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School could boost Route 5 corridor

No matter which direction you drive, Route 5 is lined with a variety of businesses, from car dealerships and fast food restaurants to small mom-and-pop businesses. Officials believe the opening of Quinnipiac University’s new medical school on Route 5 in North Haven, along with plans for the old Pratt & Whitney site, will further spur economic development in the town and region, including across the town line in Wallingford.

The Quinnipiac Frank H. Netter, M.D., School of Medicine on Bassett Road, off Route 5, is expected to bring more businesses and housing units into North Haven, according to a report by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. The medical school is located on the site formerly home to Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

It’s not uncommon to find an abandoned gas station or empty storefronts on the section of Route 5 in North Haven known as North Washington Avenue, but with medical students and teachers moving into the area, the sights are expected to change for the better.

It’s likely to increase traffic around the Wallingford town line, about a mile away from campus, though the direct effect on Wallingford remains to be seen.

The report states the construction of 300 units of housing has the potential to “significantly impact the demand for retail and other services in the immediate upper Washington Avenue area” when the medical school is at full student enrollment. CERC estimates 1,000 students will live near the campus, along with 30 faculty and staff. With the number of students living in the area increasing, there will be an increase in demand for restaurants, food stores and travel accommodations, such as hotels and motels, according to the report.

“That economic development study confirmed what we had been thinking,” said North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda. “And that is there is a multitude of different businesses that would fit in that stretch.”

According to Alissa DeJonge, vice president of research at CERC, the area of Washington Avenue between exit 12 and exit 13 of Interstate 91 lacks “commercial retail anchors” However, there is a business opportunity once the graduate medical school run by Qunnipiac University is fully running.

“It really could change the economic opportunities that this region could support,” she said.

With the vacant North Haven Pratt & Whitney building being marketed as a large industrial site and the new medical school, economic leaders expect the area to revitalize as traffic increases.

The students are potential customers, DeJonge said. Upper Washington Avenue could support apartment housing and businesses like banks, pubs, bookstores, restaurants and auto dealers could do well in the area, she said.

Freda, who entered office at the end of 2009 and has made economic development a priority, said he’s already received inquiries from developers insterested in moving businesses into North Haven.

“There’s no question in my mind in the next two years we will see an awful lot of development of new businesses,” he added. “Three buildings are already torn down and leveled out.”

The medical school is expected to have a positive effect on North Haven, but according to DeJonge the Greater New Haven area as a whole will see an impact, including the South Colony Road section of Route 5 in Wallingford.

“The increase in the number of students and faculty on campus could have a real demand for the general area,” DeJonge said. “... As more retail comes into the region to support the Quinnipiac region, there will be more potential for the outer areas around there.”

While the CERC study focused on North Haven, DeJonge acknowledged Wallingford has “a lot of key attributes that towns can promote that some others can’t.”

Joe Mirra, chairman of the Wallingford Economic Development Commission, said he’s interested to see what impact the new medical school has on Wallingford. As a whole, Mirra said development along Wallingford’s portion of Route 5 is “consistent.” Asked if there was any chance for more businesses to come into town due to the medical school, Mirra said he was unsure, but plans to add the issue to the agenda for the next Economic Development Commission meeting.

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