Biz Tour Updates Demo, Parking Plans

Thomas Breen photoPart 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.

DISTRICT’s Smokin’

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.

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posted by: __quinnchionn__ on October 9, 2018  8:04pm

• Having a new bus station built in the lot across from Amistad Street wouldn’t be a bad idea. Why not just build a bus station there if it won’t be nearly enough space to have one be located at Union Station?

• I think that the entire Police Station should be done over to look nicer, but it shouldn’t be moved to another location. It should continue to stay where it is across from the Train Station.

• Downtown should have less parking spaces and more parking garages.

posted by: citoyen on October 9, 2018  8:24pm

As a way of generating more activity along Church Street, a bus hub of some kind at Church and Amistad would be a great idea—especially if, as I have been hoping for years, the city would be serious about somehow working out a deal with Northland Investment Corp. to build a road directly from Church Street South (the roadway) to the front of the train station. The land of Church Street South (the housing development) is going to become completely cleared. This will be, literally, a once-in-a-hundred year chance to make a rational urbanistic choice of the sort envisioned by Frederick Olmsted, Jr., and Cass Gilbert in their monumental visionary plan for New Haven of 1910.

The photo in this article of the Tower Lane parking lot shows, in the background and to the right (next to the church), the intersection of Church Street and Columbus Avenue. This is the obvious starting point for a roadway leading directly, head-on, to the train station. It would make so much sense: the direct link to downtown that everybody keeps wanting to achieve. Right to the Green. The real possibility will be at hand.

This should be a transportation roadway, not just some sort of pedestrian walkway, and not something circuitous. A real direct street. A real connection to downtown.

As soon as the housing site is completely cleared, everyone will be amazed at how visible, prominent, and imposing the station will appear from that intersection. The building will so emphatically be asking to be recognized as the ready-made civic monument it is. Seize the opportunity! Build a roadway directly to it! “Station Avenue,” or “Depot Way,” or something like that. Make the station show, strongly, in a permanent way. It’s just waiting there, ready to come into its own.

Allow Northland some greater density, and more in the way of potential profits, if it will cede the necessary ground space to the city. Work out a deal, Mr. Nemerson, and City Plan! Make New Haven a place with vision again!

posted by: Esbey on October 9, 2018  8:46pm

The article talks about our “boom,” but truthfully it is really just moderate positive growth. There are something like 56,000 housing units in town.  A 270 unit development represents a growth of less than 1/2 of one percent.  If developers finish, on average, two such projects every year, our housing stock would be growing at a 1% rate per year.  Looking at the state’s spreadsheet showing new housing permits by town by year, I don’t think that we have obtained that “high” a rate in most recent years, and we certainly have not reached it on average. With some luck, we might hit that rate or a little higher over the next few years.

Add to the rate of new buildings some additional housing in renovated existing commercial space, but then subtract whatever older stock of housing falls to decay and the wrecking ball.  I think they are likely wrong, but the Census population guess-timate for New Haven shows mild population decline since 2012. (The more accurate 2020 Census might show otherwise.)

Now consider that New Haven county has more than 850,000 residents. Our little building projects are a drop in the bucket of the regional economy.

All of this is a kind of good news. Our modest growth rate ought to be sustainable for quite . while as long as the national economy doesn’t tank.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on October 10, 2018  4:05am

BUS HUB?

It should go in the middle of the Connector, underneath whatever gets built between College and Church.

Convenient to downtown, hospital, Yale, train station, Med Center.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 10, 2018  5:46am

A bus station at or near Union Station would be great, as would the roadway citoyen proposes. But there is the small matter of money. Either project would cost millions of dollars, and the city and state have structural deficits that make financing unlikely. Northland might be persuaded to provide the right-of-way for the roadway; I doubt it would cover the construction costs.

I think the proposed mini-hubs would be useful. But they would be transfer points for a couple of bus lines, not bus stations.

posted by: citoyen on October 10, 2018  7:39am

As always, Kevin McCarthy is a voice of information and reason. Yes, of course, paying for building a Station Avenue would be a big hurdle—the biggest. Back in the day, federal financing might have been more easily available; although I have to wonder whether, even in this day and age, that source of funds is completely unthinkable. Yale typically does not help finance city infrastructure projects—unless they affect itself directly (e.g., Broadway)—but it has demonstrated since the administration of Richard Levin that it wants a strong New Haven—recognizes that this benefits Yale’s own interests—and a direct link from the train station to downtown—and to Yale—would strengthen New Haven for decades and even a century to come. Northland might be persuaded that a vibrant street would increase the viability and desirability of its own construction. The state recognizes that it will need to build roadways for the next 20 years for the state to remain economically sound.

I don’t have knowledge or experience with finance or government; I don’t know what sort of coalition could be formed.  I do know somewhat about design and urban planning. And I take to heart the words of a revered former professor—it may be impossible, but it surely will be impossible if we decide so beforehand.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 10, 2018  9:05am

Again.Nothing for working class and poor people.

posted by: robn on October 10, 2018  9:11am

Even if we did create a new bus hub, why would that be expensive? There’s no structure on the New Haven Green other than an info kiosk and a handful of aluminum and plastic rain shelters. The hub could move any day that dirt becomes available with minimal cost.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 10, 2018  9:15am

My Bad. Taking Bets.Economic Hit Man Nemerson and Take back New Haven Doug Hausladen.Will try to bring this here next.

http://www.bqx.nyc/#gallery

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 10, 2018  10:16am

citoyen, thanks. One possibility is tax increment financing. This approach involves issuing bonds backed by the incremental value of property taxes brought about by the capital investment. Done right, it can pay for large investments such as the roadway you propose. Done wrong, it can be money loser that harms the city’s credit rating.

Robn, a bus hub would not cost that much money. Conceivably you could add electronic signage to an existing bus shelter and re-route existing buses so that riders can transfer there. On the other hand, a bus station (which some of the commentators are backing) would require a substantially larger investment for a building serving many lines. There would need to be an interior waiting area, bathrooms, etc.

posted by: Esbey on October 10, 2018  6:05pm

Citoyen’s “Station Ave” is a great idea.  The state of CT routinely pays for highway exit improvements, etc., to support new development, yes?  I bet we could work this out.