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Last-Ditch Downtown Pitch Fails

by Paul Bass | Apr 21, 2014 11:01 am

(26) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Media, Downtown

Thomas MacMillan Photo City Hall’s efforts to move the New Haven Register downtown have met with a final “no.”

The Harp administration had lobbied the owners of the print daily for months to follow through on an original plan to relocate its offices downtown or near downtown.

“You can’t always get what you want,” concluded city economic development chief Matthew Nemerson, who led the lobbying effort.

The Register has to vacate its 220,000 square-foot Sargent Drive headquarters by the third week in August to allow its new owner, the Jordan Furniture chain, to move in.

The paper’s parent company, Digital First Media, had planned to move editorial employees to the 900 Chapel St. building downtown and other employees to a less expensive, car-friendlier spot. It needs around 15,000 to 20,000 square feet overall for an operation that has shrunk considerably over the years.

The company is believed to be in transition now to new ownership. Decision-makers at the company decided to keep all 160 employees in one location, and to seek the cheapest possible space with adequate parking. That quashed the 900 Chapel deal.

The company instead is moving forward with plan to move to a suburban office park-style complex on Gando Drive off Middletown Avenue, technically in New Haven right by the North Haven line.

The Register has submitted an application to city zoning officials seeking a site plan review for the renovations. The building, which had previously housed offices, is currently vacant.

The Register would occupy 18,000 square feet on two floors of the 160,000-square-foot building at 100 Gando Drive, according to the proposed site plan, submitted on April 17 by Journal Register Company CFO John Collins.

“The Register plans to renovate the space in order to create an open work environment,” Collins wrote in the application. “The Register will demolish certain walls, erect new partitions, install new ceilings and carpet,” and “modify the electric distribution, HVAC and sprinkler systems.”

Plans show an open central area of desks, with offices, conference rooms and small “huddle rooms” along the perimeter. Renovation would begin on May 1, 2014 and be complete by Aug. 1.

In an attached memorandum, Carolyn Kone, the attorney handling the Register’s proposal, argues that the move does not require a zoning variance. Although the area’s zoning regulations do not specifically allow newspapers, they do allow “news distribution enterprises.” Kone argues that that category applies to a newspaper in the digital age, when news gathering, writing, and distributing happen simultaneously. The Register will “distribute” news from Gando Drive over the internet, Kone writes.

Nemerson said his staff had hustled to work with property owners to steer the paper more toward the center of city commerce.

“I think newspapers should be downtown. Reporters and editors should breathe in the air of the whole region. They should be near the courthouses. They should be able to hang out in the local diners and interact with real people,” Nemerson argued.

He also argued that a downtown or near-downtown location would have had a better impact on the local economy because employees would work right by restaurants, dry cleaners, and other businesses.

To that end, Nemerson’s staff arranged with owners of four central-city properties to obtain discounted spaces at New Haven Parking Authority lots to offset the higher cost of parking—and compete better with Gando Drive, where parking is free. The properties included 900 Chapel, the old Fugazi Travel building at Brown and Water streets, and Science Park, according to Nemerson. He said the Register needed 135 spaces, double or triple the amount companies usually required per square foot of office space.

“Each [offer] was rejected” by the company, Nemerson said. “It seemed there were two different ownerships during negotiations. Whoever was calling the shots—and it wasn’t the people we were dealing with—said, ‘We prize lower costs’” above all.

Even with the discounted parking, Gando came out cheaper and more convenient, he said. In some ways that reflected the strength of the downtown real estate market, Nemerson argued.

“Thank God the market rate downtown is still $17 to $22 a square foot” and parking spaces cost $140 a month, he said. If the rates were lower, “I would think this was Schenectady.”

The Register used to be located on Orange Street. In the early 1980s the paper’s then-owners threatened to move to the suburbs. Then-Mayor Biagio DiLieto instead offered the company a heavily discounted price on city-owned land on Long Wharf to keep the paper in town.

Mayor Harp “was very clear that we would love to have the Register downtown, but it wasn’t worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in city subsidy,” Nemerson said.

Register officials could not be reached for comment for this story. Asked about the pending move, an official with Star Supply Company, which owns 100 Gando Drive, reported: “We have signed a confidentiality agreement with a potential tenant and as a result we are unable to disclose any information.”

Thomas MacMillan contributed reporting.

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posted by: Jones Gore on April 21, 2014  11:33am

Who the needs the register when you have the New Haven Independent. Besides they under cut their the guys that sale the paper on the corner by advertising that getting the paper delivered to your home is cheaper.  FTR.

posted by: anonymous on April 21, 2014  11:37am

Final nail in the Register’s coffin.

posted by: jackkramer1 on April 21, 2014  11:48am

As the former editor of the New Haven Register, sad, to me, that a way couldn’t be found for the Register to re-locate downtown. As it said, in story, a newspaper belongs in the hub of the city it covers. Frankly, it was one of the drawbacks (not being downtown) during the Register’s “prosperous’’ Long Wharf years.

Jack Kramer

posted by: FacChec on April 21, 2014  11:58am

“The Register used to be located on Orange Street. In the early 1980s the paper’s then-owners threatened to move to the suburbs.
Then-Mayor Biagio DiLieto instead offered the company a heavily discounted price on city-owned land on Long Wharf to keep the paper in town”.

Mayor Harp “was very clear that we would love to have the Register downtown, but it wasn’t worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in city subsidy,” Nemerson said.

Since the Register could not be reached to comment on this story, perhaps Nemerson could clarify his statement..
“but it wasn’t worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in city subsidy,”

The question is what Subsidy worth million of dollars was it not worth?

The New Haven Register has four property accounts listed with the tax collector’s office. Each of the below accounts are paid to date and receive zero exemptions, according to the tax collector’s office.

Property Description Property Type Owner Tax Account ID VIN Number
121 HALLOCK AV   REAL ESTATE   NEW HAVEN REGISTER INC   13531  
40 SARGENT DR   REAL ESTATE   NEW HAVEN REGISTER INC   13540  
121 HALLOCK AV   REAL ESTATE   NEW HAVEN REGISTER LLC   13531  
40 SARGENT DR   REAL ESTATE   NEW HAVEN REGISTER LLC   13540

So just what is Nemerson talking about when he say’s it’s just as well the Register did not move downtown?

If that we true why was Nemerson pursuing the Register to move in the first place? Was he offering a subsidy to move downtown and did not say so?

what’s up with that Mat?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 21, 2014  12:31pm

“The company instead is moving forward with plan to move to a suburban office park-style complex on Gando Drive off Middletown Avenue, technically in New Haven right by the North Haven line.”

Soon you won’t need to go all the way to Route 80 to find ex-urban developments in New Haven because office park-style blocks are coming to Route 34 West. In a few years, Route 34 West will be scattered with a handful of office park and drive-thru-style retail boxes with a few housing boxes sited arbitrarily on a site near the Boulevard. This area will become a suburban office park-style development near the West Haven border, technically in New Haven.

posted by: Pantagruel on April 21, 2014  12:44pm

How is it not a good thing the Register is staying in New Haven? “Technically in New Haven”  = New Haven.

And why isn’t this good for the development of that undeveloped area?

“Who needs the register when you have the New Haven Independent”?

With all due respect to the Independent—a vital local institution—the Register, even it its reduced state, still employs many more people and has more economic impact.

Imagine the teeth gnashing if it was to be “technically in North Haven.”

posted by: Stylo on April 21, 2014  1:06pm

That’s really too bad. Downtown would also give them relevance and exposure to all the visitors, students, workers, and residents in downtown New Haven. They had a ton of visibility from 95 too. It sounds like they will be hidden now, one more step to irrelevance to the city and obscurity. At least some vacant space is getting filled in the city, it’s just too bad it’s not downtown.

I’m guessing that spot downtown was kept available for a long time for the Register, which makes it morally questionable that they back out. Hopefully the space gets filled with a tenant that will be more appreciative and reliable.

RIP New Haven Register.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on April 21, 2014  9:14pm

It’s really sad the Register couldn’t find a way and the money to at least put its frontline reporters in a downtown office. The rest of the operation could have been placed over on Gando Drive. But those reporting on New Haven and the region should be based in the heart of downtown, and feel the pulse of the city. Something is wrong when reporters have to drive in to town to cover a story. The Register misses a great opportunity and continues its slide with this choice.

posted by: citoyen on April 21, 2014  9:41pm

Where, please, on Orange Street, did the Register used to be located?  What a fascinating bit of information—left hanging!  I can’t picture where it might have been.  Surely south of Trumbull Street somewhere.  Not the former Arena block, before the FBI took it over.  The now-parking-lot, across from the McQueeney housing building?  Or the parking lots between Wall and Elm, near Christy’s?  The site of the Federal building behind City Hall, before the Feds built?  Unlikely somewhere in the Ninth Square.  And surely not the Coliseum site.  Google is not helping me.  I feel confident help is out there somewhere . . .

posted by: MatthewNemerson on April 21, 2014  10:42pm

FacChec

Not sure I follow your question, but let me try an answer…under the leadership of our project manager Latoya Cowan who handled the many options and changes in the Register’s needs very well, we had to consider how much we would discount and supply various landlords with city controlled parking spaces (that have a list price of about $140/month)or loan money to downtown locations to make their spaces more price competitive. At the end of the day we realized we were not only competing with ourselves (another New Haven location) but that it would probably cost us over $150,000 a year just to have a slim chance to move the Register a few miles for a few years. Our development incentive money is precious and is better saved for some future firm moving into the area from far away bringing with it many sustainable new jobs for New Haveners.

We do regret not being able to help out downtown merchants who would have benefited from the Register staff’s patronage and also the general knowledge and empathy that reporters and editors get from being part of the lifeblood and hubbub of the center of a region instead of stuck in the middle of an industrial parking lot.

At the end of the day the Register’s owners are sophisticated business people and they have to make decisions that they consider best for their own financial health as well as operational goals.

Another issue to consider in the aftermath of the 35 year journey of the NHR from Orange Street to Long Wharf (into the old Gant Factory) and now seemingly to Gando Drive is that the City has to be careful to retain key industrial sites - We have now lost 220,000 sqft that was the Register and whatever space is being converted on Gando. Industrial space creates strong jobs at good wages - albeit when there is demand. But, once lost or converted to retail or office, it is very hard to recreate.

posted by: mstratton on April 22, 2014  9:06am

I am not an apologist for the mayor or Matt but they put in a good effort and nhr to its credit stayed in new haven without getting any tax credits. This is a yeoman effort that resulted in a win for new haven though not the home run we all would have liked. The fancy tinkering with the tax rate where we give some a break and others no break is bad policy. Better policy is creating an optimum tax rate goal and setting a firm time line. Without impacting services, and actually enhancing many we could be at a mill rate of 35 this year and down to 28 by 2017. This would set our local economy on fire—driving up home values, increasing population, and most importantly creating the 4000-5000 live able wage jobs that our inner city and middle class neighborhoods are starving for. So Matt, how about setting an optimum tax rate and a timeline? Just stating that this administration understands the importance of lower taxes and the immense benefits we would reap if we lowered them would create optimism and hope. The “we are in line with peer cities” story is unconvincing to any prudent potential homebuyer or businessperson. Kudos for getting this ball rolling by going for the best policy not the best story.

posted by: jackkramer1 on April 22, 2014  9:21am

The Register was located on 300 Orange Street - the old SNET building - before the move to Long Wharf.

posted by: FacChec on April 22, 2014  10:27am

Matt, thank you for your response, albeit, somewhat murkily. It now appears the NHR did you a great favor by not taking the downtown site, moving instead to Gondo Dr. While the move allows Jordan furniture to take the site, read that here:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/jordans_cleared_for_launch/

Jordan will now occupy the register site without any tax abatement, or you having to lower parking rates for the current tenants.
(Nemerson’s staff arranged with owners of four central-city properties to obtain discounted spaces at New Haven Parking Authority lots to offset the higher cost of parking—and compete better with Gando Drive, where parking is free. The properties included 900 Chapel, the old Fugazi Travel building at Brown and Water streets, and Science Park, according to Nemerson).

In the finality Matt, it appears you backed your way into a win-win situation without causing New Haven more unneeded auto Smug.

posted by: Edward Francis on April 22, 2014  2:23pm

citoyen ask the question “Where, please, on Orange Street, did the Register used to be located?  What a fascinating bit of information—left hanging!”  Jack Kramer gave the address. I’ll give you the location.  The New Haven Register and the New Haven Journal Courier (morning paper) were located at the corner of Orange Street and Audubon Street.  The presses rolled out the papers from the Audubon Street side.  It was not unusual for known publicity people to enter the building from the side street during the evening and venture over to a typewriter on the second floor and pound out a news story (usually a local baseball, softball, little league, basketball park recreation summary of the game.  The sports writers and sports editor of the papers were very accommodating.  No security issues during that era.

posted by: citoyen on April 22, 2014  8:21pm

Thanks so much to Jack Kramer and Edward Francis.  I am surmising that if the Register was located at the corner of Orange and Audubon, it must indeed have been where there is now a parking lot (east side of Orange) across from the McQueeney housing building.  Fascinating!  Who knew (besides old-timers—and maybe Jonathan Hopkins)?

So it used to be an authentic, New-Haven-centered (literally) paper, through most of the 20th century.

I wonder what might have happened if DiLieto hadn’t caved to pressure, and had called their bluff.  “Fine, move to the suburbs.”  Would they have done so?  If so, would the paper have kept the name “New Haven” Register?  Would it still have gone bankrupt?

The successful advent of the NHI proves there is still a demand for a New-Haven-centered news source.  Totally different business model, but it flourishes while the Register becomes an increasing embarrassment.

I wonder when WTNH will threaten to move to the suburbs.

posted by: MatthewNemerson on April 22, 2014  8:46pm

FacChec - I think there is still some confusion. The Register negotiated a long term lease to Jordon’s last year. Nothing we are doing now has any impact on that deal or the inevitable moves each are making.

The question was, once Jordon’s exercised its option (which it did last month) where would the Register actually move its offices.  While that had been a casual conversation starting in January it became critical for the Register a few weeks ago because Jordon’s wants to start renovating this fall.  Our conversations with the NHR had no impact on Jordon’s - that deal and the change in zoning to allow a big box store in a huge manufacturing facility was approved last year. 

Part of the City’s rationale in 2013 -  although certainly in theory only, was that it would all work out well because the Register would relocate to an exciting downtown “newscenter” on a prominent street location. 

However, things changed with the paper’s plans and we are left now to hope the Register at least stays healthy and doesn’t downsize any more and that Jordon’s hires lots of people and becomes a prominent member of the city and regional business community.

Onward to the new issues tomorrow.

As an historical point, companies such as the Register once paid very large property taxes to the city - and their business property bill probably was almost as large as their real estate taxes due to the presses and other specialized equipment.  if you go back 100 years you will see the city collecting about 30% of its total taxes from manufacturing equipment alone. Those were the days.  Of course those taxes were also a reason so many firms left for the south or the suburbs after WW2 and into the 60s.  The old model for financing cities such as New Haven is not coming back any time soon - sad to say.

posted by: MatthewNemerson on April 22, 2014  8:50pm

One final point -  as a higher schooler I spent many a fall Saturday afternoon at the Register filing my story about Amity football sitting next to real sports reporters at real typewriters.  It was a heady and exciting part of growing up.  I still miss the old wreck of a building on Orange and Audubon…

posted by: leibzelig on April 23, 2014  7:53am

Yes, the papers were located at Orange and Audubon with the address as 367 Orange St. The company owned property from Orange to State on the south side of Audubon about half way to Grove, and there was a parking lot on the other side of Audubon, the half block closer to State.  The reporters and editors could walk to City Hall,the state and federal courts the Hall of Records and, most important, Malone’s Three Steins Grill at Church and Grove or if so inclined, Clark’s Dairy and the Jury Box a few yards north on Whitney. It was a convenient location, but there was no room for the new presses, so it was either build on that site or move to the old Gant shirt factory near Long Wharf.
It seems to me now that the city could carve out some space in City Hall or the Hall of Records for a press room, so reporters could be downtown. The shame is that the building housing Malone’s was blown up and the lot where Journal-Courier and Register staffers held choir practice on Thursday nights, fueled by beer from Malone’s, is now a parking garage. Those were the days.

posted by: Paul Bass on April 23, 2014  8:03am

The Register was still at that Orange Street location when I wrote for the paper as a college student. I remember how the city editor, Tom Hubbard, used to take a long walk around downtown in the middle of every day. He would inevitably return with story leads.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 23, 2014  9:02am

Here is a photo from 1968 of the front of the old Register building at the corner of Orange and Audubon Streets:

http://www.cthistoryonline.org/cdm/ref/collection/cho/id/14264

posted by: William Kurtz on April 23, 2014  12:36pm

Pantagruel asked,

“How is it not a good thing the Register is staying in New Haven? “Technically in New Haven”  = New Haven.

And why isn’t this good for the development of that undeveloped area?”

All of New Haven is in New Haven, but some parts are technically more in New Haven than others.

posted by: citoyen on April 23, 2014  2:26pm

I knew it!  J. Hopkins, you’re the best.  Thank you for the photo!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 23, 2014  3:47pm

“All of New Haven is in New Haven, but some parts are technically more in New Haven than others.”

In fact, the entire eastern bank of the Quinnipiac River was part of the Town of East Haven until the City of New Haven annexed it in 1895. “The Annex” also didn’t pay taxes to the City of New Haven until 1957 when the Fairmont Association, the former local government that serviced the area, was dissolved.

citoyen,

No doubt; here’s a 1964 aerial view of the Register building in context:

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/1920x1280/106041287.jpg

posted by: citoyen on April 23, 2014  11:52pm

Jonathan,
Your latest is as interesting for showing the old Arena building, and the gash into Trumbull Street from Exit 3 off of I-91, as it is for the Register building.  (Plus the vividness of what I assume is the Farmington Canal right-of-way running diagonally between Whitney and Grove, and then right past the Arena.)
Thanks again.

posted by: August West on April 25, 2014  6:13pm

It’s great that the City is so openly and adamantly steering a 20,000 sf tenant (for, lets face it, the political agenda of the office of Economic Development) AWAY from the guy that has had a vested interest, and tax generating business in New Haven for over fifty years.  I’m sure that any prospective investor of office space development will be relieved to have read this nonsense before they invested in New Haven.  Stellar job.

posted by: Bob Maturo on April 27, 2014  10:22am

Iwonderhowlongtheregisterwillbearound.?

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