The New Haven Coliseum was a sports-entertainment arena located in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. Construction began in 1968 and was completed in 1972. The Coliseum was officially closed on September 1, 2002 by Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., and demolished by implosion on January 20, 2007.
The arena's formal name was The Coliseum - New Haven Veterans Memorial, but most locals simply referred to it as "The Coliseum." The Coliseum could hold 11,171 people at full capacity, and occupied 4.5 acres (18,000 m²) of land.
The Coliseum was built to replace the New Haven Arena, New Haven's prior indoor sports and entertainment venue. The Coliseum, as well as the neighboring Knights of Columbus building, was designed by the architect Kevin Roche of Roche-Dinkeloo. One interesting aspect of the arena's design was that the parking garage was built on top of the actual Coliseum structure; this was necessitated by a high water table in the area which made it overly difficult to construct sub-surface parking facilities. Though an interesting solution, this design was unpopular because of the quarter-mile helical ramps required to access the parking. Vincent Scully, the revered architectural historian at nearby Yale University, often referred to the design as "Structural Exhibitionism" in his modern architecture lectures. Other features of the design, such as street storefronts and an exhibition hall, were never completed.
During the 1980s, the structure of the parking garages had deteriorated to the point where large canvas panels had to be attached to the outside to catch pieces of concrete that would occasionally drop off onto the sidewalk below. Renovations were made to correct that problem. The city shut down the facility in 2002 after concluding that it was a drain on city coffers. However, the city did not hold any public hearings, referendum votes, or conduct any surveys, and several groups, local stakeholders, and the Coalition to Save Our Coliseum mounted a campaign to save and renovate the Coliseum, to no avail. Others in the community supported the plan to demolish the arena. Despite Mayor DeStefano's plan to close and demolish the building within six months, it ultimately took more than four years.
Among the reasons for the Coliseum's demise was the construction or renovation (often with state money) in the 1990s of alternative comparably sized venues within the southern Connecticut market. The Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport attracted a minor league hockey team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Mohegan Sun Arena was built about an hour away, and became the home of the Connecticut Sun. Many musical acts started booking the Oakdale Theatre in the city of Wallingford, Connecticut after it was upgraded and expanded. Even though the state gave $5.5 million to the arena for new paint, signage, and scoreboards, the Coliseum simply could not compete with newer facilities. Even as early as 1980 the Coliseum was decried as a "White Elephant". Mayor DeStefano also had staked out a strategy of investing city resources into arts and cultural activities rather than attracting sports teams to the city.
The Coliseum's demolition was delayed by the state's refusal to award the $6.5 million that the city requested, and the arena remained empty and darkened. The office area was used in the meantime for practice by the New Haven Fire Department.
Actual demolition work began in late October 2005 with removal of most of the arena area. At 7:50 a.m. on January 20, 2007, after years of wrangling and delay, the Coliseum was finally imploded, using more than 2,000 pounds of explosive. It was said that the implosion could be heard all the way to Meriden and Northford. As it came down, a massive cloud of dust and smoke covered the surrounding area, but blew away quickly toward the shoreline. Upwards of 20,000 people watched from the nearby Temple Street Garage and other buildings, and residents of nearby apartments were evacuated. The two helical ramps were not imploded, and were subsequently destroyed by conventional methods.
The city has tentative plans to replace the Coliseum with a new downtown/Long Wharf redevelopment plan, including a relocated Long Wharf Theatre and a new campus for Gateway Community College.
A temporary 400-space parking lot opened on the former Coliseum site on December 4, 2007, but plans are advancing to redevelop the site with a mix of offices, apartments, and retail space, with proposals by such firms as Cesar Pelli, Related Companies and Robert A.M. Stern. Until the economy recovers, however, there will be no development of the lot until 2014 at the earliest.
On January 12, 2009 the Knights of Columbus filed a lawsuit against the City of New Haven, Stamford Wrecking Company and Demolition Dynamics Company. The lawsuit seeks repayment for damages incurred to the Knights of Columbus Building and Knights of Columbus Museum across the street from the Coliseum.
- "Nightmare in the Elm City", New Haven Register, July 23, 2006
- New Haven's Gateway Downtown Development Project
- Former coliseum site opens as parking lot, WTNH Channel 8 New Haven, December 4, 2007
- Details on the Downtown New Haven Coliseum Site RFQs, May 2008
- Coliseum’s Grave To Remain Parking Lot, April 1, 2010
- Knights of Columbus sue city for damages, Yale Daily News, January 14, 2009
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