After years of discussion, debate and doubt, local leaders in West Haven say The Haven project won’t happen. The $200 million luxury mall was planned for the city’s waterfront.
“They’re not moving forward with the project and their intention is to demolish the rest of the buildings so they can put it on the market as one contiguous piece of property,” said State Rep. Dorinda Borer of West Haven.
Borer says the news of the failed project came in a May meeting with West Haven state legislators, city leaders and the Simon Group.
“It just makes you feel horrible. And when you look at this, it's just sad. It's just really sad,” said Victoria Clifford who lives across from the 26 acres of boarded up homes.
The buildings stand as a reminder of the families who used to live there, some of them Clifford knew. All of them sold their homes and businesses to developers for the high-end mall.
“Many of them, most of them got good prices for their homes and for their businesses, but it wasn't really about the money for many of them,” said State Rep. Charlie Ferraro, of West Haven. “This, for many of them, this was their family home, you know? They grew up in these homes. And this was very emotional to them, they didn't really want to leave.”
We reached out to the Simon Group for comment and they did not respond. Ferraro was also in that May meeting with the mall and says this brings an end to an almost decade-long saga in the city.
“So, they’re confirming it really just kind of confirmed our worst fears,” said Ferraro. “Because, you know, we did feel that there was quite an investment in the community by the residents who gave up their homes and their businesses.”
Now, it seems, it was for nothing. The project was announced back in 2013 under Mayor John Picard. Many of the home sales were in 2016 and some owners fought back in court.
Eventually all the owners sold their properties and signed non-disclosure agreements. Mayor Nancy Rossi says the properties sat untouched by the developers for years, and COVID was likely the final straw.
“Unfortunately, COVID had a lot to do with it like everything else in our lives. And right now, they didn’t seem interested in pursuing that aspect anymore,” Rossi said.
NBC Connecticut asked why this update wasn’t made public, and she says it’s because there’s nothing final yet about what will happen next.
“The reason I haven’t gone public with it yet is because to me it isn’t finished,” Rossi said. She added that she let residents know that the plan was stalled.
“I did tell them there’s no urgency, I did make sure that message got out,” Rossi said. “As far as the permits and stuff, until I have a check in hand, the city has a check in hand, there’s no demolition. They’re not going to be able to do demolition. So, to me, it looks like all I’m telling them is we’re still waiting. And that’s basically it. I have no resolution.”
Borer believes residents should be kept up to date as the project winds down.
“This is such a critical project to our city that I think it’s really important that the administration, the mayor, and city officials, hold an informational hearing and really let the residents know exactly what’s going on as they know it,” Borer said.
Her childhood home is among the deteriorating properties now used by first responders and law enforcement for practice.
“It’s very unsettling to see the house that I grew up in, the neighborhood we all played in, to be boarded up for so long, way too long. it’s an eyesore,” Borer said.
Sometimes the drills are so loud it rattles the neighborhood.
“I was sitting in my house, and I heard just the boom,” Clifford said. “And I’m like, I thought somebody fell in the house.”
Clifford and Kristina Petrucci say they never thought the high-end mall would work.
“And at each turn, I was more and more deflated,” Petrucci said. “Because I just knew it was more and more not likely to happen.”
And now looking around their neighborhood, they are frustrated at how the project fell apart.
“You know what? I feel disrespected. That's how I feel. I feel disrespected,” Clifford said.
What happens next? Nearly seven years developers acquired the properties, they have filed demolition applications for buildings on First Avenue, starting with the former Nick’s Luncheonette. The applications are approved but, as Rossi mentioned, the group must pay for the permits.
“I don’t have checks in hand to be able to have the building department to issue permits. So, the story will be told once the checks are in hand.”
She says she’s focused on demolition because she says the entrance into the city “looks like a war zone.” There are also safety concerns at the abandoned buildings.
“I think it’s time, I think it’s been way too long,” Rossi said. “I think it’s beyond time, let me just put it that way, that this area gets cleaned up and hopefully they do sell it to somebody that’s going to put a nice development there.”
But Petrucci is concerned about the demolition saying it will put more pressure on current homeowners.
“The point is, is each house they take down is less money that goes into our tax base,” Petrucci said.
Borer says that shouldn’t slow the demolition even more.
“The Simon Group will be paying less taxes when these homes come down, but that’s not a reason not to take these homes down,” Borer said. “It’s time. It’s long past due and I think once they come down it will be a jump – a springboard for them to sell it. So, I think the city needs to take a little step back to take a step forward.”
Ferraro says the people he represents are tired, frustrated and angry, saying they’ve been through a lot. He points to Municipal Accountability Review Board control, the misappropriation of millions in COVID funds, and now the end of The Haven.
He says the city needs a win, but they face an uncertain future.
“You know, if a new developer comes in, there's going to be a new round of zoning meetings and stuff like that, and proposals put on the table. And, you know, what is it we're gonna get, after all this?”