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City Wants To Hand Over Shubert ... To Shubert

by Melissa Bailey | Feb 5, 2013 8:12 am

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

Posted to: Arts & Culture, Theater, City Hall

Melissa Bailey Photo New Haven might be getting out of the theater-landlord business—with the aim, one day, of maybe even stepping away from the theater-subsidy business.

That revelation came Monday night tucked into Mayor John DeStefano’s 20th and final “State of the City” address.

Outlining plans for his final year in office, Mayor John DeStefano vowed to get the Shubert Theater off of the city’s hands and reboot long-stalled plans to tear down and rebuild the Church Street South housing projects. He also in passing dramatically lowered one of his main goals for school reform—claiming New Haven will close the statewide achievement gap in 2018 rather than 2015.

DeStefano’s address took place in the Aldermanic Chambers of City Hall. DeStefano, who just announced plans not to seek an 11th two-year term, used the occasion to map out what he hopes to accomplish in his final 330 days in the mayor’s seat. His speech outlined some longstanding goals, such as staying the course of the city’s school reform drive and its shift to community policing, and a couple of new proposals.  Click here to read his speech.

One new idea concerned the Shubert, the legendary College Street theater that served for years as a test stage for future Broadway musicals.

The theater, which is set to turn 100 next year, has struggled to make ends meet over the years. It went shuttered for over a decade before reopening in 1985. The city now owns the building and retains a private not-for-profit group, Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), to manage the space. City subsidies have helped keep the theater afloat; the city contributed $250,000 towards the Shubert’s operating budget this fiscal year. (State Rep. Pat Dillon is currently seeking $3.45 million in state bonding for long-term repairs.)

DeStefano called for a deal that would “transfer ownership and responsibility” of the theater “out of city hands and to a professional not-for-profit theater operator.” After his speech, he clarified that the not-for-profit would be CAPA.

The city has been in talks with CAPA about the transfer, he said. He hoped the transfer would create a “fierce sense of ownership” that would allow CAPA to attract more private donors.

In the long term, DeStefano said, the city would reduce its financial contributions to the theater. The mayor was asked if the city would put the building out to bid. DeStefano said he had not thought through what the process would be.

“I would hope to get it to CAPA,” he said.

Aldermanic President Jorge Perez said he did get briefed on the subject by the Shubert, but he doesn’t know the details of the current proposal, and so does not have an opinion on it.

Church Street South

Allan Appel Photo DeStefano also announced plans to reboot stalled development at Church Street South, aka “The Jungle,” a rundown, privately owned housing project across from Union Station. The city has for years sought to redevelop the area, in part because it serves as an unattractive gateway to the city for visitors arriving by train. New Haven’s housing authority teamed up with a major residential developer, Northland Investment Corporation of Boston, on plans to tear down the concrete 1960s projects and build a new mix of homes and stores.

Plans have gone nowhere, however, while Northland, the landlord, has let conditions deteriorate in the 301-family complex. Slum conditions came to the forefront two years ago, when a poorly installed furnace leaked dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the air, sending four adults and one child to the hospital. At the time, the city had been chasing after the landlord to eliminate a deadly CO threat. Northland was shamed into fixing up the apartments after that widely publicized episode.

The city distributed some conceptual drawings a year ago for a mixed-use development with 600-800 residential units and 200,000 to 400,000 square feet of office and retail space. Neighborhood leaders raised concerns about density, affordability, and where displaced families would go.

The mayor said Monday he plans to work with Hill aldermen on “a plan for Church Street South that respects residents and families.”

DeStefano said before the city can “engage the owner,” Northland, “there needs to be a consensus” among city officials. He said the city and aldermen need to “step back” and develop a vision.

President Perez, who represents part of the Hill neighborhood, said aldermen met recently about Church Street South.

“There’s been a lot of false starts” on the project, he said. Neighborhood leaders “want to establish principles of development” before going further, including the number of affordable and family units. Church Street South has the largest number of multi-family apartments of any complex in the city, according to DeStefano.

Also this year, DeStefano said the city plans to move forward with plans to develop the stretch of Route 34 between Orchard and Sherman. That would add to work already under way at the other end of Route 34, where a biomedical office complex called 100 College Street is set to rise.

Make That 8 Years, Not 5

DeStefano revised his estimate on how many years the school reform drive will take to close the achievement gap between city students and their statewide peers on standardized tests. Because the city missed the mark on test score targets, New Haven now aims to close the gap eight years after the reform drive launched in 2010, not after five years, he said. That puts the new target year at 2018.

DeStefano continued to focus attention on improving the number of New Haven public school graduates who succeed in college. He publicly recognized three students in the first class of New Haven Promise scholarship recipients who are now enrolled in their fourth semesters of college. And he recognized Wilbur Cross High School for posting the highest gains in the city on graduation rates.

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posted by: anonymous on February 5, 2013  9:39am

This speech revealed the absolute failure of the DeStefano economic development agenda.

DeStefano talks about jobs brought by big developers. But the facts are:

1) The developers receive enormous city and state subsidies to come here - tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.  If those payments were instead spent on employing New Haven residents and fixing neighborhoods, unemployment and poverty would be virtually eliminated from the city.

2) Of all the tens of thousands of jobs created in New Haven’s Downtown, 90% go to suburban residents.  Take East Rock and Westville out of the remaining 10%, and you’re left with virtually zero jobs for people living in Newhallville, the Hill, West River, and Fair Haven, where unemployment rates are several times higher than average.

3) DeStefano touts the tax revenue that is created by development. Tax revenue supports city services, but the vast majority of city employees who provide those services also live in the suburbs. The benefit to residents of greater services is outweighed by the ever-rising rents that low-income people have to pay in order to pay their salaries. We are taxing our own residents to death (literally in many cases - stress and poverty kill), in order to pay the Unions who don’t even live here and also to subsidize more big developers.

It would be great to have new leadership that understands that job opportunities and prosperity come from pleasant, functioning neighborhoods.  That means incentives for housing investment and homeownership, work opportunities for neighborhood youth aged 15-29 (not just jobs for middle-aged residents beholden to the suburban Unions, like the CCNE affiliates who control the Board of Aldermen), walkable neighborhoods with green space and cleaner air where businesses want to invest and where residents want to spend time outside, and better public transportation so that people can get to the jobs that do exist. 

Fix these things and the schools will actually improve - being happy about a theory that we’ll close the achievement gap now in eight years instead of five doesn’t cut it, especially as school performance in reality has flatlined for the past 20 years. Strong communities are what create great schools - contrary to DeStefano’s claim, the opposite is simply not true.

posted by: Walt on February 5, 2013  10:14am

A great goal re the Shubert but   very questionable

I recall doing a study in the 1980’s of claims re making the Shubert self-supporting which indicated, at that time,  that the then claims of a movement to-re-finance the Shubert (prior to the mid-80’s re-opening)  seemed very shaky and likely to fail with out a commitment from arts lovers to increase ticket prices by $10 bucks or so

Believe my comments never got to the leadership of the group I was working for (Probably was good for me then as the Ahhts   groups were pretty strong in our leadership at the time,  and successfully
pushed OK of the theory that after a couple   (few?)  of years of   govt. subsidy the Shubert would magically become profitable)

The Theatre never had an unsubsidized year since, that I recall

  Possible now?

Very doubtful!

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 5, 2013  11:05am

classic examples of failed DeStefano projects;

> We are 3 years into the 5 year school reform project and now we learn that we are five years from reaching the goals?  Sounds like w are still at the starting line. 

> Keep building gold plated schools with borrowed money?  Sounds like JD still owes some favors to his construction buddies.

> Push a fix for Church St South?  That has been an agenda item for at least the 11 years that I have lived here….and we still have this horrid looking place that greets visitors as they walk out of the train station.

> Focus on development?!?  We have clearly heard from the major developers that they have no interest in working in a place that plays bait and switch resulting in 300% increases in tax bills (see 360 State)

the Johnny D/Reggie Mayo regime can’t end quickly enough….

posted by: Curious on February 5, 2013  11:39am

Anonymous, can you cite your source for claiming that out of tens of thousands of jobs, 90% of the job-holders live in the suburbs?  Thanks.


Also, if all the jobs in New Haven are held by people living in the suburbs, where do all the people living in the apartment buildings downtown work?  Hmm?  Do they not have jobs?  Do they have jobs in the suburbs?

posted by: Kevin on February 5, 2013  11:50am

@anonymous (m.a.) I would like to see your data on point 2.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on February 5, 2013  12:26pm

City Employees Living in/out of New Haven, as of November 2011:
http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/city_eyes_residency_requirement

When the NHI last reported on this, 63.5% of City employees lived outside of New Haven. Amongst higher paid groups, the percentages were even higher:
79%—NHPD
69%—NHFD
77%—Teachers
71%—NHPS Administrators

posted by: anonymous on February 5, 2013  12:27pm

Curious, yes, more than half of workers who live in New Haven as a whole have jobs that are located outside the city limits. If you’re thinking of East Rock or Westville, it’s true that most workers are at Yale or at some law firm, but East Rock is a tiny part of the city - elsewhere, the Milford Mall is a much more common commute. The Census and State Department of Labor now make it easy for anyone to find out where everyone lives and works, grouped by neighborhood, and also filter by job category to look at pay range, type of job, etc. We keep touting that the new tech jobs are “high paying” jobs - they are, but guess who gets these jobs? It’s pretty striking to see the results, especially when you look only at the high-paying professional jobs touted by the City machine.

posted by: streever on February 6, 2013  2:20pm

Fact-checking Anonymous found their 3 claims to be “mostly true” to “true”!

1) This claim was found to be “true”. Developers received millions to come here. They pay out a little bit of that to community groups. How bizarre a world we live in, that public tax money is used to make developers build buildings, and the developers then use some of that money to buy off neighbors. Imagine if developers just built buildings because of a demand for the building?

2) 90% may be an over-statement, but honestly, anyone who doubts this really does owe it to themselves to check the census data which largely supports Anonymous. This claim is rated “mostly true”. Yes, some stars, like Higher One, have a large percentage of New Haven residents employed in higher end positions, but this is an outlier, not a norm, and the census data makes that pretty clear when you look at position, salary, and living location.

3) This is also “mostly true”, as Anderson Scooper shows below. The vast majority of New Haven employees live outside of New Haven. Why wouldn’t they? We should be focusing on making New Haven a better place to live, we’re instead two warring factions, battling for increased dominance. Some of anonymous’ conclusions may not be actually directly causal, but are absolutely correlative, and have not been disproved by any available data.

posted by: Stylo on February 7, 2013  5:48pm

I"m pretty moderate politically, and find the idea that the Church Street South project should be compromised because of existing tenants ridiculous.

“a plan for Church Street South that respects residents and families”

This is a subsidized dump! They’re getting housing for little to nothing, it’s a service the city is providing. Anything would be better for these families. Move them to newer subsidized housing elsewhere in the city would be a favor. I highly doubt they’re making full use of that location near the station. It’s not like many are train commuters.

That location is PRIME and should not be used as low income housing. That kind of ultra liberal mentality is what keeps cities like New Haven back. Build it up as the market would suggest. You could have mid-rise apartments and a bunch of nice retail there. That would benefit the city and visitors and provide jobs. The displaced residents will likely have a better place to live. What’s the downside?

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 7, 2013  10:19pm

@ Stylo:  Your idea makes sense in most of the world….but in New Haven, groups with high proportions of bad guys (Occupy New Haven, Church St South, the DeStefano Administration) have unusual power and hold us back from reaching our potential.

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