Sometime next year, downtown New Haven will have a new small concert venue that will bring over 2,500 music fans weekly to the entertainment and restaurant district. The space will be run by the same people who manage one of the top-ranked performance venues in the country, located right across the street.
Or, sometime next year, downtown New Haven will have a new 200-seat theater, a new 90-seat cabaret, and a rehearsal studio for professionals and students alike to practice their artistic trade. And that tripartite venue will be managed by two successful, historic local theaters in collaboration with a small Catholic college that is building out its theater program.
Those are the two possibilities that the New Haven Parking Authority (NHPA) will pick between as it decides which business gets to move into a nearly 10,000 square-foot, publicly-owned commercial space on the ground floor of the Crown Street Garage at the corner of Crown Street and College Street.
After a three-month-long Request for Proposal (RFP) process and an open house that saw 45 visitors express interest in the space, the Parking Authority revealed at the end of August that it has received two applications for the garage retail space.
One came from the New Haven Center for the Performing Arts (NHCPA), the nonprofit that runs the successful College Street Music Hall across the street.
The second application came from a consortium of Long Wharf Theatre, the Connecticut Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) / the Shubert Theatre, and Albertus Magnus College.
The two detailed proposals, obtained by the Independent, outline competing visions for what type of entertainment venue and what type of arts management company are a better fit for the vast, empty downtown space.
The NHCPA proposal touts the meteoric success of the College Street Music Hall across the street from the space, the financial solvency of its backers, and the promised economic benefits for surrounding bars and restaurants. It has the support of 14 different downtown small businesses, including Clarie’s Corner Copia, the Owl Shop, and BAR.
The Long Wharf / Shubert / Albertus Magnus promises to shift new and experimental theatrical performances downtown, provide an educational hub for aspiring dramatic artists, and create a community space for professionals, students, and amateurs alike to engage with the performing arts. The application has the support of a major downtown arts institution in the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and a major downtown educational institution in Gateway Community College.
Both applicants argue that they can raise enough money to gut the existing, 1970s-era space and build out their venue of choice. Both argue that they have the renovation experience and management chops necessary to create a sustainable new arts venue that will anchor the downtown and bolster New Haven’s reputation as the cultural capital of Connecticut.
The Parking Authority’s attorney said last month that theauthority will likely decide between the two proposals during its October meeting.
Which do you think should win out?
Click here to download the full NHCPA proposal.
Click here to download the full Long Wharf / Shubert / Albertus Magnus proposal.
College Street Music Hall, Jr.
The NHCPA proposal pitches a new, small concert venue with the placeholder name DISTRICT Ballroom that will stand as a “companion full-service small music venue” to the College Street Music Hall across the street. (The proposal does not include running a dance club, one of the space’s previous uses.)
The proposal is signed by Keith Mahler, the president of Premier Facilities LLC, which manages the College Street Music Hall and the new Space Ballroom in Hamden and which would manage the new Crown Street Garage venue, and by local attorney Steve Mednick.
Mahler and Mednick write that the DISTRICT Ballroom will compete in a market of other small Connecticut performance venues such as Infinity Hall in Hartford and Norfolk, the Ridgefiled Playhouse, and Fairfield Theater Company’s Stage One and Warehouse.
“The New Haven retail and hospitality community deserves the opportunity to capture music fans who travel to and support other markets,” they write. “NHCPA is confident that District Ballroom will attract 2,500+ music fans on a weekly basis to New Haven.” The capacity including standing patrons would approach 900; seated shows would be considerably smaller.
Much of the application rests on the artistic, financial, and critical success of the College Street Music Hall.
It notes that NHCPA poured $5.6 million into the music hall’s rehabilitation between 2014 and 2015, and completed pre-construction, design, and construction work all over the course of just seven months.
Between the College Street Music Hall’s opening in May 2015 and June 2018, the 2,000-person venue hosted 260 paid events and brought in 231,451 patrons to downtown New Haven.
The proposal says that for the past three years the College Street Music Hall has consistently ranked as one of the top performing venues in the world in its size category according to POLLSTAR, a trade publication for the concert industry.
“Many of the venues are from highly populated areas, such as, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin and Boston,” the proposal notes about other top-ranked venues. “New Haven is one of the few cities with a population of less than 150,000 that rate internationally.”
NHCPA argues that a new small music venue akin to the College Street Music Hall will “have a multiplier effect on downtown businesses and restaurants.”
As part of its application, NHCPA included letters of support from 14 downtown small businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, including Claire’s, Pacifico, the Owl Shop, Jake’s Diggity Dogs, Elm City Social, and BAR.
“We believe that a second NHCPA venue represents a very positive step forward for our downtown retail and residential community,” the joint community letter of support reads. “Why? For the simple reason that CSMH has been a much needed traffic generator and is one of the reasons why New Haven could be the vibrant destination location in southern Connecticut.”
As for the terms of the deal with the Parking Authority, NHCPA acknowledges the Parking Authority’s six-dollar-per-square-foot and $60,000 up front requirements, and promises to work out the financial details of the lease with the Parking Authority during negotiations. It says that it will also negotiate with the Parking Authority on the latter’s request for an additional annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from the occupant.
The proposal requests that the Parking Authority “consider a more reasonable initial term” for the lease, which the Parking Authority’s RFP set as no longer than 10 years with opportunities for renewal.
NCHPA estimates that it will need to invest around $2 million in the construction of the new venue, and that it will use the same private funding sources that it tapped for the College Street Music Hall development (though it does not cite what those sources are). It estimates that over 100,000 customers will visit the new venue each year.
“NHCPA has been a proud member of the Entertainment District,” the proposal concludes. “We affirm that DISTRICT BALLROOM, joining with CSMH, filling the gap by building from strength (arts and entertainment), confronting market realities (attracting and retaining young people in New Haven), measuring success block-by-block (complete the vision of an entertainment area) and stimulating urban reinvestment (apartments, restaurants and retail).”
Theater, Education, And Community
The Long Wharf / Shubert / Albertus Magnus proposal pitches converting the garage commercial space into a lobby, a 200-seat theater, a 90-seat cabaret, and a rehearsal and classroom studio.
The proposal is signed by Albertus Magnus College President Marc Camille, CAPA Executive Director John Fisher, and Long Wharf Theatre Managing Director Joshua Borenstein.
“We see an incredible opportunity to both expand the cultural offerings in downtown New Haven,” an opening letter to the proposal reads, “enhancing the City’s position as the state’s top destination for arts and entertainment, and offer a place where young people can learn and practice professional-quality theatre arts skills.”
The proposal calls for the creation of three distinct areas for the repurposed commercial space: a theater, a cabaret, and a rehearsal studio.
The current dance floor space will become a theater with around 200 seats. The current cocktail lounge at the College Street entrance will become the lobby for that larger theater.
The applicants write that the 200-seat theater will be used primarily by Long Wharf, which would relocate the new and experimental plays currently produced for its Stage II location on Sargent Drive to the downtown location. Recent Stage II productions have included Office Hour, Small Mouth Sounds, and Bad Jews.
Long Wharf proposes to increase its Stage II productions from 2 plays to 5 plays per year, which it believes would result in up to 190 performances over a 150-day period at the new theater.
The proposal also says that Long Wharf would use the new downtown theater space to host some of its other smaller and community-engagement-based programming, including the Long Wharf New Works Festival, the August Wilson Monologue Competition, and the Elder Play Project.
The Shubert Theatre estimate that it would use the 200-seat venue for off-Broadway-style productions that require a smaller space than the historic Shubert Theatre’s 1,600-seat venue. They estimate using the larger space eight weeks out of the year, with up to eight performances per week.
Albertus Magnus would also use the larger theater space for just two weeks out of the year for student and faculty performances.
The second area proposed by the consortium of applicants would be a 90-seat cabaret space in the venue’s current lower-level storage space.
Citing New York City’s Joe’s Pub as a model, the proposal says that the cabaret space “would allow us to present artists and dramatic work which may not make sense for our larger stages, but that could be the right fit for an intimate venue with a cool atmosphere.” It says that the Shubert Theatre will take the lead in programming performances for the cabaret space, which will likely be open four nights per week for 48 weeks of the year.
The final proposed area for the new commercial space is a rehearsal and classroom studio where the current upstairs cocktail lounge with the Crown Street entrance is.
That area will also be used primarily by Long Wharf Theatre to rehearse productions going into the 200-seat theater. The proposal also notes that the Shubert will use the space to for pre-show workshops, classes for adults and children, and other community engagement endeavors.
They will also work with Albertus Magnus College to build out the school’s theater degree program, as well as with Co-Op High School’s technical training program.
“The decision to integrate students into the operation of the space will have powerful and far-reaching consequences for young people in and around New Haven,” the proposal reads. “Exposure is critical to enabling students to imagine a future and understand how workplaces operate. … We aim to make New Haven a theatre arts training center – not just for those able to attend the Yale Drama School – but for a broad population of local students with a dream of working in this field.”
The consortium estimates that the construction and rehabilitation of the three venues will cost around $5.7 million. They said they plan to raise $6 million for the project from the institution’s existing donors and financial backers. They also estimate that the venue will have an annual budget of around $500,000, with 90 percent of revenue coming from tickets and rehearsal space rentals and the other 10 percent coming from fundraising.
The consortium asks the Parking Authority to waive the $60,000 signing fee as well as the annual additional PILOT in recognition of the rehab costs and the organizations’ statuses as nonprofits.
They also ask the Parking Authority to provide some kind of rent abatement for the first five years of the lease, and then increase the rent to six dollars per square foot in years six to 10 of the lease.
The proposal estimates that the three venues will bring in roughly 55,000 patrons each year.
In letters of community support, Liz Fisher, the co-director and managing director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, wrote, “We are thrilled at the prospect of a new downtown venue for arts programming, led by these proven community and arts leaders.”
Paul Broadie, the president of Gateway Community College, wrote in support of the proposal, “I truly believe this partnership will transform what is now a dormant corner into a vibrant and thriving facility that will provide a multitude of entertainment experiences for our fellow citizens – including our own Gateway students and their families – to experience together.”
“Combined we bring over 200 years of experience in providing programs as well as in building and maintaining facilities,” the applicants write, referencing the Shubert’s recent $7.5 million renovation of its theater and Long Wharf’s recent $4 million renovation of its main stage on Sargent Drive.
“In partnership,” they write, “we look forward to creating an enterprise that will not only generate revenue, but could be a special jewel in New Haven’s crown.”