Hill To Downtown Phase 1 Breaks Ground

Markeshia Ricks PhotoHardhats were donned and hands were put to shovel by a Stamford developer and Mayor Toni Harp on a bright Tuesday to officially mark the start of construction for the first phase of the Hill to Downtown Project.

RMS CompaniesThat happened at 22 Gold St., home of the former Prince Street School in a section of the Hill neighborhood that was destroyed during the construction of the Route 34/Oak Street Connector during the urban renewal era.

The city has worked with a number of developers since the late 1980s to develop 11.6 acres of long-neglected properties between Union Station, the Hill neighborhood, and Downtown. About two years ago, Mayor Toni Harp’s administration and the Board of Alders were able to strike a deal with developer Randy Salvatore, CEO and president of RMS Companies, to allow him to redevelop the parcels of land.

“New Haven is a great city,” Harp said Tuesday. “New Haven is a relatively small city and we have to do all we can with what there is to maximize it’s potential. These planned improvements bring to life the latest evidence how this is happening in New Haven.”

The first phase calls for a four-story, 110-apartment, mixed-use development at Gold Street. the building, which is expected to stretch more than a city block will include one, two, and three-bedroom apartments. There will be an estimated 2,350 square feet of retail space on the first floor of the building at the corner of Gold Street and Washington Avenue.

Salvatore said the first phase is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. He recently received site plan approvals for the planned second and third phases of the project which will build a total of 194 apartments on the other two parcels covered under the land disposition agreement he has with the city. He said if all goes well he will break ground later this summer with completion of those apartments set for sometime next year.

“I think with the completion of these three buildings we will have the foundations of a real neighborhood,” Salvatore said.

Thirty-three of the first 110 apartments will be rented to people who make no more than 80 percent of the area median income, or $70,480 out of an $88,100 benchmark for a family of four. The apartments were able to be subsidized thanks to $5 million from the Just in Time fund, a state housing fund designed to enable developers to include lower-income housing in new market-rate complexes.

Nick Lundgren, deputy commissioner for the state housing department, said the first phase of Hill to Downtown was chosen because it met all the requirements of being a private development that had nearly all of its local approvals and a developer who wanted to provide affordable within what was a market rate project.

“In this case, it was a natural fit,” Lundgren said. “We’re glad to be a part of this project. Investing in our urban centers is an important part of economic development. Connecting the Hill neighborhood to Downtown will be transformative, spurring what we hope will be a new wave of investments in the coming months and years.”

Matthew Nemerson, city economic development administrator, noted that many other mayors had put together concepts to try to get the 11.6 acres of property developed that simply didn’t pan out. But he said it was a top priority for Mayor Harp. He along with several of the day’s speakers heaped praise on Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, the executive director of the city’s anti-blight agency, for her role in making sure there was community input before any deals were signed. A number of stalled development projects have shown signs of coming to fruition since Neale-Sanjurjo returned to the city three years ago to lead LCI. (Read about two of those projects here and here.)

Hill Alder David Reyes said that he believed that many of his constituents felt heard through their management teams and the Hill to Downtown steering committee as the plans for the development were coming to fruition.

“This is a very important step toward making this plan a reality,” he said.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 1, 2018  3:58pm

Hill Alder David Reyes said that he believed that many of his constituents felt heard through their management teams and the Hill to Downtown steering committee as the plans for the development were coming to fruition.

“This is a very important step toward making this plan a reality,” he said

A when the Market Rate Rents come in.The Steps you hear will those are being force out.

posted by: 1644 on May 1, 2018  5:32pm

Route 34 separated the Hill from downtown, but didn’t destroy the neighborhood.  Much of the neighborhood was destroyed in the riots of 1967, with lots of looting and arson.  I recall seeing the burnt out buildings shortly after the violence subsided.  Congress Avenue was not pretty.

posted by: Patricia Kane on May 1, 2018  6:38pm

Another bland, boring and big project from RMS.
  Doesn’ t anyone hire architects any more?

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on May 1, 2018  7:13pm

The “Route 34” expressway was the worst thing that ever happened to the downtown section of New Haven. Back then it has certainly made it easier for cars to get in and out of town quickly, but now it has made it extremely difficult for people to get from Point A to Point B by just simply walking 5, 10 or maybe 15 minutes. As far as I know, it probably would have been better to NOT build Route 34. Instead, the city should have went with their original plan to build a “ring road” around New Haven that would connect to the Merritt Parkway. Not to mention that Downtown would also connect with I-91, but not with I-95. If I had the money to actually re-shape the city years ago then I would’ve made things easier, if not better for people rather than just for vehicles. Thank god for the Hill-to-Downtown project.

posted by: 1644 on May 1, 2018  9:11pm

quinn:  Route 34 replaced the cold-water Oak Street slum tenements.  Mayor Lee had grown up in the neighborhood, and he wanted it destroyed.  Living near the Green,  I never found it hard to walk from the Green down Church Street to Union Station, or down College to the Medical Center.  It may have been sterile, but the walk was no longer than it would have been before the Oak Street slums were razed.  Route 34 did serve its purpose of preserving downtown retail and the tax base it gave the city by allowing the purchasing power that had moved to the suburbs was access tot he commercial center.  One could easily drive straight to the Temple Street Garage, then shop at Macy’s, Malley’s, and the Chapel Street Mall, all relatively upscale establishments compared to what was in the suburbs.  Crossing the street, one could buy jewelry at Michael’s , or a suit at Backers.  Alternatively, one could exit a bit later to get to the York Street and Broadway/York Square stores.  The same with patronizing the College Street theaters, Took Square theater, and later, the Yale rep and all the downtown restaurants.  Eventually,  Westfield upgraded the CT Post Mall and built the Meriden Mall, providing upscale shopping with free parking.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 1, 2018  9:59pm

“That happened at 22 Gold St., home of the former Prince Street School in a section of the Hill neighborhood that was destroyed during the construction of the Route 34/Oak Street Connector during the urban renewal era.”

The former Prince Street School (http://nhgis.newhavenct.gov/parcel_images/00/04/95/71.jpg) is still standing. It was converted into an office building sometime in the 1990s, I believe. Across Prince Street is the former Welch Annex School, which was built as an the annex to the former Welch Training School located on Congress Avenue (now used by the APT Foundation). Welch Annex was used by the New Haven Public School system until NHPS built the John C. Daniels School. NHPS leased Welch Annex to Amistad Academy for several years. That building is planned to be turned into housing as part of the overall Hill-to-Downtown project. The school building that was demolished on Gold Street was the former private school associated with St. Anthony’s Church across the street.

You are correct that this section of the Hill neighborhood was not demolished under the Oak Street Redevelopment Project, but it was demolished as part of the Church Street Redevelopment Project, which included a sprawling area extending all the way from the Green to Union Station. Officially, 707 households, and many businesses, were forcibly displaced through eminent domain as part of the Church Street Redevelopment Project. The unofficial numbers of displaced is likely significantly higher, as is the case for all redevelopment projects. “The Hill” historically was centered around the intersection of Congress and Washington Avenues. Farther up Oak Street, and Congress and Washington Avenues towards the Boulevard was considered the “Upper Hill”, while the string of neighborhoods along Howard Avenue south of Columbus Ave were considered “Oyster Point”. Interestingly, “the Hill” is no longer considered part of what we now call the Hill neighborhood.

Kenneth Boroson Architects.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on May 2, 2018  7:20am

Will the NHI do a follow-up story documenting who will actually get the State housing subsidies?

I foresee the majority of the benefits going to Yale physicians and post-doctoral researchers. These Yale transients aren’t in need, and it’s a travesty that scarce housing subsidies will be flowing their way.

Can the NHI tell us the unit mix for this development, and particularly for the units receiving the subsidies? My guess is we aren’t talking two or three bedroom units, and that none of the housing benefits will go to families in need.

posted by: JCFremont on May 2, 2018  8:35am

Isn’t it amazing the amount of money spent on this city correcting the visions and errors created by that generations best and the brightest urban planners. Think of the RT 34 connector as New Havens Cross Bronx Expressway.

posted by: 1644 on May 2, 2018  9:01am

JH:  So, not only the Doctors’ Building, but the Malley’s and Knights of Columbus sites were considered “The Hill”?

posted by: Patricia Kane on May 2, 2018  9:05am

@Jonathan Hopkins: RMS continues its undistinguished building of disposable boxes. You can check out their Stamford, CT projects. No historical society will be fighting to preserve them 50 years from now.
@1644: Although I was not here when the neighborhood that was destroyed to build Route 34 (shades of the Little Pink House in New London, CT), I was moved by the photos and history on display at the Jewish Community Center when I used to go there for Spanish lessons.
What you call “slums” I would call a working class neighborhood, much like the one I grew up in. It was vibrant with different ethnic groups, teeming with mom and pop businesses and was a real community where people knew each other.
The North End of Boston, an Italian enclave for generations, was once viewed as a “slum” and yet the interiors were meticulously maintained. An open air market there and one at Quincy Market (now a tourist venue) were the work of the people in the North End. Now many who grew up there have moved out and transients pay high rents for this former “slum”.
So beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Route 34 destroyed a community because people at that time saw it as progress.
Have we learned from it so we don’t repeat that mistake?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 2, 2018  10:35am

AT, the income cap for a three-person household is $63,400 (the average New Haven household is about this size). Yale physicians make substantially more than this, as do post-docs with employed spouses (the minimum post-doc salary is $47,000).

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 2, 2018  10:44am

I do not disagree with you. My comment to you was so short only because I was running up against the NHI character count limit.

Perhaps I was unclear. The Oak Street Redevelopment Area was relatively small - covering a few blocks around Oak and George Streets. The Church Street Redevelopment Project Area, however, was quite large - covering significant parts of the Central Business District in Downtown, the warehouse district around Union Station, and “the Hill” around the former Prince Street School. “The Hill” was in reference to an actual topographic feature on the southwest bank of the West Creek. That landscape has changed a lot over the years. In the 1880s, the Creek was filled to accommodate the growing Oak Street neighborhood, and later the Oak Street Connector placed the highway stub in the former bed of the creek that lay beneath the Oak Street neighborhood. Remnants of that bank and “the Hill” are visible today though in an altered state. At some point in the 20th century, “The Hill neighborhood” became an all encompassing term applied to a series of enclaves and communities on the southwest side of the city, including what we now call the West River neighborhood, Legion Avenue, Upper Hill, Hill North, Hill Central, Hill South, Trowbridge Square, Kimberly Square, City Point, Oyster Point, etc. What I find fascinating is that “the Hill” is now considered part of the Hill-to-Downtown District and medical district - it’s seen as a transition between Downtown and “the Hill neighborhood”, when really the Hill-to-Downtown district is “the Hill” and the “the Hill neighborhood” is more accurately a series of streetcar suburbs and ethnic working class enclaves that grew out from “the Hill” in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

posted by: 1644 on May 2, 2018  10:46am

P Kane: The Legion Ave. Jewish neighborhood closer to the Boulevard, by Orchard Street was more upscale than Oak Street.  From a Mother Jones article on Oak Street, quoting Lee,
“I came out from one of those homes on Oak Street, and I sat on the curb and I was just sick as a puppy. Why, the smell of this building; it had no electricity, it had no gas, it had kerosene lamps — light had never seen those corridors in generations. It was just awful, and I got sick.” It was this moment, Lee eventually maintained, that crystallized for him the need to harness the city’s resources and apply them to a renewal program. “He felt very strongly that people shouldn’t have to live that way,” says Harry Wexler, a prominent New Haven lawyer who worked for Lee as a young man, “and that as head of the city he couldn’t tolerate or permit that.”
The Oak Street Connector was later re-named for Lee.

posted by: Pilay on May 2, 2018  11:04am

This sounds like a step forward for the city as it still wriggles out of Richard Lee’s shadow. But this is yet another of the most boring, ugly, instantly-regrettable buildings you could imagine! Why?! We need to fill the downtown but if we do it with uninspired lumps like this then we’re not doing justice to the city and its future, and certainly not doing justice to the neighborhoods and their potential. It would be so easy to get developers to build buildings with some grace. That would cost the same or only very slightly more than this kind of gray-cardboard-and-whoops-ran-out-of-paint-orange mush, and would make those buildings more attractive to neighbors and citizens and, if the city and its partners want to be really narrow-minded, to buyers too.

posted by: 1644 on May 2, 2018  11:19am

For all the criticism of Lee here, at least his new buildings were distinctive designs.  Both Yale and New Haven used famous architects like Brauer, Moore, Kahn, etc.  I cannot say I liked everything, but the buildings were certainly more eye-catching than most going up today.  Even the firehouses were snazzy.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on May 3, 2018  8:26am

Expanding upon Jonathan Hopkins comments: a detailed history of a portion of what many consider The Hill can be found here:  https://citypointnewhavenconnecticut.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/a-brief-history-of-city-point-in-new-haven-connecticut/
The “Historic MAPS” page of that site shows the dramatic changes to the geography there over c. 2 centuries:  https://citypointnewhavenconnecticut.wordpress.com/historic-maps/
A curious (and, I think, amusing) development is the fact that some of the terms used to describe specific areas of the Hill originated with Police Districts created in the 1980s, when the city’s four Police Dept. “quadrants” were replaced with smaller “districts”—including “Hill North” and “Hill South”. These soon expanded to function as municipal administrative districts, as well. Perhaps, for the sake of historical accuracy, those banners near the hospital should read “Hill North Police District is my home!”

posted by: HewNaven on May 3, 2018  10:31am

This site allows you to overlay old maps (e.g. 1910) onto present satellite imagery. Might be useful…


posted by: Esbey on May 3, 2018  3:34pm

Thanks to all for the history lessons, I love following along!

As for the style of the buildings, I see this style all over the country, including in booming larger cities like DC. It seems to be the vernacular style of our era, I assume largely driven by costs, and so of course we hate it. 

Brooklyn Brownstones were considered to be depressing mass-produced speculative housing when they were built. Now, you can even dredge up some support for 1970-style Brutalism.  Maybe the children of today will remember this current style with nostalgia, while we (on our deathbeds) say “you’ve got to be kidding”.

posted by: 1644 on May 6, 2018  11:43am

Hew:  That 1910 maps is fascinating, particularly for its advocacy of linear parks (connecting larger park parcels).