West Haven, Connecticut enjoys a prime location along Long Island Sound with easy access to highways, airports and rail service. With a business-friendly environment, a well-educated workforce and a sought-after lifestyle, the city of 55,000 is a magnet for business and development.
“Companies like to be here,” says Planning and Development Commissioner Joseph A. Riccio Jr. “There is a tremendous quality of life; people enjoy living in coastal Connecticut.”
West Haven’s 3.5 miles of uninterrupted shoreline are almost entirely available for public use. “That is the longest [beach] in the state of Connecticut that is open to the public,” and this generous shoreline acts as a family-friendly gathering spot for the entire community. “West Haven has a long, long history of being a beach community,” Mr. Riccio remarks. “It is one of our greatest assets. It is a mecca for activity and a magnet for the community to come together.” From festivals, concerts and dances to bocce courts, playgrounds and ballfields, West Haven’s beach has something for everyone. “We have everything that you think you would find in a waterfront without intense commercial development.”
West Haven also serves up classic New England scenery. “We have a classic beautiful New England green with a church on it. The close-knit community lives up to this quaint imagery. “There is so much community activity and community involvement. It is a very friendly community.”
Education is one of West Haven’s leading industries. The University of New Haven is located there, as well as Yale West, the Ivy League university’s biosciences campus. Yale University’s main campus is located just ten minutes away in neighboring New Haven, Connecticut. “There is a tremendous amount of research being done at Yale in the medical and science fields,” Mr. Riccio points out. As a result, the city boasts a thriving biomedical and high-tech sector. Health care is another key local industry, and West Haven’s Veterans Hospital is the community’s largest employer. “The Veterans Hospital is a huge generator of jobs and a center of economic activity in the City and the Region.”
West Haven welcomes new businesses and developments. “Mayor O’Brien has said to the business community and the development community that we are open for business. We try to be very accommodating to businesses. We want business in West Haven. We don’t want to discourage it; we want to welcome it. And we try to accommodate any business, whether new or expanding.” The city works hard to slash the red tape and get projects moving. “We try and expedite the permit processes, and we certainly expedite decisions. Someone will come into the mayor’s office to talk about a proposed development or business they want to bring in, and they will get an immediate answer.”
West Haven’s pro-development philosophy is attracting major construction projects. A new $135 million train station opened two years ago, simplifying commutes and bringing transit-oriented development to the city. “The latest rage in urban areas is transit-oriented development,” Mr. Riccio points out, and the city is currently working to bring that trend to West Haven. “We are going to be adopting zoning regulations that will try and capture the millennial market; [people] who don’t own a car, don’t want to own a car and want to take mass transit to work and on weekends. They want to be able to get on a train and go to Boston or New York, and that is easily done from here. So we are looking to adopt regulations that will create a village around the train station. That has been done successfully all over the United States. These [transit-oriented developments] are popping up where you find a train station, where you find a subway stop, where you find a ferry terminal.”
West Haven’s mixed-use, transit-oriented development will create the atmosphere that today’s youth are seeking. “They want to live in fun places, and that is what we are going to try and accomplish around our railroad station,” Mr. Riccio explains. The surrounding land offers numerous — and lucrative — opportunities for developers. For example, an old Armstrong tire factory located right across the street from the station is for sale. “It is a very marketable piece of property for mixed-use development for transit-oriented design. And there is significant interest in it.” Meanwhile, a parcel of land running parallel to the train tracks would be an ideal spot for retail, commercial and residential development. “We are going to be putting before the Planning and Zoning Commission new regulations that will certainly entice and encourage that kind of development.”
The Haven is another new development in the final approval stages. “The developer has acquired almost all the properties within the project area,” says Mr. Riccio. “They are in the final negotiations right now with some of the owners. The significance of this project is that it returns to the public a significant portion of the waterfront that has been blocked for generations. It is a neighborhood where you have old abandoned factories, contaminated properties, some housing that is not in the best of condition. This developer had the vision to come to West Haven for our great location and put in high-end, luxury outlet shops. There might be six or seven of these types of developments in the country.” In addition to dozens of upscale outlet stores, the project will include a 200-seat amphitheater, seven restaurants and a waterfront promenade in the 24-acre Water Street project area on New Haven Harbor. The $200 million development is poised to create 400 full and part-time jobs, and generate $2 million in annual property tax revenue for the city.
Mr. Riccio believes that The Haven will help attract even more development. “We are very excited about that. The amount of investment that is coming here, the amount of people that they envision coming to West Haven… is going to spur more development, more opportunities in West Haven.”
The Atwood is a $20 million, privately financed, mixed-use development that will provide convenient housing for University of New Haven’s students and faculty. Due to be completed in June 2017, the 70,000-square-foot building will include 15,000 square feet of retail space. “It is literally a stone’s throw from the University of New Haven. It is considered an off-campus development; you see these emerging up throughout the country. Private developers will come into a college town with the cooperation of the university and will build a mixed-use development aimed at graduate students and faculty.” In addition to a variety of shops, The Atwood will include extras, such as contemporary design, on-site staff, elevators, access to private parking and green spaces. Residents can choose from two bedrooms, two baths; one bedroom, one bath; or a studio apartment.
A West Haven chemicals and coatings company is also in the midst of a major development. Enthone Inc. is expanding and transforming its regional facility into a premier technology and manufacturing center. Dubbed the Enthone Advanced Technology Center, the $12.5 million, 82,000-square-foot facility will include space for advanced manufacturing, as well as research and development, technical applications engineering, and quality assurance and testing labs.
With several major developments already underway, New Haven is eager to continue the trend. “We will help those companies that want to come in,” Mr. Riccio remarks. The city has managed to draw support from the state to help continue the revitalization. “We have been very fortunate to get state funding for some of these projects that we are working on. We have a lot of cooperation from the state of Connecticut. The Governor’s office is very involved, very invested.” And, of course, city leaders are committed to doing everything they can to keep the renaissance going. “We are really excited about these large scale economic development opportunities. We are working very hard to transform West Haven into a much more vibrant community.