New Haven has another plan for a new hotel — and this one will welcome a unionized workforce.
So said Mayor Toni Harp on Monday.
Harp, in her latest appearance on WNHH FM’s “Mayor Monday” program, announced that Choice Hotels, a national group, is in talks to build a 100-plus room hotel at the corner of Orchard Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.
Choice franchises more than 6,800 hotels worldwide, according to its website. Its “brands” include, among others, Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Econo Lodge.
Choice is negotiating the terms of the deal with a firm called RJ Development & Advisors, which owns the property. RJ principal Yves-Georges A. Joseph II said Monday he can’t discuss the deal because he signed a confidentiality agreement.
Choice & RJ met in City Hall last week with members of the Harp administration to discuss the deal. Choice plans to operate on the site a new brand of hotel it has introduced, according to city Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli.
Piscitelli Monday called the news a reflection of New Haven’s attractive market for hotel builders. Construction has begun on a new hotel at the old Duncan on Chapel Street; plans have been approved for a Hilton Garden Inn at Orange and Elm. Developer Randy Salvatore opened an upscale “boutique” hotel called the Blake in January at the corner of High and George streets. There’s talk of other small hotels popping up elsewhere in town, such as at the old Pirelli building on the Ikea site on Long Wharf.
“We’re encouraged,” Piscitelli said of Choice’s choice of New Haven. “We’ve demonstrated the need for more hotel rooms in the city. The demand has been met by suburban” locations off highways.
Megablock Fills In
The hotel would be built on a 5.39-acre megablock that the city sold in 2014 to developer Robert Landino’s Centerplan company to house several new properties on a former surface lot across from Career High School as part of a project called Route 34 West.
The block was part of a 16.2-acre stretch that the government cleared during the Urban Renewal era to make way for a highway that was never built.
Since the 2014 approvals, Landino — who ran into legal trouble over a ballpark project in Hartford — has sold off various chunks of the property. A new owner owns the portions that house a Rite Aid and a new child care facility. Continuum of Care owns a new 30,000-square-foot headquarters for its agency, which helps people with psychiatric and developomental disabilities. RJ — whose principal Joseph previously worked for Centerplan — owns the hotel site. (Joseph formed RJ with Jason Rudnick after leaving Centerplan. Their new company took over the College & Crown upscale apartment complex that Centerplan originally developed.)
The Board of Alders has already approved a development and land disposition agreement (LDLA) for the whole megablock (which is bounded by Orchard, Legion, Dwight, and MLK Boulevard).
That means, depending on the details, Choice Hotels won’t need to win new site plan approval for its hotel, assuming it conforms to what has already been approved.
Labor Dealt In
A sticking point for hotel builders has been the influence in local politics of UNITE HERE, which represents hospitality workers and supports a majority of the Board of Alders. The unionizing issue at first held up plans for the sale of the Duncan to a new owner; and it has again held up the new owner’s plans, throwing the project’s future into uncertainty (even though the new owner claims he had agreed to having a unionized workforce, but then stopped hearing from UNITE HERE).
Harp said she is making clear to hotel developers that if they want to build in New Haven, they need to have sign a neutrality agreement that paves the way for UNITE HERE to organize employees.
“I mentioned it to them when we met with them and they said yes. They said yes. They were aware that that was part of the” deal, Harp said on “Mayor Monday.”
Choice’s press office did not respond to requests for comment before this article was published.
If the hotel project proceeds, that leaves one last piece of unfinished development business on the Route 34 West parcel: a parking garage approved for the middle of the block.
Piscitelli said Monday that he has a meeting scheduled Tuesday with representatives of LAZ parking and the Svigals + Partners architecture firm to discuss taking on that last piece.