Dreams, Critiques Fill Matthew’s (e)Mailbox

Paul Bass PhotoOne correspondent pitched an idea for a music festival, another for converting an empty bank building into an arts center. A third took on City Hall’s commitment to the god of “new urbanism,” while a fourth blamed government for weak sales at an upscale boutique.

Imagine you were Matthew Nemerson (pictured at left), city government’s economic development chief. You would get email like that.

Nemerson received those emails recently, among dozens of others reviewed as part of a Freedom of Information request.

Nemerson’s emails—covering a period in early April—reflect a new reality in New Haven: People with money want to spend it here to buy and fix downtown buildings to fill with new offices, apartments (especially), and stores. More so than his predecessors, Nemerson faces a challenge of steering those proposals to reality, as opposed to simply trying to convince people to invest here in the first place.

Some recent Independent stories have detailed the bigger-picture behind-the-scenes development efforts contained in the e-mail file: a quest to find CRN a downtown home for its corporate headquarters; a request by a builder to buy a city-owned empty lot on Orange Street; a tire-recycler’s proposal to build a state-assisted plant in Fair Haven; a plan to sell the old Strong School; Nemerson’s campaign to convince the New Haven Register to move downtown rather than to the space it ultimately chose in an I-91 office park by the North Haven border.

The file also contained smaller ideas floated but not eventually pursued, as well as debate about the direction economic and business development is taking in New Haven. Four examples follow:

“Robert, For Goodness Sake”

(Nemerson was cc’d on a discussion that began between local architect Robert Orr and Christopher “Kip” Bergstrom, the state’s deputy commissioner of economic and community development; Nemerson subsequently jumped in. The discussion, joined here mid-way, concerned the Route 34 West project, pictured.)

On Sun, April 6, 2014 at 10:44 AM Robert Orr wrote to Bergstrom:

The image below [pictured at top of this story] compares New Haven’s latest “mixed-use,” “smart-growth” project taking up several blocks of Route 34 to the image below [the second image at the top of this story] of a street in Boston (off the top of my head, I can’t think of any street in Connecticut that approaches this, Stonington maybe), which is what I call a great and completely do-able representation of “project civilization order” as it once was, and can become if only people start placing excellence as their objective instead of superfluous algorithms, like I would argue Providence has done and New Haven, Hartford… ALL of Connecticut assiduously avoids, sticking to superfluous algorithms like stink on a monkey. No one in CT, except you, even gets the difference. Maddening! Sad!

On April 6, 2014, at 6:25PM, Matthew Nemerson wrote:

Robert - for goodness sake - no one thinks the route 34 project has anything to do with new urbanism or place making - we are trying to make the best of a narrow strip of land between two state arterials with limit[ed] ability to add any street side/facing amenities due to the narrowness of the roads themselves. We have stated many times the best we can do with this land and the state imposed limitations is to try to activate the cross streets. If wishes were horses beggars would ride. Please save your criticisms for projects that at least purport to be new urbanistic such as Coliseum site!

On April 15, 2014, Robert Orr wrote:

Hi Matt,

Been distracted, so sorry for not getting back sooner. Actually, it is important. Land near medical campuses, much less multiple campuses, has among the highest potential value of any land in a city, though rarely seen for such. Medical campuses and the vast commutation they stir up, work just like heavily used transit stations (TOD [transit-oriented development]), and properly managed can offer similar rewards (to developers, to municipalities, and to the public), like the more than $3 billion garnered in the Pearl District in Portland, an area about the size of the Route 34 displacement. What a missed opportunity to squander. Instead of being defeated by traffic studies, rise to the call of great streets. Place Commonwealth Avenue in your sights (like we did in the ignored Route 34 Workshop couple years ago), and suddenly Route 34 becomes a place where everyone wants to be (terminating tower is proposal for Winstanley labs):

Regarding the Coliseum, I gave a lecture on the project last week to gathered New England econ and plan people in Somerville, MA comparing tax revenues for the current mega-block proposal to tax revenues for a lean, conventional, incremental, mulit-player, street-fronting approach. Twice the tax revenues at half the building height, and no $33,000,0000 state/municipal grant required.

The Young, Hipster Crowd Loves This

[Nemerson also eventually entered this discussion over the possibility of adding another music festival to the city’s annual music line-up.]

From: Randy
Sent: Monday March 24, 2014 4:01 PM
To: Win Davis
Subject: New Haven Concerts - Ultra Radio

March 24, 2014

Mr. Win Davis
Executive Director
Town Green Special Services District

Dear Win,

Ultra Radio could produce concerts for the city with high quality Connecticut bands. We have a ten year track record with our Blues, Berries, and Jam concert series in Temple Street Plaza and the New Haven Green.

As with Blues, Berries, and Jam, the city would provide the location and electricity. The Parks Department stage that we use for B.B.J. has a generator to produce its own electricity.

Our part would be:
1) Booking and paying for the bands and sound system
2) Coordinating bands’ load-in, sound check, and load out
3) Providing an emcee for stage announcements
4) Publicizing the event with social media, flyers, banners, e-mails, and press releases

Our cost per event would be $1,500.
Thank you for thinking of us.


Randy Borovsky


>>>Matthew Nemerson 3/25/2014 2:16 PM [To city arts chief Andrew Wolf, Economic Development Corporation chief Ginny Kozlowski, Market New Haven chief Anne Worcester, among others]>>>
A bit more than we hoped—still in ballpark. Andy can you look at this and weigh in your thoughts?

From: Andrew Wolf
To: Nemerson Matthew
Sent: 3/25/2014 3:17:03 PM
Subject: Re: New Haven Concerts - Ultra Radio

Hello Mr. Matt,

I did respond to Ginny directly (to engage in a discourse) about the proposal which I like very much since the expenditure on equipment and concert production “values” can often exceed the cost of talent.

What I was thinking is along the lines of the Hollywood Bowl schedule re: World Music in New Haven. Specifically, if we segment the program into defined tracks (as Sirius Radio does) there might be Seriously Sinatra, Bluesville, Bee-Bop, Hey Soul Sister, Reggae, Cubano, etc. etc.

The young, hipster crowd loves this type of programming as do quite a few Baby Boomers ... Something for everyone is the goal with great sound and food, food, food generating income to the city. There could be a tie-in to the clubs for an after-party and I would really love to produce a video of welcome by the Mayor before each program to highlight that the evening is without cost to the patrons (very different from “free”) due to the support and passion for the arts by corporate sponsors (their logos) and individuals just like you ... with an envelope distributed for our non-profit New Haven Festivals for anyone to donate following the concert. Given the fee barrier for the Green ... we can (I hope) distribute an envelope to contribute tax-free to support our amazing and comprehensive arts program in New Haven.

I look forward to meeting with Ginny on Friday to review and consolidate ideas and dates (budgets too of course) into an action plan.

In all publicity and promotions I think the word “Free” should be replaced with Be Our Guest—No Charge. Most civic entities are realizing that the word “Free” is taken for granted. Money comes from somewhere….Smile.

My Best.

[Note: Borovsky said this week that the city had elicited the proposal from him, and then decided not to pursue it. The city did expand his Blues, Berries & Jam series this year.]

From: mnemerson@newhavenct.net
To: awolf@newhavenct.net
Subject: Re: New Haven Concerts - Ultra Radio
Date: 25-Mar-2014 17:14

Love it.

Boutique Blues

From: reginamct@me.com
To: Mnemerson@newhavenct.net
Subject: Retail Store Business in Downtown New Haven
Date: 28-Mar-2014 10:15

Dear Matthew:

First of all thank you for your readiness to listen to our frustrations concerning our business in New Haven.

Our Agabhuni store is approaching the end of its second year at 1020 Chapel Street. We feel now, as we did when we signed our lease with Yale Properties, that there may be no finer location in New Haven than the one that we currently occupy. The initial response to the New Haven store was enthusiastic and we were very much encouraged.

Unfortunately, our first 6 months turned out to be our best 6 months. Our Holiday business, which we all rely on to make our year was beyond dismal. In fact we did considerably less business for holiday 2013 than we did in our first holiday season in 2012. This diminished business came in the face of our best merchandise selection. Further, this result is the opposite of the results for our other two locations in the USA (Stamford and Santa Monica, CA).

The biggest issue as we see is foot traffic. In November and December walk in (and walk by) was horrendous. This of course was not limited to our store but rather the entire Chapel Street district. In the months of January and February the street has been empty and our financial losses have quickly mounted.

We have met with Yale properties and with the Chamber of Commerce to share our ideas and to listen to theirs concerning generating more interest on the street. We have increased our advertising even to the extent of running television commercials. To date our efforts have not had any positive effect.

The shopping area on Chapel is vital to the success of New Haven as a destination. Restaurants alone will not carry the burden of a successful downtown.

Regina, my wife and partner in this business, and I have insights and ideas that we would like to share with you. We look forward to meeting with you and any others whom you would feel might be instrumental in helping all of us to find ways to restore the vitality to Chapel Street (and by extension to the rest of the New Haven community).

I have cc’d in this email our publicist, Mike Sprouse. Mike, a Connecticut native now operating Sprouse Marketing in Chicago, is very familiar with the new Haven community and is also available for conversation on this subject.


Michael Kirshbaum

I can be reached by phone at:
203 325 2274 (Agabhumi in Stamford)

[Note: Kirshbaum said that he subsequently connected with Nemerson: “I did talk to him. We talked about my frustrations. He has the same kind of frustration that we do.”]

Bank On Arts?

>>>Paul Mayer 3/25/2014 7:03 PM>>>>

Hi Matt,

Paul Mayer from 9 Arts Management here. It was a pleasure to meet you the other day at our walk through for our proposed Cultural Arts Hub at the Bank building on Church and Crown St.

We are proceeding with the HPACP Grant application we spoke to you about and plan to have a draft in place by Friday. Will you be our point person with the City of New Haven or will you be directing us to someone else? I would love to meet and get the City’s input with whomever it may be.

We are excited to work with you on this extraordinary opportunity for the residents of New haven and our community!

Best Regards,
Paul Mayer
9 Arts Management

From: mnemerson@newhavenct.net
To: 9artsmanagement@gmail.com, awolf@newhavenct.net
Subject: Re: HPACP Grant
Date: 25-Mar-2014 20:03


Great to meet you the other day - even for just a few minutes.

Andy Wolf will be the point person on this grant for us and should be brought up to speed right away with a tour of the building and description of your concepts.

He will keep the Mayor and myself in the loop. Mendi Blue of the city should also be briefed—she is in charge of grants for the city.


Matthew Nemerson
City of New Haven
Economic Development Administrator

[Note: The building’s owner, David Goldblum, said some preliminary conversations took place about Mayer’s idea, but “it’s not at a place where anybody is ready to move forward.”]


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posted by: TheMadcap on July 11, 2014  3:17pm

As for the botique, part of their problem could be in later November/December, you suddenly have an exodus of 5-6,000 downtown residents, i.e. Yale undergrads.

posted by: anonymous on July 11, 2014  3:34pm

“We have stated many times the best we can do with this land is to try to activate the cross streets.”

Wow. Imagine if someone at City Hall had written this about East Rock or Westville. 

Instead of speaking to Kip, ConnDOT, and Malloy, our City Hall is essentially writing off the health and fortunes of several neighborhoods, and all of the children who live in them, in perpetuity.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on July 11, 2014  3:35pm

Very interesting insight into the behind-the-scenes world of economic development in New Haven. I can’t even imagine the kinds of problems that Nemerson must hear about day-in and day-out.

I can’t help but wonder why Chapel St. has so many boutique-style stores, though. I am sure Yale loves this sort of tenant, but is New Haven really the sort of affluent community like Stamford which should be focused on this style of retail?

One thing which has baffled me is the lack of any sort of video game retailer. Video games are huge business in the U.S. and there is nowhere downtown to buy games. Plus, games are cross-cultural—played by both townies and Yalies. Even if you wanted to avoid a chain like GameStop, there’s Game XChange, which has locations in Orange and Wallingford and carries vintage games. I’d think a place like that would do very well in New Haven with the young population. But I’m not an economic development professional. Just some dude who doesn’t like wearing pants.

posted by: NH_Needs_HELP on July 11, 2014  8:40pm

Sd reali.ty is .... bad for business. Development is done in reality based on a hedged risk. Fantasy land is a right turn off the highway. Like that Mr. Orr got the your fine from Nemerson

New Haven offers a good business core. This boutique needs a new landlord…..Yale Properties is demanding and costly. Perhaps the boutique can get a vendor permit and setup at other sites within Yale campus. Get creative or bust. Look at the restaurants and other shops that come and go. How many of these do we need..just like in the wig district on Chapel Street? The local economy can not support crap…..Be hip or ultra hood but don’t replicate what exists. Yale may dream of New Haven’s Rodeo Drive being chapel street given the vast improvement on Broadway this street-scape will continue to be nice but you will not see New Haven locals doing a whole lot of business there.Yale and visitors only.

posted by: 4Good on July 11, 2014  9:08pm

This guy is a loose cannon, he’s all over the place, to think he thought he could be Mayor? SMH

Keep digging in his emails, I’m sure you will unearth a meatier story.  He has done nothing and will accomplish nothing.  Mayor Harp should reconsider the whole ED Department and look for folks like Murphy, who are properly educated in urban planning.  It’s going to be a long, long 2 years ...

posted by: robn on July 11, 2014  10:52pm

Strange that it took an email FOI to reveal this character because, in this age of poor written expression and inadvertant flame mail, emails usually don’t covey the real person. However in this case I feel like these excerpts give me some modest insight to M.Nemerson that I’ve heretofore lacked. His indelible sense of dry humor surely marks him as a NH lifer.

posted by: Mary Brown on July 14, 2014  7:49am

They should consider building more recreational businesses, like a movie theater that carries major movies, an arcade, or a roller skating rink. Why can’t we attract more big name stores like Macy’s and Target? We shouldn’t have to go to Milford to shop.

posted by: TheMadcap on July 14, 2014  10:54am

Generally because the city doesn’t want big box stores downtown, plus it makes no sense from a market perspective. You have just about every major store you can think of up Dixwell on the busiest bus line in the city 15-20 minutes from downtown in Hamden.

posted by: HewNaven on July 14, 2014  1:55pm

How much is free consulting from Robert Orr worth? Plenty!!

Listen to Orr, please!

posted by: wendy1 on July 14, 2014  8:36pm

Welcome to Detroit….Our economy is in the shitter and this guy is digging for gold.  This city is a ghetto with a fancy fake school in the middle of it.  Yale is only interested in money, getting richer, and appearing good to outsiders.  This city is full of poor and desparate people.  It’s time to focus on this reality.  Between the increasing crime, taxes, pollution don’t expect “business” to move in or even come close.  The local non-profits are weak and hapless so govt. must step into the frey.

posted by: Ray W on July 15, 2014  11:04am

Shades, a few years ago there was a Hollywood Video in the Whalley Stop & Shop plaza that had their game-stop equivalent whose name I cannot recall. Even though their staff lacked the insight into their product that I expect from video game retailers it was a great place to buy games downtown, even better that I worked at the Criterion at the time and could plug my consoles into the big screens after hours for smash bros and halo with friends. I lament that it is now an autozone or something. Video games are a weird market because its really dominated, at least from a retail perspective, by the big guys and small game companies are relegated to Steam and similar PC sites and have no retail equivalent for consumers to congregate. In the vein of Mary Browns comment, what we could really use is a bar-arcade like Ground Kontrol in Portland or Barcade in Brooklyn. It would appeal to the nightlifes fondness for inebriation and the mainstreams acceptance of nerd culture. I imagine CTs archaic blue laws are tougher to get such an establishment off the ground than in NY or OR but I think it’d really take off. If you have the capital you could do it, and even make it pants-optional!