It’s been four years since “The Haven” up-scale outlet mall was announced for the Water Street area, and five years since talks with a New York-based developer began. Despite assurances prior to November’s election the project was a “go,” little has happened on the 24-acre site since some buildings were torn down as a show of progress.
Mayor Nancy Rossi, this week, answered questions concerning the $200 million project, which is expected to pump more than $2 million in taxes into the city’s coffers once completed.
According to Rossi, the Haven isn’t the only economic development project that is stalled, but it is the one that has the administration’s attention.
“I am working to revive stalled economic development projects including “The Haven,” Rossi said this week. “City Treasurer Mike Last and Planning and Development Commissioner Fred Messore joined me in a meeting with a representative from “The Haven” development team last week. We are working to remove all the bureaucratic barriers so that the project can move forward efficiently, with a defined schedule, and without further interruptions.”
Pressed on the timeline the project is expected to take, Rossi said Messore and she are working to come up with a schedule that would be “” to both the city and the Haven Group, the holding company with rights to the development.
“Fred (Messore) and I are currently discussing, with the developer, a realistic schedule and tentative construction timeline. I do not want to speculate on a date until we have fully vetted the schedule and have an agreed plan in place. I will share a schedule with the City Council and public in the near future,” she said.
The development became an issue in the fall election, and some demolition was done in October, but the work ceased almost with the time the last ballot was counted, and nothing has been done since. City crews had to close off three streets in January because of nighttime activities.
“I think we can all agree that the area is becoming an eyesore and the demolition of those boarded up houses and buildings needs to begin,” Rossi said.
Though the Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the project, some of the permits necessary to begin complete demolition and construction have been stalled. Rossi said that process has not begun.
“The plans have been approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The necessary permits will be applied for by the developers as they begin the demolition and construction phases of the project,” she said.
Asked if there are any new or unexpected hurdles that have stalled the project, Rossi said her involvement in the process has helped smooth out some problems.
“I have personally involved myself in discussions with the developers to restart the project. We have made good progress in the last several weeks and I look forward to releasing a project outlook soon,” she said.
When it was announced, the Haven project was to be split into two phases with about 60 stores, seven restaurants and a public waterfront promenade with a 200-seat amphitheater in its first phase and about 100 stores if both phases are built. The total revenue to the city was said to be an estimated $2 million with 800 full-time and 400 part-time jobs, plus 800 construction jobs for state-based workers.
Rossi said her office is reviewing the data concerning revenue, jobs and other information.
The project faced another hurdle in October when Sheldon Gordon, the namesake of The Gordon Group Holdings, passed away at 88. The surviving partners, Ty Miller and Matt Armstrong, have vowed to continue Gordon’s legacy.
“We are currently working on verifying the tax revenue schedules and the number of jobs that will be created through construction as these may have been exaggerated during the election. Once we have verified the tax revenue and the projected job creation, we will share that information. I don’t want to put information out that has not been fully vetted or verified,” she said.
A recurring problem with the project has been reported discussions on residential components added to mix, though of the high-end variety, such as water-front condominium that would range in seven figures. Rossi scotched those reports.
“There have been no discussions with me to add apartments or residential development to the project and none have been approved by the city. I want to see commercial development that will provide tax relief for our taxpayers,” she said.
Rossi said the administration is working to restart the stalled development, and get a long-awaited project off the drawing board and into construction.
“The good news is we have established good communication with the developers and are making progress toward a schedule and hope to make an announcement in the near future on a demolition and construction schedule,” she said. “The developers have been very upfront and transparent and seem to be pleased with the effort the city is now putting forward to move the project forward. This is a project that began eight or so years ago and has taken way too long. We need to move this project forward as we aggressively market West Haven to additional commercial development.”
In fact, the road to the Haven began more than 20 years ago, in September 1997, when “the Water Street Project” was announced by then-Mayor H. Richard Borer, Jr. Hoping to utilize the Yale University School of Architecture, the waterfront area was to be cleared and development occur from Main Street north to North Street in the original plans.
After several false starts, the project languished before a plan was announced in 2005. However, with the election of John M. Picard as mayor, the project was nixed and new attempts to re-sell the area took place. Those included a short-lived plan for a six-story building at 105 Water St.
Picard initiated talks with Gordon and his parent company, The Gordon Group Holdings, but announcement of that project, the Haven, did not take place until June 10, 2014, under Mayor Edward M. O’Brien.