Marcel Breuer’s iconic Armstrong/Pirelli order valium stands empty and humiliated in its uselessness. The New Haven Register building is on the block as the newspaper has surrendered its printing facility to seek a new, low-cost, office-only downtown headquarters to fulfill its “digital first” marketing ploy.
Gateway Community college is safely ensconced as the first impression of downtown for drivers exiting I-95. Only a fraction of the Brewery Street Post office remains in use, but the Long Wharf Theater’s Main Stage renovation is done and a long-term lease is in place.
In 1996 Mayor John DeStefano Jr. advocated for the construction of a 1.2 million-square-foot-plus retail complex and an eventual redevelopment of the entire Long Wharf area. Thinking big, the mayor even floated a suggestion to bury I-91 along the shore to reconnect the city and Long Island Sound.
That big idea was not to come to pass, as physical and financial hurdles proved too much for burying I-95. The economy, opposition and competitors’ lawsuits would scuttle the New Haven Galleria and its 150 proposed stores.
With the mall vision erased the city rightly turned to downtown and for a dozen years downtown commercial activity has steadily improved.
It is time, however, for DeStefano and city officials to revisit the vision for the Long Wharf — not as a retail destination but as a new, mixed-use neighborhood capable of attracting first-class business tenants and many hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand new residents.
When BNH first proposed that Gateway Community College relocate to downtown a dozen years ago, we suggested that pride in an improving downtown should not mask the structural inadequacy of the retail infrastructure.
Today significantly more tax revenue is needed by the city and there is no room for such a large and valuable parcel as the Long Wharf region to be underutilized and subject to “hodgepodge” activity that will not bring real value to the city economically or culturally.
A comprehensive Long Wharf development promises businesses and residents direct access to enhanced rail transportation, a growing and vibrant downtown, and a beautiful waterfront environment waiting to be explored anew.
The Quinnipiac River (Pearl Harbor Memorial) Bridge, the new highway interchanges, and the Church Street bridge provide the infrastructure foundation to make a new Long Wharf development workable.
A new, comprehensive vision for Long Wharf has the potential to attract a truly major development that won’t compete with downtown but will complement it.
When fast-growing software developer Tangoe, birthed in downtown New Haven could not find another downtown location to house its growing operations, one of its first stops was Long Wharf and the Pirelli building.
Without a sure-footed risk taking developer to pave the way, the company took it only real choice , it found a suburban location — the former Saab building in Orange — to which to relocate, and have continued to grow to 1,000 employees worldwide.
There was no real place in the city for them to grow, there is no place to attract larger corporate business that regularly moves to corporate parks in Milford and the Valley.
New Haven cannot fulfill the needs of its residents or build its tax base if it cannot retain and attract fast-growing as well as larger businesses, too.
For two decades we’ve supported all manner of efforts such as Startup New Haven and Project Storefronts to help nurture a culture of entrepreneurship. But this city is ready for more — and frankly, requires, it.
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