Jan. 11–NEW HAVEN — As the downtown keeps evolving, what once was a church and then a bank now will be the site of a hotel.
Spinnaker Real Estate Partners LLC of Norwalk and Olympia Companies out of Portland, Maine, have formed a partnership — Spin Olympia New Haven LLC — to convert 80 Elm St. to a 132-room hotel with parking on the ground level and five floors of guest rooms.
Preservationists were hoping that Spinnaker, which already is building hundreds of apartments at Orange, Audubon, State and Grove streets, would keep the 80 Elm St. building and renovate it for a new use, but the plan is to demolish the structure.
The company did bring in Colin Caplan, an architect, local entrepreneur and historian, who runs Magrisso Forte and Taste New Haven, to detail the history of the site and to identify potential significant elements of the current building which has structural elements of a church that was located there in the 19th century.
Frank Caico, vice president for development at Spinnaker, said the company met with an ad hoc historic preservation group around June at which time it committed to hiring a consultant and subsequently selected Caplan. It followed up this week with the group to provide an update and overview of Caplan's findings. He said they may be able to salvage remnants of millwork from the church.
Also, Caico said they may take some of the artifacts from the church and bank and incorporate them into the interior design of the proposed hotel.
"We are really excited about the development," Caico said. He said he feels it "will be transformative" for that part of downtown and activate the corner of Elm and Orange streets. He said the proposal has incorporated the city's plans to improve the intersection.
The hotel will feature a business center, restaurant, bar, fitness center and meeting rooms, in addition to the guest rooms. A total of 27 rooms will be built on each floor, with 24 rooms where the fitness center is located.
The hotel will be six stories and will cover what now is the bank building and a surface parking lot. There will be 31 parking spaces on the first level with an entrance off Elm Street; cars will exit onto Orange Street.
The hotel will be called the Hilton Garden Inn. The gross building square footage will be 91,970 square feet. Baskervill Architects of Richmond, Va., is designing the project; Caico said Olympia will manage the hotel once it is constructed.
Mayor Toni Harp said there are about 300 hotel rooms proposed or in the works in separate projects in New Haven. She continues to hope that a four-star hotel with major conference space eventually will locate in a development at the former Coliseum site in Ninth Square.
Live Work Learn Play is talking with Spinnaker about partnering on that stalled development.
The former Webster Bank building is on the Historic Resource Inventory, according to an earlier interview with Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League. This necessitated a 90-day delay before a demolition permit could be issued.
That time has lapsed and the firm is expected to seek a permit once the project is approved by the City Plan Commission, according to Building Official Jim Turcio. The hotel plans may be on the commission's agenda as early as this month or in February.
As for the earlier history of the site, St. Thomas Episcopal Church was built there in 1854. The congregation later closed it and built a new church on Whitney Avenue.
The current 1948 Art Moderne building was designed by architect R.W. Foote for the First Federal Savings and Loan Co. Foote incorporated some of the church structure into the bank building, which can be seen from the rear of the structure.
There is evidence in city land records of a building at that corner as early as 1641.
John Herzan, former preservation services officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust, in a previous story, said the building is as an example of Art Moderne architecture.
Art Moderne is different from Art Deco in that it takes a more simplified approach. Herzan praised the quality of the craftsmanship at the 80 Elm St. building from the polished granite to other aspects of the interior.