Under a new deal unveiled Monday, Yale would buy the rights to High and Wall streets from the city, forever, for a yet-to-be-determined price, ending a long-running dispute over the control of downtown roadways.
The proposed deal emerged in documents submitted to the Board of Aldermen Monday afternoon, just in time to make the agenda for that evening’s meeting. It concerns portions of High Street (between Grove and Elm, pictured above) and Wall Street (between York and College) on Yale’s campus.
The proposal still needs approval from aldermen. It will be assigned to a committee and discussed at a public hearing. Board President Jorge Perez said he’s waiting to see details before taking a position on the proposed deal.
Yale assumed control of the two streets from the city back in 1990 and closed them to most vehicular traffic. It created a pedestrian plaza on one of the blocks. The original 1990 deal included a vague clause calling for the city to reevaluate it after 20 years—leading to a debate over whether it needs to be extended and whether lawmakers can, or should, try to exert legal leverage.
According to the new deal, the city would abandon the rights to those streets forever, selling them to Yale for a one-time payment. The sale price would be determined by a third-party appraiser agreed upon by both parties. Yale would also agree to continue making annual contributions to the city in the manner it has done for the past three years. That includes a contribution based on the number of Yale students living in nontaxable property and the number of full-time workers at Yale, as well as an additional payment to offset the cost of fire service.
Matt Smith, the mayoral liaison to the Board of Aldermen, said the proposal represents a resolution to a long-running issue. “It’s been in committee for a while. We want to see it resolved.”
He said the city and Yale have agreed on an appraisal company, which should soon set to work answering the question: How much are the streets worth?
Smith said the appraisers should have a figure by the time a public hearing takes place.
Monday’s full Board of Aldermen meeting passed without mention of the deal. The submission appeared as a communication only; no vote was taken. Yale’s Lauren Zucker (pictured with East Shore Alderman Sal DeCola), who was present, declined to comment on the deal. She referred comment to Yale spokesman Michael Morand, who issued a short statement via email: “The closure of these few blocks to general vehicular traffic has been found to be successful over two decades, creating an amenity for campus and community. Their discontinuance and the conveyance of title are logical last steps to clarify this matter. Yale has long stepped up as a vital partner for the City and looks forward to continuing its support for the decades ahead.”
Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison, whose ward includes High and Wall Street, said she has not received enough information to publicly comment at this time.
Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen called the deal an opportunity for extra money in tough financial times.
The city’s budget has three tax options, all of which call for raising taxes, he noted in an email. It’s important “to look at all possible one time revenues for asset sales that would not negatively impact city residents and only save tax payers money. This proposed deal with the University is one of these options—another was 10 Wall Street, which has not been fruitful,” he wrote.
“I am looking forward to the appraisal that the administration and Yale agree to—and it will be important for my board to look deeper into the appraiser report to ensure to our taxpayers the greatest possible sale price as the market seems appropriate. Additionally, our board should be concerned with the transparency and openness of this process so that we are not finding ourselves in the same situation 20 years later. I look forward to hearing more from the public on this matter as it moves through committee; we had great turnout on this item previously and almost all (if not all) testimony was in favor of keeping the current the function and use of the streets as is.”
“Now that we have a deal proposed, I look forward to more testimony,” Hausladen wrote. He invited anyone to post suggestions on his web page.
The streets do not work perfectly from a traffic perspective and the City should be able to retain the ability to make changes in the future as our transportation systems change, at least every few years.
As a condition of renewing this deal, Yale should agree to make further improvements to the streets, where they are inadequate (e.g. pedestrian and bike safety) as well as the surrounding areas that their characteristics indirectly impact.
Yale can have the streets closed, but they are city streets, and the goal should be to make them world-class streets for public circulation, not some bureaucrat’s vision of a road / plaza for undergraduates and University staff.
Unfortunately the people calling the shots here are all bureaucrats, many who live out of town or drive everywhere. They are not people who use these streets to get around the city on a regular basis.
posted by: WestvilleAdvocate on May 7, 2013 8:56am
This would be a terrible thing for the city to agree to a permanent sale and transfer of deed to Yale. As a taxpayer and voter in our city I hope the aldermen and women agree to a leasehold estate for an agreeable # of years (perhaps 50 years is more appropriate). I do believe the city should retain the right to delay this for a year for further discussions from the community. There is no easy way to get from one side of this city to the other and as the city grows it needs to retain the ability to keep cars and bikes moving.
posted by: Joe City on May 7, 2013 10:23am
First it was the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament at Yale, then Science Park at Yale, then the Omni at Yale, and now, at last, New Haven at Yale.
posted by: Curious on May 7, 2013 11:05am
Forever? How do you put a price on that? Who decides on the valuation, who is choosing the appraiser?
What happens in X amount of years when the city decides it wants this back again? What if they want to put a bus stop there, or a tram stop?
posted by: HenryCT on May 7, 2013 12:37pm
It appears that as the city continues to sell off its capital to raise money to run, Yale New Haven will eventually become a gated community. The Yale New Haven police force will expand, the fire department will be renamed, although the hospital won’t have to. Those who are allowed to remain in residence after gentrification with the business districts fully metamorphosing into chi-chi city will be paying their real estate taxes to the Yale Corporation.
We will be able to forestall the sale just by cutting the trillion dollar military budget and taxing the rich to provide the necessary resources to rebuild and rehab our cities. Converting thus is the only road to can take us into a democratically-run future.
posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 7, 2013 1:27pm
If the Board of Aldermen have to approval this “deal”, who made the deal that is on the table now, the Mayor?
posted by: BeaverhillTom on May 7, 2013 3:27pm
This is a great outcome. Good job New Haven and Yale!
posted by: TheMadcap on May 7, 2013 3:53pm
Good god people Yale bought 300ft of street they’ve already controlled for 20 years, they didn’t buy Wooster Sq or something. Plus this street only accesses their buildings. If you want to be outraged about Yale owning stuff, go over to Chapel st or something and look at Shake Shack. They kept that building empty for over a decade before they could get their preferred buyer.
Is it possible that this is part of the Yale Unions quid pro quo in return for their sweetheart contract? hmmm?
posted by: AMDC on May 7, 2013 7:46pm
Sure, let’s just sell everything to Yale. But what happens when we have sold them everything? Maybe we should just hold on to these streets so we can get Yale to keep paying for them.
posted by: HhE on May 7, 2013 9:13pm
Let me review.
Twenty odd years ago, Yale had a city street running through the heart of their campus, and New Haven needed money. So a deal was made, Yale could turn a low priority street into a pedestrian way, and New Haven would get money. The trade would be subject to review in twenty years time.
Twenty years latter, New Haven is short on cash, so the city uses the review claus to shake down Yale. Only, Yale is ready to throw down, so good luck.
So for New Haven to get the money, Yale doesn’t have to worry about another shake down. That’s the deal.
I can certainly live with that. After all, does anyone really need High Street to cut between Elm and Wall? This solution is far more pedestrian friendly.
posted by: anonymous on May 8, 2013 10:08am
HhE: High Street can probably remain closed, because it dead-ends at the cemetery anyways. But Wall Street serves a critical purpose in getting around Downtown, because it goes all the way down to State. Anyone who actually traverses Downtown several times a day realizes this.
High Street should be closed perhaps, but as the city grows, it should reserve the option to modify Wall Street as needed, e.g., by turning it back into a two-way street, adding a transit route, adding a cross-town bicycling route, or adding on-street parking.
For our elected officials to consider eliminating this street represents a gross mismanagement of our city’s most important public space assets.
posted by: SteveOnAnderson on May 8, 2013 11:33am
I could not agree more with those who have expressed their opposition to this outrageously short-sighted proposal to privatize city property. The proposal may indeed bring money to the city in the short-term, as the NHI paraphrased Doug Hausladen, but permanently privatizing city property is absolutely not a solution to the long-term financial situation of the city, especially when these streets would presumably be tax-exempt once they are purchased by Yale. New Haven already has more than enough tax-exempt property shifting the tax burden onto specific areas of the city (and contributing to the disparities and divisions in New Haven). To me, the only acceptable proposal would be one whereby Yale rents the streets from the city through a contract that is subject to revision and renewable every X years.
I hope others opposed join together and push the BoA to strike down this proposal. (And it’s great to see agreement here between several of us who often disagree in the NHI comment section.)
posted by: PH on May 8, 2013 12:46pm
To clarify some misconceptions in the comments, the stretch of Wall Street that may be sold to Yale is between College and York—a stretch of road that has only been accessed by delivery vehicles and the occasional police officer for many years. It DOES NOT include Wall from College to State. The block of High Street runs in front of Sterling Library and has been pedestrian-only for at least 18 years.
These are roads that Yale has controlled for 23 years and the lack of vehicle access has not caused any traffic problems in that time.
When it comes to selling off these assets, however, I sure hope the appraisers account for the lost parking revenue that could be had, indexed for inflation, as well as the fact that the roads are on some of the most prime property in the city. Yale can surely dip into its reserves to pay full price for such valuable real-estate.
posted by: HhE on May 8, 2013 1:17pm
anonymous, some people are given to exaggeration. While I do not transverse downtown several times a day, I do often enough to understand the mechanics. I am surprised that someone was apparently pro bicycle and pedestrian would oppose this configuration.
SteveOnAnderson, did you not oppose the Star Supply proposal on the basis it would gentrify the neighborhood, and thus raise taxes?
As I see this, the price our city paid for trying to shake down Yale, is that Yale would no longer accept any deal that was not permanent. The city’s bargaining position was far weaker than Yale’s, and this is what Little Leaguers get for playing hard ball with The Majors.
This is a wonderful idea often called a BATNA: Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. New Haven’s was the opportunity to spend money converting a small street back to vehicle use in exchange for losing a major revenue stream.
posted by: anonymous on May 8, 2013 2:47pm
PH wrote: “These are roads that Yale has controlled for 23 years and the lack of vehicle access has not caused any traffic problems in that time.”
Perhaps it hasn’t caused traffic problems for you, but the streets are less than ideal for pedestrian, bicycle, and mass transit traffic.
The point is not about traffic, anyhow, it is that the streets are incredibly valuable public assets that have the potential to serve other purposes, in the future, as the city grows. Giving them away is mismanagement of our city’s precious remaining public space.
Sure, it requires elected officials willing to think ahead 20 or 30 years to see this, but I don’t think that is too much to ask.
posted by: getyourfactstraight on May 8, 2013 7:53pm
Let it be a lease and receive money every 6 months with a review for an increase every 5 years (or something to that effect). We shouldn’t sell streets for one time money to help get us out of a pickle. I would rather see a lease of five years and a review of increases after each five years are up. That to me is appropriate. Are we even sure selling streets is legal? Those streets belong to the people. And while you are at it, why don’t you (BOA)look into a usage fee charge for Yale using space under our streets for lines tunneling (not sure what the term would be)through to Yale while generating their own energy. I am glad we have a relationship with Yale, but I believe any money they contribute to this city isn’t much of a sweat off their brow. The amount always sounds over the top but it really isn’t. They more than have this money to give,contribute and help out with. I love Yale’s programs for the community and their financial contributions, but please don’t sell our streets to them…..lease these streets.
posted by: HhE on May 8, 2013 9:13pm
Again, why would Yale put up with regular shake downs?
There seams to be this idea that Yale would have to take whatever the city’s offer was, as opposed to saying, “Go right ahead. Spend a bunch of money you do not have converting this back to a regular street. We will just cut back on our voluntary payments.”
There also seams to be this idea that Yale has so much money, it ought to just turn over more to New Haven.
As much as Yale has, it does not have enough to do all the things it wants to do, let alone keep bailing out its coke addicted brother. It has as much as it does because contributors believe in what Yale is doing—if they wish to support New Haven, they would send their cheques to City Hall—and because it follows a strict investment/spending protocol.
One can go to the Yale Bookstore, and buy the book that explains this.
“Perhaps it hasn’t caused traffic problems for you, but the streets are less than ideal for pedestrian, bicycle, and mass transit traffic.”
Actually those two streets are pretty ideal for bike and pedestrian traffic. Not a lot of room for buses, though.
posted by: anonymous on May 9, 2013 3:09pm
Bill, perhaps it is ideal for some, but Wall Street is currently configured as a one way and is pretty horrible for bicycle traffic going the other way. It’s also less than ideal for the handicapped and wheelchair users, who have to negotiate traffic that can at times be high speed.
If a real bike route were added in that same direction on Elm Street (as opposed to the sub-par lane design currently proposed by the city) that might be less of an immediate issue. But we should still be thinking long term about how to make it possible for all people without cars, including your children and your grandmother, to safely navigate downtown New Haven. Currently the city is not accessible to those groups - which means we are losing out big time to other cities in terms of job growth, reduced cost of living, safety, etc.
The city has a chance to address this in coming years, unless it sells off its streets. Once Yale owns the streets, it will not have to make any of the improvements that are required to make our city more accessible to road users of all abilities.
posted by: HhE on May 9, 2013 8:25pm
anonymous, it is a section of High Street, not Wall Street that is being sold to Yale. Riding a bicycle against traffic is illegal (never mind how difficult or not).
posted by: anonymous on May 9, 2013 10:09pm
HhE, the first sentence of the article states it is High and Wall. Also, my comments are about the need for the City to have flexibility to make changes to its transportation system over time.
Selling the streets doesn’t give the City any flexibility, which means it will be far less resilient in the face of massive economic changes expected over the coming 50 years.
Not sure if you were living in New Haven in the 1940s like some of my close friends were, but there was a time not long ago where every single street in New Haven was two-way, even the narrow ones - the people who have lived here since then mostly want the narrow two-way “yield streets” back, as one-ways have led to speeding, crashes, and pollution from the need to constantly drive around the block.
posted by: robn on May 10, 2013 8:18am
I want two way streets back and wouldn’t mind it done as shock treatment. Get it over with fast and people will get used to it faster. I’m shocked this hasn’t appeared as a promise on any of the candidates campaign plank yet.
posted by: HhE on May 10, 2013 9:00am
anonymous, in the 1940s, my father was living in Marblehead, MA, Greenwood, MS, and Charles City, IA, and going to elementary school there. In the late ‘50s, he was living in New Haven, while attending Yale. I was born in 1966.
I do not object to converting streets to two way. I do worry about our city selling off assets to cover operating expenses. I just know that blackmail and extortion are short term solutions that have long term costs.