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Implosions Often Showcase City Redevelopment Efforts

Wed January 25, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Cara Rubinsky

HARTFORD, CT (AP) When Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven crumbles to the ground in early 2006, Jim Staniewicz will push the ceremonial plunger.

“It’s not every day that you get to see an implosion,” said Staniewicz, a West Haven resident who won a raffle for the chance to trigger the coliseum’s demise. “It usually dies a slow death, clawmark by clawmark. The coliseum, I guess it’s going to give its last performance with a big bang. It will be very exciting.”

It’s a scenario that’s already played out in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where big crowds gathered to watch Riverfront, Three Rivers and Veterans stadiums come down in dramatic plumes of dust.

Mike Taylor, president of the National Demolition Association in Doylestown, PA, said most stadiums and other buildings that are imploded could be demolished by conventional means. But he said implosions are a good way to draw attention to urban renewal projects.

“Everybody likes to hear the loud noise and see something brought down,” Taylor said. “There’s some nostalgia involved with it, and you also like to say, ’I was there when Three Rivers went down. I was there when Riverfront went down.’ That’s why they do it, really, to make a dramatic statement.”

The other advantage of imploding buildings is that they come down in seconds rather than weeks.

The implosion of the New Haven coliseum hasn’t yet been scheduled, but people who live in a nearby apartment building are already planning a party to watch it.

“We’ve had a ton of interest,” said Derek Slap, spokesman of New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. “Any time an arena or a stadium is imploded, we see it all across the country. People are just really interested.”

The coliseum, which was built in 1972 and closed 30 years later, is being imploded to make way for a $230-million project that will include business, retail and conference space. Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theatre are scheduled to move to the site from the outskirts of town.

The coliseum hosted minor league hockey, wrestling matches, monster truck rallies, concerts and the circus. But it never generated the kind of business officials expected.

Staniewicz, an engineer with the New Haven Parking Authority, said he has mixed emotions about the implosion. He grew up in West Haven and rode his bike to watch crews work on the coliseum when it was being built. His mother took him to the circus there, and he took his own children.

But some demolition work has already been done, and he said residents can’t live in the past.

“You don’t want to see something disappear that you had so much fondness for. But it’s past the debate,” he said. “It’s sad, but I understand it, and it’s to make way for some new economic vitality.”

The raffle he won collected food for the Connecticut Food Bank. Licensed demolition workers will trigger the actual explosives, but he’ll push the plunger to signal the start of the implosion.

New Haven isn’t the first city to raise money for a good cause by raffling off the chance to implode a building. In Pittsburgh, proceeds from a raffle to implode Three Rivers benefited the science center. In Cincinnati, it was the United Way.

“We just thought that it made sense to tie a good cause like the food bank together with something that has generated a lot of talk and interest in the community, which is the impending implosion,” Slap said.

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