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CT Construction Digest Wednesday July 24, 2019

West Haven votes to clear last hurdle for ‘The Haven’ project
Pam McLoughlin
WEST HAVEN — The path is clear for The Haven upscale retail outlet to begin demolition and construction, as the City Council late Monday cleared the last two hurdles by voting unanimously to approve a $5 million state grant for construction and abandonment of streets where the project will take place.However, while the developer appeared before the City Council as requested to answer questions, a timeline for the project was not given, leaving 3rd District Councilman Aaron Charney “frustrated.”
Charney, whose district The Haven falls in, told the developer that people in his district are “taking a hit,” because of the project being stalled, forced to live amid blight and having trouble selling properties because the uncertainty. Charney told the developers the residents could use an apology and a meeting to learn what will happen.

“We need a timeline as soon as possible,” Charney said. “Please come and talk to my residents - they are willing to listen,” and they also will have a lot to say. After the meeting, Charney, emphasized the developer couldn’t give a hypothetical timeline.
The Haven has been five years in the making and the debate in the city rages on about whether the project - seen by some as a savior for the ailing city - will ever materialize. Residents are skeptical in part, because of the depressed economy in West Haven and the national trend away from brick and mortar stores. City officials have assured residents the project will happen and that all the delays were outside of the developer’s control as they awaited State Traffic Commission approvals and state Department of Economic and Community Development grant approvals.
The developer tried to allay those fears by reminding the council they are already heavily invested in the project — $25-$30 million in property acquisition, architects, engineers, environmental experts and more.
The developer also told the council Monday that “retail is evolving” - and today’s projects such as The Haven are about smaller stores and a broader “experience” - creating environments, spaces for sociability and interesting experiences.
He said the project will be in keeping with the “Look and charm of Southern New England.”

When asked about whether they had tenants lined up - even in a general way - the developer said they had to be careful talking about that and didn’t answer directly.There are 57 properties within the 24-acre project area, which is bounded by Main Street, First Avenue and Elm Street. The project includes what is now Water Street, which will be eliminated as The Haven is built.
The site plan application for the 265,000 square feet of retail and restaurant development has approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
At one time, a representative of the developer said the target date for The Haven to open was June 2020 and Tiernan recently said folks will be Christmas shopping there in 2020.Mayor Nancy R. Rossi has said she is “very excited” about The Haven project, and calls it a “game changer.”The plans include 80 stores and five full-service restaurants. The Haven spent years in the acquisition stage negotiating with property owners.City officials and the developers have said The Haven would pay $2 million in annual property tax and create more than $15 million in incremental sales tax for the state, as well as 800 full-time and 400 part-time jobs, plus 800 construction jobs using all Connecticut-based contractors.
The City Council Monday in their approval put a 6-month limit on the road abandonment. If The Haven developers haven’t satisfied the conditions in six months they will have to come before the council again.
It was also clarified that a chunk of the $5 million Department of Economic and Community Development grant can be used for demolition.
Tiernan has said many times in recent months that if demolition doesn’t begin soon after the city council approvals, the city will begin fining The Haven developer for blight.

Hats off for Columbus Commons' topping off in downtown New Britain
Karla Santos
NEW BRITAIN - The topping off ceremony of Phase 1 of the Columbus Commons building project took place on Tuesday with the placement of a roof truss signed by attendees to bring “everybody’s memory and good energy” into the structure.
The Columbus Commons project is a partnership between Xenolith Partners and Dakota Partners. The site is at 145 Columbus Blvd., the former location of the New Britain police station and was begun in September 2018. The construction of Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed in early 2020.
Roberto Arista, principal at Dakota Partners, said the first phase of the project consists of a six-story building including commercial space on the ground floor and 80 residential units above.
Arista said the hope is to build a second phase of the project. The building of the first phase is shaped like an L. The Phase 2 building would also be L shaped, forming an open court yard in the middle of the two buildings.
“This building includes several amenities for its residents. It’s going to have a fitness center, a community room and then of course all of the restaurants and stores in downtown New Britain, which are going to be very accessible to its residents and of course within walking distance,” Arista said. “This project is also important because we understand that it’s the first passive housing project in Connecticut or at least the first one that was funded by the agencies. Passive housing represents a new generation of energy efficient buildings that will not only be less expensive to operate but would also help reduce our carbon footprint and this is an important contribution towards reducing global warming.”
While the first phase of the Columbus Commons project is well underway, the construction presented a challenge that put the development behind.
“There was environmental remediation underground, a lot of it that we didn’t really expect,” Arista said. “We lost a little bit of time because of it because we thought we were going to get right into the ground and then as soon as you hit environmental products, then you have to clean them up and it takes time.”
Mayor Erin Stewart called the project a transit oriented development in close proximity to the CTFastrack station.
“This example of transit oriented development that we are seeing here is the first new construction that the city of New Britain has seen from the ground up in decades and for that we are really excited,” Stewart said. “Piece by piece we are making transformative changes through the opening of new businesses and through the addition of new housing situated along CTFastrack. I have to give a huge thank you to the State of Connecticut, Department of Housing, DECD, CHFA, for providing the funding and support to make this project a reality.”
Stewart also said interest in the project is “an all time high,” adding that people are constantly inquiring about it.
“The site where we are standing today, in August of 1968 was officially dedicated as the New Britain Police Department, but today this project is laying the foundation for a renewed energy in our downtown,” Stewart said.
Among those in attendance at the ceremony were: state Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, members of the City Council, members of the New Britain Zoning Board of Appeals, officials from community development and economic development, members of the city’s Downtown District and members of the local Chambers of Commerce. Individuals at the state level were also on board supporting the project including members of the Connecticut Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the Department of Economic & Community Development and others.
After the ceremony, attendees were invited to tour the second and fourth floors of the building.
The development will have 160 mixed-income units distributed evenly between the buildings of phases one and two. Of the 80 units that are now being built, 20% will be market rate and 80% will be affordable to households earning up to 60 percent area median income. The total development cost of Phase 1 is $27.6 million and is being financed with 9 % low-income housing tax credits and other funding sources.

New Haven launches project to connect Orange Street across Route 34
Ed Stannard
NEW HAVEN — The next step in connecting the southwestern part of the city with downtown, a project that will bring Orange Street across what is now a multilane highway, was officially launched Monday.
Phase 2 of Downtown Crossing, which will take two years to complete, will bring 10 acres of vacant land and roadway back onto the tax rolls and create hundreds of construction jobs, with more jobs to come once the area is opened to mixed-use development, including retail, residential, commercial and open space, city officials said.
With nowhere to expand, Mayor Toni Harp said, “New Haven is adding to its footprint from within, without encroaching on neighbors, without displacing residents, and without any destruction or demolition.”
The project, which with Phase 3 will cost $53.5 million, will improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as connecting the Hill section and Union Station to downtown, as was the case 60 years ago.
“When it’s finished, we will correct a mistake that was made in cutting off downtown from our communities,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, while bringing “opportunities for cutting-edge research like we’re doing at Alexion” and adding small businesses.
The project “relieves congestion, improves traffic flow, addresses flooding,” she said.
The 14-story Alexion building at 100 College St. was part of Downtown Crossing’s Phase 1, which in 2016 turned more of the highway into urban streetscape. The Alexion building also brought 600 jobs to the city, officials said.
Originally named the Oak Street Connector, for the neighborhood that included “over 800 families that were displaced,” according to acting city Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli, Route 34 was officially named the Richard C. Lee Highway for the mayor that created it.
The limited-access highway was intended to turn what Lee described as a slum into a modern thoroughfare from Interstates 95 and 91 to the western parts of the city. But the highway was curtailed before it got very far out of downtown, leaving more than a half mile of city blocks vacant for decades.
Speaking where South Orange Street meets North Frontage Road, abutting Route 34, Piscitelli said, “This is actually the very heart of the historic New Haven. The water was very close to here.” The Knights of Columbus building loomed overhead while the parking lot that was once the site of the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum lay nearby
Piscitelli called the project “the next phase of civic vision and civic milestone” and said Spinnaker Real Estate Partners of Norwalk and the Fieber Group of New Canaan will present plans this fall to the city and the Hill South, Hill North and Downtown/Wooster Square community management teams. The project will be complete in summer 2021.
Harp thanked the many federal, state and city staff members who brought the project to the point where officials could toss dirt into the air with gold-colored shovels. Representatives of U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., and Gov. Ned Lamont also spoke.
“We’ll celebrate for the next 30 to 45 minutes what amount to thousands of work-hours that have been put into this project over the past several years,” Harp said. “And then just like that, Downtown Crossing Phase 2 will be underway and, with it, the next chapter of progress in New Haven.”
Phase 2 will include the first protected bike lane in the state, according to Doug Hausladen, director of the city Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. Such a lane “puts the cyclist behind the curb for additional safety benefits as they cross the intersection,” he said.
In two years, “you’ll be able to walk or take a bike to the train station safely,” Hausladen said.
The third phase, scheduled to begin once Phase 2 is finished, will connect Temple Street to Congress Avenue via a bridge and complete the connection of downtown with the Hill, the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital. It will make two parcels totaling 2.86 acres available for development.
Downtown Crossing began with a $16 million TIGER II grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2010. A $20 million TIGER grant followed in 2016. The state Department of Economic and Community Development has contributed $21.5 million. The city’s share is $19 million.
Amy Jackson-Grove of the Federal Highway Administration said the federal grant program “makes sure there is reliable, safe, affordable transportation,” seeks to “improve quality of life by increasing transportation choices” and “contributes to the economic competitiveness” of the region.
“The program is also looking for innovations and collaboration,” Jackson-Grove said. Downtown Crossing “embodies that message,” she said.

Majority of transportation projects awarded to Connecticut companies; some big projects go to out-of-state firms
Marc E. FitchA review of Connecticut transportation projects over the past three years shows Connecticut companies are awarded state contracts over 80 percent of the time, although some major projects are performed by out-of-state contractors.
Construction firms are selected by the Department of Transportation through a bidding process, and the same construction companies with the ability to perform the work are awarded contracts year-over-year.
In 2018, CT DOT awarded a total of 61 contracts worth $899 million to 35 different companies.
The largest contract in 2018 totaling $152.8 million for rehabilitation of several bridges along Route 8 was awarded to Walsh Construction, an Illinois-based contractor.
Seven other out-of-state companies received contracts totaling an additional $43.7 million for a total of $196.5 million – approximately 21 percent of the money CT DOT poured into transportation projects in 2018.
That’s up from $89 million awarded to out-of-state companies in 2016, when the largest contract was a $56 million project awarded to Connecticut-based Manafort Brothers, Inc. for improvements to Route 15.
The second-largest 2016 contract was $39 million to Massachusetts-based Middlesex Corporation to repair the I-84 Hartford Viaduct.
Middlesex has been a long-time contractor for the state of Connecticut and was chosen to construct a 5.85-mile section of the CTFastrak bus line from New Britain to Hartford at a cost of $158 million.
In 2017, $146 million of the $357.8 million in total CT DOT contracts were awarded to out-of-state companies.
The two largest projects – a bridge replacement in Stamford and bridge repairs at various locations in the state, totaling $96.9 million – went to New York-based Halmar International, LLC and, again, to the Middlesex Corporation.
Spokesman for CT DOT, Kevin Nursick, says Connecticut can’t give preference to in-state companies and contracts are awarded on the lowest responsible bid.
“Projects that are federally funded have to go to the lowest responsible bidder, regardless of what state they’re from,” Nursick said and added that out-of-state contractors often subcontract with in-state companies.
Halmar International, for example, listed 13 subcontractors under their initial contract filing for $5.2 million. Eight of those subcontractors are based in Connecticut. The project awarded to Halmar is 80 percent funded by the federal government.
Despite CT DOT largely awarding construction projects to in-state companies, Don Shubert, head of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association said in May that “our members are working in Massachusetts, working in New York and Rhode Island, but there hasn’t been work in Connecticut in ten years.”
Shubert, along with a coalition of other groups, has been pushing for tolls on Connecticut highways as a way to fund future transportation projects through Move CT Forward.
Contract awards by CT DOT came under scrutiny following a report by the Hartford Courant that Florida-based FIGG Bridge Inspection, would oversee construction engineering and inspection for improvements to the Arrigoni Bridge in Middletown.
FIGG was blamed for the fatal collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Florida in March of 2018.
CT DOT has stood behind the selection, saying the firm has worked on multiple Connecticut projects in the past that CT DOT has “absolute confidence” in them.


 

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