Montreal developer eyes $300M ‘town square’



NEW HAVEN — Imagine a shopping mecca with year-round activities, where city-dwellers can live above the bustle. That’s what Montreal-based developer LiveWorkLearnPlay (LWLP) envisions for the first phase of the redevelopment of the former Veterans Memorial Coliseum site. Renderings show several five- to six-story residential buildings with ground floor retail surrounding a “town square” courtyard teeming with life.

“Central to our vision is to create a true community gathering place,” says LWLP vice president Richard Martz. In addition to showcasing retailers and a “significant amount of food and beverage,” the town square will provide a backdrop for constantly changing events.

“We want it to be embraced by community groups as a space to have public events,” Martz adds. “Despite the Green, which has certain limitations [on activities], we wanted to create a wonderful urban square with some quality housing above that.”

Later iterations of the project include a hotel, office tower and residential tower, but those plans hinge on transforming the corner of Orange Street and Route 34 into an urban boulevard.

“Right now that corner is designed to be a highway off-ramp,” says Chris Canna, city project manager for the Coliseum project. “We’d like to make it a key intersection.”
On June 3, the city submitted an application for a TIGER V federal infrastructure grant, requesting $12.5 million for several upgrades, including improving the intersection of Orange Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard, improving the highway transition from Route 34 to an urban boulevard at MLK Jr. Boulevard and extending the regional bike system from Water Street to downtown and Downtown Crossing, the new development taking shape at 100 College Street. 

LiveWorkLearnPlay is the second developer to tackle the 4.48-acre former Coliseum site. One of the original six contenders, LWLP and Newman Architects became the preferred development team in August 2011, after the city did not renew its agreement with Northland Investment Corp.

LWLP has experience redeveloping urban downtowns and college towns. In Connecticut, they’ve worked on the Storrs Center University District, a $220 million mixed-use town center under construction near the University of Connecticut.

Phase I of the Coliseum site revival involves creation of a public square bounded by residential buildings with street-level retail on the corner of Orange and George streets.

The square will house a seasonal market, along with a wide range of restaurants, “water feature” and “activity-based retailers, not just stores that will sell stuff,” Martz says.

“There might be a yoga studio that does yoga in the square, or a wine store that does wine tastings or a cooking school associated with Gateway College,” Martz says. “Our orientation is very much toward small to medium-sized, owner-occupied businesses, the businesses that people have a relationship with and have been in the community for years and years.

“We always look at business plans that really engage with the community and have a program to find the best of the best retailers and entrepreneurs,” he adds. “Our goal is to put in local and regional entrepreneurs.”

Preliminary plans show full build-out of the site with 75,000 square feet of retail, 52,000 square feet of public space and a retail lane, 524 residential units, 200,000 square feet of Class A office space, a 160- room hotel and 25,000 square feet of green rooftop space.

“We’re exploring the possibility of commercial rooftop farming on top of the residential buildings and the structured parking,” Martz says.

The site, he adds, will have underground, deck, valet and on-street parking and the residential components of the project will include affordable units.

Regarding tenants, Martz says, “We believe there’s going to be opportunities for civil servants, policemen, firemen and for professionals like doctors and nurses, and for Yale graduate students.” 

If the corner of Orange Street and MLK Boulevard is redesigned “so it truly becomes the first intersection as you enter the city,” Martz says, “we’re planning to do a hotel on the corner of MLK Boulevard and Orange Street with a full-service restaurant, wellness center and a spa. We want it to have multifunctional space and additional community amenities such as a community fitness center.”

In addition, LWLP has plans for a residential tower, perhaps 15 to 20 stories tall, on the corner of George Street and State Street, and a Class A office tower on the corner of State Street and MLK Boulevard. The office tower, likely the same height as the residential tower, will be 100,000 to 200,000 square feet, Martz says, “depending on the anchor tenant that we land.”

Preliminary plans show a secondary road in the middle of the development lined with pop-up shops, live/work units and interactive studio/galleries. Vehicles will be able to use this “laneway,” which can be closed for events.

After completion of Phase I, according to Martz, “the Orange Street and MLK corner will determine how quickly we can move on the hotel. Once that [the hotel] is set, the office deal will be anchor-driven and the next phase, a residential tower over a retail podium, will be market-driven.”

Phase I, Martz says, covers between 35,000 to 40,000 square feet and will cost around $80 million. He estimates the total project price tag, excluding land costs, at $300 million.

And where will the money come from?

“We’re in discussions with a number of potential investment partners,” Martz says. “It will likely be privately funded. In the past we’ve had unions and pension funds invest in projects.”

The city, Martz, says has committed $2.5 million in matching funds for the $12.5 million TIGER V infrastructure grant request. “Any and all other grants and subsidies are subject to and part of our ongoing development agreement negotiations and discussions with the city,” he says. “The state is considering a contribution to the infrastructure improvements forming part of the TIGER V application, but nothing has been committed to or decided yet on that front.”

According to LWLP’s preliminary plan, the project will create 675 permanent full-time hotel, retail jobs and between 727 and 1,172 office jobs.

Martz and his team have spent the last several months discussing the project with community groups and aldermen.

“We’re very excited about it,” Martz says, “and have spent a lot of time and money over the last two and a half years to try to get it right.” 

The timetable for Phase I, he says, will depend “on the speed with which we can work through the development agreement with the city. We hope to break ground in 2015 and be open for fall 2016.”

Although some particulars will likely change during the approval process, Canna says, “LWLP has come up with “a very positive plan for the city, which does a lot to improve that site and the surrounding areas as well.

“It’s a very well thought-out design that will greatly enliven that part of town –– and put it back on the tax rolls.”