New Haven Coliseum grave rumbles back to life

NEW HAVEN — The ghosts of metal bands, hockey brawlers, and Bible-thumping Jehovah’s Witnesses were shaken from their graves Thursday as a groundbreaking marked the beginning of construction of a bustling mini-city on the burial grounds of the old New Haven Coliseum.

A crowd even reemerged on the vacant lot along with — depending on your definition — a monster truck to cheer on the rumbling.

The occasion was the launch of a $200 million three-part first phase construction on ​“Square 10.” That’s the name for a long-awaited constellation of apartments, storefronts, offices, public open space, and biomedical space where the Coliseum rock and hockey arena and convention center was blown up on Jan. 20, 2007 on the 3.5‑acre block bordered by Orange Street, George Street, State Street, and MLK Boulevard.

Developer Spinnaker Real Estate Partners has managed to secure financing for the $76 million ​“Phase 1A” before a souring economy may make starting construction projects more challenging. Spinnaker CEO Clay Fowler said he projects completing that first mini-phase within 18 months. 

The evolving new urbanist-style mini-city has a name riffing on the New Haven’s old urbanism. It’s called ​“Square 10” in recognition of its extension of downtown a block past the perimeter of the city’s original nine ​“squares” laid out around the Green.

“It’s a different kind of rock ​‘n roll,” Mayor Justin Elicker declared about the new energy on the block. ​“But we’re rock ​‘n rolling today!”

He noted how Thursday’s event follows similar groundbreaking recently on projects all over town, from the 101 College biotower and Olive Street and Audubon Street and Ninth Square apartments to new Black and Hispanic-owned small businesses.

All this building is ​“making the city pop,” Elicker told the crowd of civic players assembled on the cracked asphalt. ​“This is the place to be in Connecticut.”

“Everyone has a memory of the Coliseum,” noted Alder Carmen Rodriguez, who stands to represent hundreds of new constituents if the first 200 apartments, 16,000 square feet of retail space, and 25,000 square feet of public open space arrive in 18 months as scheduled.

Her favorite Coliseum memories: Taking the kids to the circus. And ​“hearing from City Point the implosion” of the arena.

“History is in the making today. We are going to see something new, beautiful,” Rodriguez said. ​“It’s going to connect community.”

Square 10 is part of a broader effort that’s stitching Downtown, the Hill and Wooster Square back together, noted city economic development chief Mike Piscitelli. He was referring to the ​“Downtown Crossing” project, which includes the gradual filling in of the old Route 34 mini-highway to nowhere.

As for the return of monster trucks — a Kenworth dump truck did share the stage at Thursday’s groundbreaking.

“That’s a monster!” offered Rich Vishninsky of the Manafort Brothers construction crew.

“Sort of. Not a scary truck.”

On Thursday the truck was present for show, on loan from duties at the 101 College St. construction site two blocks away. Same with the Volvo rubber tire excavator. But they had been present earlier to help the crew begin to remove and ferry away the asphalt, dirt, rocks, and rubble sealing the above-ground world from the Coliseum ghosts buried below. And they will be back, as civic life returns in a new form to the center of the city.


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