Part of English Station is coming down. Half of Church Street South has been demolished. And barbeque is coming to Fair Haven’s new tech hub.
Those were some of the takeaways of a 45-minute van tour Tuesday focused on past, present, and future economic development projects in the center of the city.
City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson led the tour for members of New Haven’s Development Commission
One project that came up was the old English Station power plant, which is divided into two parcels, one on Ball Island and one on Grand Avenue. United Illuminating (UI), the power company that used to run the plant, has been cleaning up the two parcels since 2016 as part of a partial consent order with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
Nemerson and UI spokesperson Ed Crowder both told the Independent on Tuesday that UI plans to dismantle the dilapidated brick building at 485 Grand Ave. because of its crumbling roof and general state of disrepair. That power plant structure was built in 1890.
“During the course of remediation efforts,” Crowder said, “we determined that the building is not intact and the decision was made to dismantle it.” He said UI plans to take down the building in the first quarter of 2019. Crowder said that UI is still assessing the environmental remediation required for the larger power plant structure on Ball Island, and does not currently have any plans to tear down the property.
After voting to approve an $800,000 city-managed federal loan to help clean up an old manufacturing site that will soon be low-income and artist loft housing, a half-dozen commissioners completed the official portion of their monthly meeting. They then piled into a city van outside of City Hall and rode along with Nemerson on the development-focused drive-by tour of Downtown, Upper State Street, the Mill River District, Ninth Square, Dwight, and the Hill North.
As the city’s economy continues to boom, propelled by a rush of new market-rate apartment developments and the continued investment by Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, Tuesday’s tour gave Nemerson an opportunity to catch the commissioners up on the latest with some of the city’s highest-profile developments, and to give them a taste of what projects may be on the horizon, even years or decades into the future. Some other takeaways:
Garage Headed For Invisibility
After leaving City Hall, Nemerson drove the group up State Street and pointed out the massive concrete block surrounded by construction cranes sitting where the old New Haven Register plant used to occupy a lot at Orange Street, Grove Street, State Street, and Audubon Street.
That towering gray concrete block is the 716-space garage for the Audubon Square development, which is being built by Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate. Nemerson said the garage will be wrapped by 269 apartments, and will not be visible when the project is complete.
“This is a much more expensive design,” he said about the garage. “It’s an invisible core that will have housing on all sides.”
Turning on Grove and heading up Whitney Avenue, Nemerson pointed out a surface parking lot at the corner of Whitney and Trumbull. That lot, which currently houses just 35 spaces and two billboards, was bought by the Georgia-based holding company Buckhead Investments LLC in 2016 for $1.45 million.
Back on State Street, Nemerson pointed out six new market-rate apartments coming soon to a rehabbed church and rectory at 855 State St.
Up at the DISTRICT, the tech hub and entrepreneurial space at 470 James St., Nemerson pointed to a building-under-construction that will house a new barbeque restaurant run by the Hartford-based Bear’s Smokehouse and that will serve beer brewed by Black Hog Brewery’s Jason Sobocinski.
“Bear’s!” Development Commission Chair Pedro Soto shouted with excitement as he learned the news. He said that he’s a big fan of the Hartford restaurant.
Heading through the Mill River District, Nemerson noted the new Bender kitchen and plumbing supplies showroom at 335 East St., which he described as the largest such showroom in the region.
Then down in Wooster Square, he noted that nearly 300 new market-rate apartments and 6,000 square-feet of retail space will be coming soon to 87 Union St. The project was delayed for years because of a competitor’s lawsuit, but now it’s cleared and ready to go, along with needed new City Plan Commission approval. A second residential project next door, planned by Spinnaker, remains the subject of a lawsuit.
Architect At Work On Station Garage
As the tour made its way to the Hill, Nemerson report that Church Street South, the former 301-unit apartment complex across from the train station, is already half demolished. Nemerson predicted the demolition would wrap up “next year.” (He said “next year” a lot on the tour.) The property’s owners plan on building in its place 600 new market-rate units and 300 affordable units, along with retail.
As he passed the police station at 1 Union Ave., a Brutalist concrete and cinderblock structure built in 1973, Nemerson said that the city is currently investigating where might be a good new location to house the city’s police. He said that that move likely won’t happen anytime soon, since the move would require tens of millions of dollars to achieve, but that the city is nevertheless scoping out new prospective locations. Planners have entertained the idea for years as part of promoting more residential, retail and office “transit-oriented development” instead by the train station.
Pointing right across the street, Nemerson said that local architect Herb Newman is currently designing what will eventually be a new state-funded parking garage next to Union Station.
“Randy Territory,” Plus Buses?
“And this is all Randy territory,” Nemerson said as the tour pulled down Gold Street, marveling at the massive block-long stretches of scaffolding and construction work that will soon be Stamford developer Randy Salvatore’s 110-apartment mixed-used development: one of several projects that he is in the midst of building in that section of the Hill.
At the corner of Church and Amistad Street, Nemerson pointed to the Parking Authority’s Tower Lane Parking Lot. He said that one idea that the city is bouncing around is whether or not to build a centralized bus depot at that very spot; another idea is not to have any more central hubs. Nemerson had previously lobbied to have a bus depot on the first floor of the new train station garage. State officials nixed the idea. They concluded Union Avenue lacked room for all the buses. They also disliked the decision.
“The mayor’s very clear first choice is to do mini-hubs around the city,” he said about one of the potential plans for relieving the Green from some of its current public bus traffic. “The [Church and Amistad] hub is just one option if the mini-hubs don’t work. It’d be years away.”
In Parking We Trust
As the tour wrapped up in Ninth Square, Nemerson noted the Ninth Square Residences apartment and commercial complex, where new landlords are on the cusp of receiving a 20-year tax abatement in order to preserve the complex’s current mix of affordable and market-rate housing. A Board of Alders committee approved the deal on Sept. 25; it now goes before the full board for final approval. Nemerson said the complex anchors the neighborhood, and the city, and he challenged anyone to imagine what New Haven’s Downtown would be like if Ninth Square were just an empty parking lot.
Across the street loomed a surface parking lot where the New Haven Coliseum once stood — and where for years a developer named LiveWorkLearnPlay promised to build a $400 million new residential-hotel-retail complex. The city and the developer are now engaged in a dance over how, probably, to get the stalled project moving with a new builder. “I hesitate to even bring it up,” Nemerson said on the door. Then he looked on the bright side: The city right now needs all the parking it can get in the Ninth Square while other projects move forward. For the near future, at least, parking is what it will get at that prime Coliseum spot.
And at the corner of Church and Crown, Nemerson encountered a site where he simply isn’t sure what will be coming next. That’s the former Connecticut Savings Bank Building at 45 Church St., owned by David Kuperberg.
Nemerson said that the landlords are currently looking for tenants to fill the elegant Beaux Arts space. But what or who will wind up setting up there, right now, he doesn’t know.