Coliseum bites the dust

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – Once a venue for sold-out rock concerts and rousing sports matches, the New Haven Coliseum went down in a cloud of dust early Saturday morning.

The 35-year-old arena, which closed in 2002, was imploded shortly before 8 a.m. as more than a thousand spectators nearby traded memories of their experiences there.

A $230 million redevelopment project is slated for construction on the site.

The coliseum, which opened in 1972, hosted acts ranging from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to hockey and wrestling matches. In its heyday, it drew hundreds of thousands of people annually.

About 2,000 pounds of explosives triggered Saturday morning’s implosion, creating a dust cloud that drifted away on the wind and left 50-foot piles of rubble as the only evidence of the once-storied structure.

“I feel sad to see it go,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said. “Just seeing it come down this way, whatever mixed feelings we had, it’s still sad.”

Adam Christoferson, 23, of New Haven, said his father sneaked him into an Aerosmith concert at the coliseum when he was 12 years old, after his Little League team lost an all-star game. He was among the onlookers Saturday as the structure came down.

“I hope something good comes to this place,” he said. “Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of life-changing events for me.”

Some onlookers were happy that the building, which many considered an eyesore, was demolished.

“The first time I came to New Haven, I thought it was so very ugly. I’m glad to see it go. It’s not a pretty sight,” said Linda Young, 32, of New Haven.

For 43-year-old Dagmara Zeidenbergs of Hamden, the morning’s most dramatic moment was watching the explosion’s dust cloud dissipate, and seeing the ruins in its place.

“It was well worth freezing for,” Zeidenbergs said.

Some unexpected collateral damage occurred as a utility pole at George and Orange streets came down, and a kiosk on George Street fell over. A few windows in nearby buildings were broken.

Officials said there was a 60 mph wind gust during the implosion. Debris forced the temporary closure of the westbound lanes of Route 34, but interstates 95 and 91 were not affected.

Fire Chief Michael Graham said there were no injuries, but that someone at the nearby Temple Street parking garage had an anxiety attack.

Tori and Ben Staniewicz of Guilford, ages 8 and 10 respectively, won the right to push the ceremonial plungers on the detonators because they donated food to the Connecticut Food Bank.

“I really liked being part of history,” Tori said.

Crews trucked in more than 15,000 rented tires to absorb the implosion’s impact, and traffic at the busy Interstate 95/91 interchange was stopped so drivers weren’t startled by the noise and vibrations.

Within a few months, the debris will be cleared and the area will be paved as a temporary parking lot until New Haven embarks on its next development.

Gateway Community College and Long Wharf Theatre will move from the outskirts of the city to the coliseum site and an adjacent property. Those moves are part of a $230 million development project that also includes stores and up to 280 housing units.

The new development is expected to create thousands of construction jobs, millions of dollars in new taxes and additional spending by bringing college students and theater visitors downtown, officials said.

AP-ES-01-20-07 1731EST

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