Centerbrook Architects’ Jeff Riley Walks Through a Plan for East Haddam’s Redevelopment


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Jeff Riley, a principal of Centerbrook Architects, talked with CT Examiner about Swing Bridge Landing, a proposed mixed-use development adjacent to the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. The $51 million, 94,000-square-foot project would include a village green surrounded by retail shops, restaurants, apartments, a health club, offices, on-site parking, and possibly a boutique hotel. Below are a selection of Riley’s comments on several images of the proposed project. 

“The village green is meant to be just exactly that — a green that is available to the people in town. All sorts of things can happen there from seasonal celebrations — pumpkin carvings, Christmas tree lightings and festivals throughout the year. The village green is ringed by terraces that are all outdoor dining, as well as the shops. In this case you’re looking at a little outdoor music concert with a couple of guitar and banjo players.”

“The whole notion is that this becomes a destination. Clearly, the anchor is the Goodspeed Opera House and so [we have a] musical theme and theatrical theme. East Haddam is in the middle of about 30 really significant theaters [across the region] so people will come here to go not only to a couple of shows at Goodspeed, but also spend another one or two or three nights, going to other theaters.”

“As with the theater right now, there’s no place to go afterwards and we’re hoping that this will generate a lot more after-theater activity.” 

“If you look at the plan, the building actually forms a U shape around the village green and the open end faces south, so you get what we call a sun trap where you’re protected from the north wind and so you can dine outside during the shoulder seasons way, way beyond what you would be able to do without that kind of sun trap. And then we’ll have fire pits at the dining tables so that you can extend the outdoor dining even further into the shoulder seasons.”

“To the right of the village green is a little federal style building that we call the wheelhouse that will have, first of all, an elevator to get you from the sidewalk up to the village green level. It will have a public bathroom. It will have an information center on the upper floor, which will connect people to all of the events in the region. The wheelhouse is going to be the command central for ticketing, maps, information, schedules — everything from bike trails and hiking trails to theater shows to fishing trips and boat tours — so it’s kind of the centerpiece.”

“To the far right is like a Greek temple that is actually in the place of the old town hall, which we’re going to move. This is a replication of the Goodspeed mansion. When William Goodspeed formed what was known back then as Goodspeed Landing, he built his mansion, then the Gelston House and then the Goodspeed Opera House. There was a plaza that was out front of all of three of those buildings. This is a replication of the Goodspeed mansion. [The plaza] got obliterated when the bridge was built in 1913 but we’re going to recreate at least part of it.” 

“To the right of the juice store is going to be a bicycle center for bicyclists. This is a really big bicyclists area. People can come to the bike store and get a juice at the juice bar, they can go up and have lunch and there’s a little ice cream parlor there. The bridge will have the sidewalk on it which you can bring your bike over on — it’s going to be a fabulous place for bicyclists.”

“We plan to buy a couple of these historic jitney buses and operate them. They’re going to do a couple of things — go across the river and ferry people back and forth from Eagle Landing parking lot during times of big events, like maybe a farmers market or a concert or a festival. 

“The primary function [of the buses] is to take people on a tour of the Goodspeed campus. Most people are not aware of the extent of the Goodspeed musical campus. It has several rehearsal halls, all separate buildings that go a couple of miles up the road. There’s the Scherer Library which is the largest library in the world of Broadway musical sheet music, playbills and material. There’s Johnny Mercer Writers Grove for young writers, there’s a Goodspeed festival of new musicals. As you go up the hill, there’s the scene shop, a prop shop, a costume making shop where they make their own wigs. At the very end of the whole campus is the Goodspeed costume collection, which is a two-floor warehouse that has thousands and thousands of costumes that get rented to production houses all over the world. It’s just phenomenal when you get behind the scenes tour of what goes on here. It’s breathtaking.”

“The bikes are coming across the bridge, heading for the bicycle center. The building in front is a restaurant and it’s in the place where there’s currently a little shack that houses the generator for the swing bridge. We have to keep the generator for the swing bridge, so we’re going to just plop down on top of the generator, so to speak, and we have to have our own generator so we’ll have a generator for our project and for the bridge. The upper [part] is the restaurant and to the left you can see the outdoor terraces that face the river.”

“We wanted kind of an iconic building that you see as you come across the bridge, so this will be something that is front and center.”

“There’s been some comments about the mix of designs, but in actual fact the village is a complete mix of Federal style, Georgian, Victorian, Italianate Victorian. Some buildings were Federal and got victorian-ized now. It’s a real eclectic mix of buildings already there, so we wanted to just continue that kind of eclecticism.”

“The curve coming off the bridge has been softened partly for the trucks and it also enables us to put a planter strip, a boulevard, if you will, that separates the main road from a bus drop off and pedestrian zone in front of Goodspeed and guests.”

“Over the rooftops of the village green, there’s a yellowish building and a reddish building — that’s Main Street East complex. It’s an infill building between two historic buildings… And that’s a really neat part of the project, because it’s going to have a barber shop and beauty salon in one part but then it kind of a health center … above on the left will be a music school and on the right is a dance hall, which will have all sorts of dance lessons…” 

“The thing I hope people think about are the three goals — the first one being a destination, built around the Goodspeed Opera House but also around just a riverfront New England village. The second goal is economic development — that will mean paying a lot of taxes to the town. Property values in this area will definitely go up. Some places that are struggling now we hope will have a much happier economic outlook. The [third goal] is that we really want it to be a beloved gathering place, a beloved home for the town.”

“At the village green we’ll have a music concert in the evenings every so often and we’ll have a tulip festival and pumpkin carving festival and a tree lighting festival, but in the routine day-to-day, mom and dad can go have lunch and the kids can play out on the green with other kids. It’s really meant to be an asset, a facility for people’s lives here in East Haddam.”

A powerpoint presentation about Swing Bridge Landing can be found here. A video of the project can be found here.