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Retail Gurus’ Conclusion: Neighborhood Districts Need A Task Force

by Allan Appel | Mar 14, 2014 5:45 pm

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

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Neighborhoods, Dixwell, Fair Haven, The Hill, Whalley

thomas macmillan photo After touring four of New Haven’s neighborhood commercial districts this week, two out-of-town experts unveiled their main suggestion Friday afternoon: Form a task force.

The consultants, John Simone and Kent Burnes, came to New Haven this week at the invitation of Mayor Toni Harp. They are putting together a plan to help Harp deliver on one of her main campaign promises, to boost neighborhood commercial corridors. The quasi-public Economic Development Corporation (EDC) put up $10,000 to pay them for their time and work.

Friday afternoon the consultants gave a progress report to about 40 people gathered at the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St. They plan to submit a formal written report within 30 days.

Their main suggestion, they said, is that a number of city departments as well as the EDC form a task force to come up with a plan to make improvements in all the four districts they visited: Congress Avenue, Dixwell Avenue, Grand Avenue, and Whalley Avenue. They suggested that the task force identify a “Main Street coordinator” to oversee implementation of that plan.

Burnes said the consultants picked up on common needs in all four districts, including crime prevention, a unified vision, a more engaged community, addressing blight, youth engagement, and beautification.

“I didn’t do a retail leaking study,” Burnes said. Then he went on to assert: “But you’re leaking hundreds of millions of [retail] dollars. I saw what people are wearing, and they didn’t buy it in the neighborhood. And it’s not from Wal-Mart.”

The consultants also offered some observations unique to districts. Such as:

• Dixwell has a “rich, proud history” but no plan to boost business now.

• Congress Avenue doesn’t have a future a retail district drawing from beyond the neighborhood but does have opportunities to draw in daytime hospital and medical school workers with new housing and stores. (Click here for a story about how the consultants missed seeing some of the district’s commercial and civic strengths during their visit.)

• Grand Avenue needs better branding, beautification, and a building up of what its special service district has started.

• Whalley has 30,000 cars pass along it every day. “Wow,” Burnes said. But, he added, the avenue suffers from a poor “visual quality” and “pedestrian-friendly environment.” “It’s because of those 30,000 cars,” suggested activist Cordalie Benoit. To which Burnes responded: “They can work together.”

Overall, Burnes said, “We’ve been on the ground for 96 hours. This is a beginning.”

Elizabeth Hayes, who owns Rite-Way Cleaners on Dixwell Avenue and hopes to open a tailoring school, pressed Steve Fontana, the city’s deputy economic development chief, on next steps.

“What is your plan to carry out the plan, to set it in motion?” she asked him at Friday’s meeting.

“This is a process. This is a start. This is the commitment of the mayor. I think we have to all hold each other accountable,” he responded.

To which Hayes responded: “When you have something as comprehensive as this, it gets put on the shelf when the lure wears off. Let’s get an interim coordinator like Fontana to get it going.”

Mayor Toni Harp said she might want to use the study to help the city qualify for state “Main Street” grant dollars often steered to smaller communities. Whether or not that happens, she said Friday, she believes New Haven already has resources, like a commercial facade program, to boost neighborhood districts. This week’s process and upcoming study, she said, can help the city focus those resources and address the rebirth of neighborhood commercial districts as a whole.


Previous stories in this series:

Dixwell Fact-Finders Urged To Include Youth In The Picture
They Sort Of Saw Congress Ave.‘s Potential
On Grand, Fixers Find Litter
Neighborhood Fact-Finding Mission Begins

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posted by: Bill Saunders on March 14, 2014  5:56pm

“What is your plan to carry out the plan?”

Well, obviously, yet another task force within the task force of personally picked, connected out of towners….

or, maybe they call that ‘steering committee”.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on March 14, 2014  6:00pm

Whalley merchants and landlords better wake up to the fact that Mayor Harp and Centerplan are about to launch the beginnings of a new retail corridor along Rte 34 from Dwight to the Boulevard.

These will be quick, easy land sales, and big box retail will bring rapid additions to the Grand list. However it will be horrible for Whalley Avenue, Beaver Hills, and the Edgewood Park neighborhood.

Obviously this City needs more housing, not a new retail strip. Insist that the land not be sold cheaply to Centerplan, at least without a lot more details.

posted by: ohnonotagain on March 14, 2014  6:54pm

Looks like they got $10,000 to recommend a task force. Geesh

posted by: Elizabethaiken on March 14, 2014  7:58pm

We paid $10,000 for someone to tell the city to form a task force of relevant city agencies ? Wow!

posted by: Threefifths on March 14, 2014  8:52pm

Elizabeth Hayes, who owns Rite-Way Cleaners on Dixwell Avenue and hopes to open a tailoring school, pressed Steve Fontana, the city’s deputy economic development chief, on next steps.

“What is your plan to carry out the plan, to set it in motion?” she asked him at Friday’s meeting.

“This is a process. This is a start. This is the commitment of the mayor. I think we have to all hold each other accountable,” he responde


Black folks wake up.Again you are being sold Snake-Oil.You will be moving out.This is a land grab.How many of you remmeber The Empowerment Zone Program.It was suppose to help distressed urban and rural communities that may be eligible for a combination of grants, tax credits for businesses, bonding authority and other benefits.Just like the Empowerment Zone Program sold you all snake-oil,These folks are sell you snake-oil two.

posted by: wendy1 on March 15, 2014  10:47am

Another mistake by the city.  Yale used to do this to the hospital where I worked, hire consultants for huge money who then offered advice that made things much worse for the workers.  YNHH was not interested in the workers or their opinions.

posted by: wendy1 on March 15, 2014  6:18pm

What is a retail leak?  And is it happening to me??  If my clothes do not come from the neighborhood or Walmart (the right answer) then where are they from??  Around here, it could be the basement of St. Paul and St. James.

So these guys got a good look at our corridors of poverty and decided they look poor.  $10,000 for stating the obvious.  This is like the 3 million dollar grant got to study why college students drink.

posted by: Paul Wessel on March 16, 2014  8:22am

Someone from the City should work with Elizabeth Hayes on the tailoring school idea.  She’s proven herself a consistent, committed business operator who cares about her neighborhood.  Build from that.

Politicians like people who talk about plans for how you can home runs.

Communities are built by people who get up everyday, go do their work and consistently hit singles and doubles.

posted by: HewNaven on March 16, 2014  9:49am

“I didn’t do a retail leaking study,” Burnes said. Then he went on to assert: “But you’re leaking hundreds of millions of [retail] dollars. I saw what people are wearing, and they didn’t buy it in the neighborhood. And it’s not from Wal-Mart.”

I have no doubt that a major source of ‘retail leakage’ along these corridors is the ‘Dirt Mall’ (i.e. outdoor flea market) on the Boulevard. Clothing is way cheaper out there then in these little neighborhood boutiques, which may or may not even exist. You can’t blame people in these poor neighborhoods for shopping for discounted, albeit counterfeit, clothing..

posted by: Don in New Haven on March 17, 2014  10:13pm

Can someone please tell me why our Mayor did not take it on herself to organize members of our City Departments to resolve any issues concerning these streets?

She could have given me and any other City resident $1,000 (a 90% saving) to tell the Department heads what to do. I suggest that our recommendations would be superior to any she will get from these so-called experts. If this is why she raised our taxes, we must rethink what we have done.

Am I the only one who has read about Staples, Radio Shack, Walmart and other box stores closing thousands of stores around the State and the country? This is the 21st century and we are witnessing a shift to online ordering.

Opening a store is not cheap, especially in a high property tax city like New Haven. We all breathed a sigh of relief when Johnny D said he had enough of us. Why do I feel like I am gasping now? Her 2-year term has just begun!

posted by: RhyminTyman on March 18, 2014  1:33pm

Hew, I don’t think he meant that(hence the Walmart comment). I think he might mean how a person in New Haven has to drive to Milford to go Macy, Target, The Gap, Marshall’s, etc. I don’t think he took time to noticed that people where buying knock off clothes. On top of that, the Dirt Mall isn’t really retail leakage, especially when he is talking about the people who drive through Dixwell every day.

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