January 19, 2018

Grand plan for 'New Long Wharf' takes shape

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
A rendering of the proposed "New Long Wharf."

In the future, New Haven's Long Wharf could be divided into five walkable districts, interspersed with apartments and strung together by parkland and trails — all leading up to a bustling public waterfront with restaurants, charter boats and maybe even a ferry service.

Think Boston's Emerald Necklace meets Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Architects with renowned global planning firm Perkins Eastman are pitching that vision as they work to reinvent one of the Elm City's most visible business corridors, which fronts New Haven Harbor and straddles Interstate 95.

Although the ideas are still in their infancy — and likely a decade or more away from being fully realized — the firm unveiled a preliminary plan earlier this month during the first of several community meetings.

Perkins Eastman architect Stanton Eckstut, who is heading up the project along with architect Eric Fang, said in an interview that they are now analyzing suggestions and feedback received at the meeting and will return with a refined proposal in March.

"Our job is to keep learning, keep gathering information and then to come back with a more synthesized view," said Eckstut.

The "responsible growth" plan is part of a nearly $1 million state grant to revitalize Long Wharf, and Eckstut noted that the city is already making headway.

Recent projects include construction of the state's first two-way protected bike lane, improvements to Long Wharf Drive's "Food Truck Paradise"(both funded through the grant) and the reopening last September of the Long Wharf Info Center.

The biggest addition is expected this spring with the planned debut of a $30 million Canal Dock Boathouse, which will bring new opportunities for waterfront recreation (rowing, sailing and kayaking) and educational programming to the harbor.

"There are a ton of different things going on today," said Eckstut, whose firm has done similar projects in New York City and Washington, D.C. "It would be great if we could marshal them all around a common vision."

The architects' idea for what's been dubbed "New Long Wharf" is to make it more walkable by dividing it into five sections, each spanning a distance that can be covered in a comfortable five-minute walk.

"Even Disney and their theme parks understand that if you want to get people to walk a lot, you've got to make it feel smaller," Eckstut said. "It would be very hard to get anyone to walk from one end of Long Wharf to the other."

The plan would separate the Sargent Drive side of Long Wharf into four distinct districts — the IKEA-to-Water Street area; the Food Terminal/Long Wharf Theater area; the area surrounding lock manufacturer Assa Abloy; and the Jordan's Furniture-to-Hallock Ave. area — each with its own unique assets.

The Food Terminal, for instance, "looks and feels like a potential market district," where people could buy fresh produce and other food items, while IKEA seems a logical spot for more retail, Eckstut said. Perhaps with the exception of Assa Abloy, all areas could include residential development, he said.

The fifth and key section is the waterfront near the Maritime Center and Sports Haven. The architects envision a tourist hub and family destination similar to Baltimore's Inner Harbor (which Eckstut says is equal in size), complete with restaurants and commercial docks for tour boats, water taxis and fishing charters. There are even parts of the harbor deep enough for a ferry to Long Island, he added.

"Most great waterfront cities are wonderful waterfront destinations because they have maritime activities in the harbor," Eckstut said.

Meanwhile, to address one of the area's major challenges, stormwater management, the firm suggests a winding chain of parks and trails connecting all the districts, similar to Boston's Emerald Necklace. The parks would consist of sustainable wetland gardens to allow for the collection of runoff during storms.

"It's a beautiful amenity that is solving very practical infrastructure needs," Eckstut said. "And at the same time, because it's so attractive, you're promoting private development."

There's plenty of land available, he said, so he doesn't see the need to demolish any buildings. "You could work around them and fill in and add over time." One of the biggest potential obstacles, he acknowledged, will be funding, which he said is likely to come from both public and private investment.

Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno said he was confident that, with the right improvements, Long Wharf can attract interest from private developers.

"We've always felt that whole area is such prime property," he said, adding he recently spoke with a developer from California who was interested in a property there. "We're just delighted that Long Wharf is going to get some attention."

Natalie Missakian can be reached at news@newhavenbiz.com

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