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5 Years Later, Wooster Sq. Ground Broken

It took five years and two different developers to get from the first community meeting to the groundbreaking.

Now work is beginning on a 299-unit, market-rate apartment complex on the border of Wooster Square and Downtown, and builders predict it will take far less than another five years to finish the job and fill the block with new tenants.

On a sun-dappled Thursday afternoon, two dozen city officials and local economic development boosters joined New York-based developers Darren Seid and Peter Antoniou to celebrate the official groundbreaking for the project, at 87 Union St. just past the railroad tracks separating Wooster Square from Downtown.

The new 299-unit market-rate apartment complex is planned for a 50,000-square foot asphalt lot that formerly housed the Torrco plumbing supply company.

Seid, the president of Epimoni, and Antoniou, a project manager for Adam America, said the planned development will be six stories tall; will contain a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments to rent at rates similar to other local luxury apartment complexes like Corsair and 360 State; and will have roughly 6,100 square-feet of commercial retail space facing Olive Street.

Antoniou said the developers plan to begin demolition of the old Torrco building next week, and hope to have the vacant building down by May.

While declining to commit to any definite timeline for construction, Antoniou said he and Seid hope to have the building up and open by 2021. Per the City Plan Commission’s ruling last July, they technically have until 2025 to finish the project.

“Its a city that has incredible fundamentals and a growth trajectory you can really believe in,” Seid said about building in New Haven. “This is a very investable city.”

The two developers, under the holding company 44 Olive Limited Partnership, purchased the site for $10 million in July 2018.

That purchase came three years after the City Plan Commission first approved the exact same 299-unit, mixed-use project for the site as pitched by local builder Noel Petra and Westport Developer David Adam Realty. Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg recalled on Thursday that the very first community meeting he attended on the proposed 87 Union St. development happened in June 2014.

Petra’s project, along with an adjacent Spinnaker-led development at the old Comcast site at the corner of Chapel Street and Olive Street, was delayed for years by legal disputes with PMC Property Group, the Philadelphia-based owners of the Smoothing building apartment complex.

While the 87 Union St. site has been free from any open legal issues since 2018, the city and PMC reached an agreement at the end of 2018 that will allow Spinnaker to proceed with its proposed 200-unit apartment development at the old Comcast site.

That tangled history of legal disputes and delays was just that, history, on Thursday as city officials and developers alike lifted shovels and smiled at the prospect of a massive new residential-commercial complex that will help link the Downtown and Wooster Square neighborhoods.

“This project has had a long and winding road,” Acting City Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said. “But good things come to those who wait.”

He identified this project as the first of many planned residential developments for the area that should bring over 2,500 apartments within walking distance of the city’s two train stations in the near future, and that will help realize the transit-oriented-development vision of the 2016 Wooster Square Planning Study.

“Think about where you are,” he said, “residential and mixed use at the early stages of our history as a city, then commercial as part of the Urban Renewal period, and then coming back again as residential. It really speaks to this drive for a live, work, play environment that relate very specifically to an innovation-based economy.”

“This improved site will serve as a revitalized connection between Downtown New Haven and its historic Wooster Square neighborhood,” Mayor Toni Harp said. She said the project’s proximity to the Downtown business district, Wooster Square and its farmers market, Yale University, the hospital complex, the train stations, and many more biotech jobs help is the embodiment of New Haven’s status as a “self-contained urban oasis.”

Alder Greenberg also praised the project for “restitching” Downtown and Wooster Square.

“That’s a divide that has existed since the redevelopment of the city,” he said, “and it’s one that so many projects all around the city are trying to undo and recreate the relationships socially and geographically between places that have been divided over time.”

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