Coliseum Developer Prepares For Year-Long Design

by Thomas Green

A Norwalk-based developer kicked off an anticipated year-long community design process for the mix of residential, commercial, and office buildings that might soon fill the former Coliseum site by introducing the key dates, and key players, behind the project.

That presentation took place Tuesday night at the regular monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team on the second floor of City Hall.

Frank Caico, a vice president and the director of development for Spinnaker Real Estate, led a 15-minute update on the Norwalk developer’s latest, and most ambitious to date, planned project for the Elm City.

That’s the urbanist mini-city they hope to build on the 5.5-acre surface parking lot that used to house the Coliseum on a parcel bounded by Orange Street, George Street, State Street, and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

“It’s an iconic development site in downtown New Haven,” Caico said. “It’s got tremendous redevelopment potential. And obviously, right now, it’s kind of a blank slate.”

In July, Spinnaker inherited the development project from the Montreal-based firm LiveWorkLearnPlay, which signed a development and land disposition agreement (DLDA) with the city in 2013 but was never able to get the project off the ground due to design and fundraising problems.

Spinnaker is also the developer behind the new Audubon Square mixed-use apartment complex, as well as another proposed apartment building at the old Comcast building in Wooster Square, and a proposed hotel at the former Webster Bank property on Elm Street.

Caico and project partner Greg Fieber, a principal at the New Canaan-based investment firm The Fieber Group, did not discuss any details of what might ultimately end up built at the former Coliseum site, Spinnaker CEO Clay Fowler said in a previous interview that the first phase of the current plan could include 16,000 square feet of retail/restaurant space (including co-working space aimed at companies that can grow onsite), 25,000 square feet of open space, and 200 rental apartments, 80 percent of them market rate (from the “high teens” to “high 20s” or upper range of $2,000 a month).

Instead, Caico and city Deputy Economic Development Administrator Steve Fontana promoted two community design workshops that will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 24 and Wednesday, Sept. 25 in the basement meeting room at the municipal office building at 200 Orange St., where neighbors will be able to weigh in on what they would like to see come out of this project.

“This is the beginning of the process,” Fontana said, “not the end of the process.”

Caico said that, per the timeline laid out in the amended DLDA that Spinnaker signed with the city, his company plans to spend the year following next week’s design workshops meeting with community management teams and revising and refining the technical and design plans for the project.

Spinnaker will seek to have final documents ready for regulatory review by the City Plan Commission in the Fall of 2020, he said. They then plan to begin construction on Phase 1 of the project in the Spring of 2021, and complete Phase 1 construction by the Spring of 2022.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to create a place of value and a sense of place” with this project, he said. “We really want to turn it into a conversation.”

Heather Wassell, an associate with the Norwalk-based Beinfield Architecture firm, said that her company’s expertise lies in transit-oriented development, mixed-use, and walkable designs. “You’ve got this big hole” in the middle of the city, she said. “We really want to make what goes there” fit both in an economic sense and in a “people sense.”

Spinnaker, Fieber, and the investors KDP are the primary developers on the project, Caico said, while Beinfield Architecture and the local firm Newman Architects will take the lead on the design work. The Trumbull-based firm Fuss & O’Neill will be the civil engineering partners, while local land use attorney Carolyn Kone will be the legal lead.

Does Spinnaker’s investment in the Coliseum project mean that it won’t be proceeding with the Comcast residential conversion project, Wooster Square filmmaker Steve Hamm asked, where Spinnaker has said it plans to build 200 luxury apartments?

No, Caico replied. Spinnaker is still very much moving forward with that Chapel Street project, as well as with the Elm Street hotel and the rest of Audubon Square.

Did the modified DLDA with Spinnaker ever have to go before the full Board of Alders for approval? asked New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell.

No, Fieber said. “It was an administrative approval” granted by the city. The only changes to the DLDA originally granted to LiveWorkLearnPlay were in regard to the timeline. Everything else remained the same.

Farwell pressed Caico to reconsider demolishing the historic former Webster Bank building on Elm Street to make way for the hotel. If the Coliseum development will include a new hotel, she said, why not save the Elm Street historic structure for adaptive reuse?

“It’s not in our current thinking” to include a hotel or conference center on the Coliseum site, Caico said. And, Fieber pointed out, there’s no hotel required in the DLDA.

Fontana said that Spinnaker and Fieber plan to present at Wednesday night’s Hill South Community Management Team meeting with a similar update about the Coliseum site in advance of next week’s design workshops.

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