As if the saga of the Haven Project needs more drama, the announcement by State Rep. Dorinda Borer, (D-115) and other members of the legislative delegation that the project is dead, was disputed by Mayor Nancy Rossi, this week. Rossi insists no confirmation of such a plan has been transmitted to her by the Simon Group, and she is proceeding apace. That said, there are indications that whatever the next phase is, the concept of an upscale outlet mall might be off the table.
Last week, a newscast on New Britain-based WVIT NBC 30, declared the Haven project dead with Borer making the announcement. Along with Borer was Rep. Charles Ferraro (R-117), who along with his colleague said the city should move on to another plan. Borer has said in published remarks the city should see the reality and move toward a new plan.
Both cited a May meeting with state and city officials where it was indicated the project was doubtful – that, according to Rossi. While the legislators are tolling the end of the plan, Rossi contends she has heard nothing to convince her the project is off the table – yet.
When asked about the legislators’ contentions concerning the May session, Rossi was adamant.
“The most recent meeting was the end of May, while many doubts were presented at that time, no person affiliated with the Simon Group/Haven ever indicated the project was dead. The administration has never been informed of the projects demise,” she said.
When asked why Borer made such an announcement, the mayor directed us to Borer. A request for comment was sent. At press time no response was received. Rossi did admit, however, the delegate might be privy to information the administration has not received.
“As no person in my administration has ever been notified of the conclusion of the project. Rep. Borer may have attended meetings or have phone conversations, my administration was not privy to,” Rossi said.
She said, also, had any decision been made regarding the project’s halt, she would have made that known to the public.
“Had any member of the Simon Group/Haven indicated the project was terminated, my administration would have indicated as much to public. These types of large construction projects tend to have many twists and turns along the way. At this time, since no member of the Simon Group/Haven has indicated such…. No Announcements!” she said.
For the last two weeks, rumors of the project being canceled circulated throughout the city, with the culmination of last week’s bombshell newscast. Reports say the developer is looking to clear the property, razing the remaining buildings, and then looking to sell the land to another developer, asking for between $33-35 million.
Rossi would not confirm any of the “tips,” saying they were inaccurate. However, she did indicate in her answer some possibility the reports are true.
“In the last week I have visited the site on multiple occasions with representatives of the Haven Group, also with interested parties (emphasis ours) in an effort to move this project along. Should the Haven Group not wish to move forward, at the same time my administration will be holding this project to all blight/zoning standards and will be seeking compliance,” she said.
Who the “interested parties” are has been the subject of some speculation among the city’s political class for the last week. Rossi said the administration would continue to work with the Simon Group on the project as it moves ahead.
Meanwhile, the city received payment for demolition permits on the property. Rossi indicated eight buildings would be demolished, and the developer would have to apply for new permits with each round of demolitions. The current price received was $4,400.
Just before deadline, Rep. Borer sent answers to the questions we sent Mayor Rossi. In her assessments, Borer gave a timeline as she understood it.
“After hearing concern back in January that the Simon Group and the xity may be waiting on the State to help move the project forward, I attended a City Council meeting to clarify there was nothing pending at the State; i.e. permits, funding etc. and suggested blight fines start to try to force the Simon Group to the table as they had not responded to the numerous requests to come before the City for an update. Corporation Counsel subsequently said that the city was working on an interlocal agreement with the Simon Group for the Haven project and that if it didn’t come through, they would begin blight fines.
“In April after seeing comments in the paper that the city had not heard from the Simon Group, I sent an email to Corporation Counsel asking status and if the blight fines started. He indicated that the Simon group would be seeking more funds from the State for demolition. It is at that point State Representative Ferraro and I both said we could not support that, and we asked for a meeting with the Simon Group. We asked a state official to sit in order to entice the Simon Group to the table.
“In that meeting the Simon Group and the investors on the call asked for more funds. We collectively – the city and the state members — said we could not support that. The Simon Group said the path forward with building the mall was limited as they did not have the tenants lease nor the funding in place. We asked if they would entertain building something else and gave suggestions and they said they only focus on malls.
“When the meeting closed Corporation Counsel said the city would follow up with the Simon Group for official next steps.
“I sent a follow up email to Corporation Counsel suggesting that the city not wait for official notice and begin to prepare and organize to recapture any funds.”
When asked by the comments were made to the NBC affiliate, Borer responded it was happenstance.
“NBC FB (Facebook) contacted me recently to ask the status as they indicated they had reached out to the mayor. I provided them with the mayor’s email address and suggested they email her and continue to try to speak directly with the city leaders.
They circled back with both me, and Rep. Ferraro and asked if we could also comment on the status as we understood it. We again provided an assessment as we understand it. Our goal has been to work bipartisan and united when it comes to West Haven but will defer to him and other delegation members for any additional comments.
In responding as to whether the Simon Group had definitively said the project was dead, Borer referred to history.
“I understand wanting to have a concrete official notice from the Simon Group saying they are not moving forward with the mall before making an announcement. However, we know through history that the Simon Group does not communicate well, it has been some time and now seeing permits begin to be pulled to help with a potential sale or shift, any hope of a mall being built should be eliminated.
“The challenges faced were multi-faceted and on the developer’s end. I believe the city and the state have exhausted all efforts to help support the project, but at this point it is best to recognize they are not building the mall and openly talk about next steps. Whether the Simon group sells or partners we should put the mall chapter behind us and as a community look towards the future. The site is large, it is on the wharf-which will be dredged in 2024. and has great potential for something new. It is an opportunity for a reset.
“It should be noted that any new project would have to go through all new city regulatory approvals, e.g., P&Z, ZBA etc. A potential development cannot change without that.”