxes.  Until we use better transportation planning to improve Downtown, and then to fix our city’s most important “main street” (Whalley Avenue), we won’t be seeing any development along Dixwell.

That said, the city’s track record is such that this LWLP proposal is unlikely to go very far (see “Galleria at Long Wharf” or “Williams Specialty Steel”).  But, it sounds like it was a good exercise, and frees up the land to build another parking garage.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 3, 2013  1:51pm

If this isn’t a priority then what is? We’re talking about filling in a giant hole downtown, and bringing in hundreds of millions into the city through jobs, new residents and property taxes.

posted by: robn on December 3, 2013  1:56pm

Mayor DeStefano gift wrapped this for mayor-elect Harp. Failure to execute this project would be an inexcusable failure. Then finding money for a non-taxable community center (the Armory and its considerably higher price tag) would be an insult to taxpayers and those seeking jobs that the Coliseum site would create..

posted by: cedarhillresident! on December 3, 2013  5:43pm

Personally I think if they went with the Pelli/Archstone/CA White plan from the get go (came in second to northland) It would of already be done. It was the best one!

But with that said…I am not worried Harp said in the elections we are electing her because of all her connections. So start connecting.

posted by: webblog on December 3, 2013  5:51pm

I never cease to be amazed by the actions of the BOA, who consistently vote unanimously to approve land disposition agreements wherever they occur throughout the city. Here again the Board passes measures immediately after asking insignificant questions, with no answer being replied.

The only cautions were registered by the state delegation who are not sure the governor will go along with the project in this, his election year.

Without full faith and credit from the federal and state governments, this board has placed the city in financial jeopardy for the full 32M, 12 to 32M the board does not have______________ but who’s counting??

Seemingly, as long as the city and Murphy project 3200 jobs, jobs that have not been realized under past construction deals______________ they are all ahead full.

Inspite of deficit budget spending, deficit bonding fund, deficit fund balance, deficit self insurance, deficit health benefits, deficit pensions, deficit overtime, deficit BOE food service fund, deficit BOE day care fund, deficits,deficits and more deficits.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on December 3, 2013  6:11pm

Wait a minute!!!

Many of these individuals who are still on the Board of Alderman voted with the mayor when he said that the former coliseum was in no way a money maker for the taxpayers of the city.

I was the lone individual who on the board at the time that presented legislation regarding a referendum.  It was my view then that since the voters purchased the coliseum, the voters should have the say in removing it.  To my knowledge, that legislation received zero support.  However, the taxpayers are currently still paying for the bond that they acquired to build the former coliseum.

They’re now talking about building another one.  How ridiculous is that?

I find it interesting that most of these alderman can vote almost without any hesitation to raise taxes, but they can’t seem to find any harmony in voting for economic development and job opportunities in their own dilapidated communities. 

Where’s the independent contingency on the board that are willing to stand up and ask the hard questions?

Nothing has changed in the city.  If the former coliseum was no longer beneficial to the people then, why is it beneficial for the people now?

Did the mayor hoodwink the board and the people? Or was he just wrong?

posted by: AMDC on December 3, 2013  7:17pm

Sounds like what they want to re-create is a…  neighborhood…. you know,  like the ones they tore down in the 50’s and 60’s.  The developers and contractors must laugh their backsides off and they race to destroy and rebuild the same old same old.  Yale will have its mitts on it or it will otherwise be off the tax rolls one way or another.
And NH keeps rolling on,  doing business the old fashioned, corrupt way—- but that’s what people wanted or they wouldn’t have voted for a Demokrat insider for mayor.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 3, 2013  11:01pm

With Looney and Harp’s stature at the Statehouse, New Haven’s growing success as a Connecticut urban center, and it being an election year,—I have no doubt that the State funding will be there for this project.

Therefore I read this article as Harp & friends just hitting the pause button for one final round of negotiations with LWLP. I wonder what the “ask” of the Canadian developer will be? (Unfortunately we’ll never know…)

posted by: Captain Harlock on December 4, 2013  1:46pm

Mark my words, the Coliseum is going to be a hole in the ground for the next 30 years. And if they do actually complete this project, I know what will happen. A Foot Locker will go into one retail space, and the rest will be empty, just like 9th Square, while we all stare at a twisted piece of metal in the square, because someone decided that would look better than nothing at all.

posted by: Captain Harlock on December 4, 2013  1:54pm

Retail? Hotels? A plaza? I have a better idea; how about we take not even half of this money and improve internet infrastructure in the city? You have a MAJOR university like Yale in this town, and the internet service is absolutely horrible. I can’t even get U-Verse in Fair Haven, and the speed tops out at 3mbps. I keep reading “Why are young people leaving Connecticut? We don’t know why?”. Well when jobs are in information technology, and your internet speeds are from the Stone Age, it’s not hard to figure out. Fred Flintstone had better internet connections.

posted by: robn on December 4, 2013  3:32pm

A breakdown of possibilities with my favorite first (have fun mixing and matching)

1) Manufactured Crisis : Harp cries fire and then takes full credit for extinguishing it.
2) Shakedown Time : Time to make LWLP pay to play.
3) Other Priorities : Harp would rather drop city resources into a pet project or an election quid pro quo.
4) Trouble in Paradise : Harp doesn’t bring any special relationships back from Hartford.

Did I miss anything?

posted by: A Contrarian on December 5, 2013  1:15pm

Would love to see a poll with pie chart on robin’s “possibilities.”