Tuesday, February 12, 2008

City wants ideas for old Coliseum site

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— The city has officially kicked off its search for proposals and ideas to bring a mixed-use development, which would include a new Long Wharf Theatre, to a large portion of the former Veterans Memorial Coliseum site.
Interested developers have until April 1 to submit their qualifications for a plan that is expected to include residential, retail and possibly office space to a site at the beginning of downtown and the edge of the Ninth Square.
By mid-June, the city hopes either to have chosen a preferred developer or narrowed a field of candidates to two or three developers who would then be asked for more detailed plans for consideration.
The 4.46-acre portion of the Coliseum site is bound by South Orange, State and George streets and North Frontage Road.
Development of a smaller, adjacent 2 acres will be held in abeyance for two years until the Knights of Columbus decides on its future office needs.
Assistant Economic Development Director Tony Bialecki said the property has the potential to support a $100 million development, in addition to the estimated $50 million theater, a unique opportunity for a city with limited construction sites and a need to boost its stagnant grand list.
Bialecki said, rather than prescribe specific components for the site, beyond mixed use and high density, the city wants to see what the market will support.
Several years ago, New Haven did a study, which concluded that the site could not sustain a high-end hotel with a conference center, while it is currently doing a downtown office study within the context of how it compares with other cities in Connecticut.
Scott Healy, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, called the site “pivotal,” given its location and the importance of getting it right in terms of design and development components.
“It has to strike a very careful balance,” Healy said, between incorporating an eye-catching design with “very considered urbanism.”
Most importantly, Healy said, “It needs to be a true neighborhood” and he suggested it be developed organically, or over time.
“We are not in an economy where we can call the shots, so let’s be a little bit more measured,” Healy said.
As he has before, Healy favors bringing as many local architectural visions as possible in the area to bear, so the final development incorporates a diversity of design.
He said an example of what not to do is Metro Tech Center in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., which he said “feels very hollow,” as if it were plopped into place.
Erin Hershkowitz, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said mixed-use developments form a synergy that benefit all the components.
“It becomes kind of a community within itself and it works together,” Hershkowitz said. “No matter how the markets are doing, there is always a draw to that center.”
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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