June 25, 2008

Last piece of cancer hospital falls into place

New Haven Register

By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor

NEW HAVEN — The years-long battle that surrounded the building of the Smilow Cancer Hospital was replaced Tuesday with smiles and compliments at the groundbreaking for the last structure in the project.

City and Yale-New Haven Hospital officials, and the contractor, Intercontinental Real Estate Corp., put ceremonial shovels into the ground for the 845-car, six-level garage on a square block bound by Howe and Dwight streets, Legion Avenue and North Frontage Road.

The garage will be hidden on Howe Street by 50,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and North Frontage by 24 housing units that will be used by workers and visitors to the hospital.
Work will start on this $54 million project next week and is scheduled to be finished by late 2009, as the $469 million Smilow Hospital has a phased-in opening starting in fall 2009 and into the spring 2010.
A $102 million laboratory and office building for the hospital on Park Street, across from Smilow, will open in spring 2010, while the last piece of structural steel for the hospital will be topped off next month.

Y-NH President and CEO Marna Borgstrom referred to the sign "Hope is Coming," which ironworkers painted on a steel beam at Smilow, as a good summary for the project.

"These are not just normal development projects," Borgstrom said of the consolidation of the Y-NH cancer services in one place. "It’s all about the patients that we have the privilege to take care of," she said of the 50 people who are diagnosed daily in Connecticut with cancer.

Paul Nasser, CFO and COO of Intercontinental, said it was a "long and arduous" process to get to this point, but the city was right to insist on the housing and other components at the garage that will be amenities to the neighborhood.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the office and garage projects, which will lease space to the hospital, will bring in some $1.8 million in taxes, which was an important concession by Y-NH in a city where almost half of the property is tax-exempt.

"It’s a way we help serve each other’s missions," DeStefano said.

He described the development as the beginning of the reversal of a "disastrous public policy" that in the 1960s saw 1,500 housing units cleared, 600 buildings demolished and 100 businesses lost to make way for the Interstate 91-Interstate 95 interchange and the Route 34 connector.

What was left was an undeveloped canyon that split the Hill from downtown and isolated the medical center.

"The key to our growth is to get the state of Connecticut to undo this disaster," he said, including tearing up the connector and replacing it with a boulevard, which New Haven is pushing hard to accomplish as soon as possible.

Nasser, who owns most of the block across from the garage site on Legion Avenue, said he will probably have plans finalized on what to do there with a mix of housing, commercial-retail and parking in a year.