New Haven, The Maverick

While several U.S. cities are building new arenas and convention centers, New Haven, Conn., is saying goodbye to all that.

Deeming it an “economic proposition that never worked,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano has led the way in tearing down the city’s Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.

New Haven spent the 1960s bulldozing neighborhoods and displacing residents in one of the U.S.’s most extensive urban renewal projects. The effort was capped by the coliseum – a sprawling steel and concrete venue. It opened in 1972 and has been visited by Elvis Presley, Grateful Dead and Van Halen.

But DeStefano sees another vision for the site – a $230 million project that will relocate Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theatre to the area, along with added business, retail and conference space. But some say DeStefano, who is running for governor, is replacing one poorly conceived idea with another.

The mayor has been praised and criticized for his decision to destroy the coliseum. The venue was introduced to the city as a hub for restaurants and retailers. Instead, people would park in the rooftop garage, watch a show, then leave.

“I’m not saying you never build these things, but you really ought to hold them up in an honest way and ask whether it really does add value,” DeStefano said.

Them’s fighting words to officials in other cities who are ready to bring in new entertainment facilities, but some experts say the venues don’t help the local economies.

“One thing we now know is the arena-convention center model fails almost uniformly,” said Douglas Rae, a Yale professor and former city official who wrote a book on the New Haven redevelopment. “The bandwagon of construction of this kind all over the country works well for developers. It almost never works well for cities.”

New Haven’s coliseum closed in 2002. It is expected to be paid off in 2009.