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April 1, 2021

Phoenix Rising: Spinnaker Real Estate Partners shares redevelopment vision for New Haven’s ex-Coliseum site

PHOTO | NEW HAVEN BIZ Developers involved in the planned redevelopment of the former New Haven Coliseum site include Greg Fieber, Clayton Fowler and Frank Caico.

Many drive by the barren old concrete grounds of the New Haven Coliseum and have sweet memories of concerts, circuses and sporting events.

Leaders at Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, however, have visions of the future. They see a bustling development of mixed uses including retail, restaurants and residential space. They envision an area that will be alive with activity day and night, as those who work in medical and educational fields come and go between shifts.

Fourteen years after the Coliseum was demolished, new life is planned for the vacant site. Spinnaker received site plan approvals in the fall and is now putting together building plans.

“There are a number of things that we need to do before the city transfers the title to the property to us, which begins the first phase,” explains Spinnaker’s Vice President of Development Frank Caico. “We expect that will happen sometime in the middle of this year. And then hopefully we'll be in a position to start construction later this year, probably late summer or fall.”

The first building in phase one, slated for completion in 2023, will include 200 multifamily apartments and about 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, as well as extensive amenities. That first phase will also include construction of a 30,000-square-foot public plaza.

Still referred to as the “Coliseum Project,” Spinnaker’s marketing team will soon begin the renaming process.

An artist rendering of future development at the former Coliseum site in New Haven.

The overall project includes a minimum of 500 multifamily apartments (20 percent of which are required to be low income), 30,000 square feet of retail space, about 30,000 square feet of public open space, and a minimum of 80,000 square feet of other commercial spaces or offices. The property will be developed in two phases, and then subphases within those two main phases.

Spinnaker CEO Clay Fowler said he expects the project to be about a $400 million investment.

New Haven’s deputy economic development director and primary project manager, Steve Fontana, says that after the property sat undeveloped for so long after its demolition, city officials are happy to see some progress.

“We’re finally fulfilling that expectation,” Fontana said. “It is going to be a transformation for the city, its own block of New Haven that many are calling 10th square.”

In the short term, the project will create construction jobs over the next few years. Long term, it will be a major economic driver bringing hundreds of new residents as well as retail shops and even some office space downtown.

“This is reinvigorating part of our city — the first part of downtown that people see as they get off the highway,” Fontana said. “We love the design and how they’ve integrated the buildings with existing architecture. It’s the right time and the right partner with Spinnaker.”

Sustainable market

The Norwalk-based development firm isn’t new to New Haven. It’s the creative brainchild behind The Audubon apartment and retail development on Orange Street, which is in its second phase of development. In 2020, 269 apartments were made available for lease and development continued on additional residential and retail space.

Caico said the firm’s business model tends to focus on urban infill redevelopment, and it sees a lot of opportunities for that in New Haven.

For example, the Audubon development transformed a large parking lot into a “dynamic community,” he said.

The second phase of the Audubon project comprises another 135 apartments with ground-floor retail, situated along Grove Street between State and Orange streets.

“It'll flank the courtyard and pool … and really kind of complete that whole block,” Caico says. Plans for the third phase are still in the works.

Spinnaker has projects not only in Connecticut but across the country, including its largest in Portland, Oregon — a 3,000-unit mixed-use residential development.

Active in New Haven for about 10 years now, Spinnaker’s work started with its efforts to redevelop the former Comcast property on Chapel Street, which was tied up in litigation for many years.

Spinnaker originally purchased the property for just over $3 million, but ultimately sold it to another developer, which plans a mix of apartments and retail.

“We've really liked this market,” Caico said. “There's the obvious — the eds and meds with Yale and the hospital. And then the emerging biotech presence associated with that. We see New Haven as one of the healthiest growth areas in Connecticut.”

According to Fowler, Spinnaker has had a long interest in New Haven.

“The city development officers had approached us and invited us to look at potential projects over 10 years ago,” Fowler said.

Spinnaker was actually not chosen as the original developer of the Coliseum project. Montreal’s Live Work Play won the initial bid but never got the development off the ground.

The Canadian firm has since exited the project, which has been taken over by Spinnaker in partnership with KDP and Fieber Group, a New Canaan-based development company.

Fowler has a hard time hiding his love for New Haven and more specifically, the Coliseum project.

“It really is a great site in a great city. It’s got sustainability — Yale is never moving, they’re never going anywhere. And how could you not be interested in a community that’s midway between Boston and New York that has waterfront, that has a top five institution in it and has a medical/biotech cluster that is world class?” he says. “We’ve always loved New Haven and we’ve been very successful here, but as they say, you’re only as successful as the last thing you did. You have to prove yourselves every time, not just to the city fathers and investors, but also to the market.”

The goal for the Coliseum project, according to Fowler, is to knit together the community.

“We hope to knit the downtown area to the hospital more carefully and more closely. We think we can achieve that if we put the right sorts of street uses in it. A microbrewery might be nice, but not one with heavy manufacturing,” Fowler says. “I see a vibrant community that has more than just a day-time life.”

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