$5.8M Artists’ Haven Headed For Dixwell

Lucy Gellman PhotoAn abandoned Dixwell factory — last known for turning out counterfeit Dr. Dre “Beats” and “Lg Tone+” headsets — could get new life and compete with New York City studios to house the next generation of emerging artists, under a plan detailed to the zoning board Tuesday night.

That’s the goal for the two artists and one financier behind the PostMasters Project, which is hoping to revamp an industrial complex at 169 Henry St. into 38,000 square feet of apartments, artists’ studios, gallery spaces, offices, an assembly hall and a cafe.

Titus Kaphar and Jonathan Brand, two Yale School of Art grads, envisioned the space as a hub for artists at every stage of their careers to share lessons about their creative process and making a living. Inside the space designed by Deborah Berke Partners, the firm of the Yale School of Architecture’s dean, artists can rub shoulders in an even more compact version of the galleries that predominate in Westville. Established professionals will discuss their work with young museum curators training at the Yale University Art Gallery, while emerging visual artists mentor students from Hillhouse High School a block away.

Christopher Peak Photo“There’s all these interesting people that live here [in New Haven], but they’re working out of their homes. You have New York Times writers, business professionals and artists: all kinds who move in small circles. Part of this [project] is trying to broaden the circle, to give them a space to collaborate,” said Jason Price, a private-equity analyst who joined artists Kaphar and Brand to found the project. “The hope would be that it is a beacon that brings those sorts of people out of their homes into the community.”

The PostMasters team presented initial plans to the Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night, as it sought a number of waivers: special exceptions to open a nonconforming use in the residential zone and to permit a far lower number of parking spaces, as well as variances to extend the front steps, widen a loading dock and construct a third story for apartments. Planning staff recommended approval of the project, but the matter will first go to City Plan Commission for a site plan review before a final vote.

After graduation, Kaphar and Brand “realized how difficult it was to make a career in New York City. It’s just very, very expensive to become an artist there and also to raise a family there. They both ended up moving back to the New Haven area and, in doing so, realized they could develop their studios here, develop their practice and also become professional artists,“ Price explained to the board.

“What took their vision a step forward,” Price continued, “was asking, ‘Well, how come New Haven can’t retain all of these well-known artists that trained at the university and move to Boston and other places in the world?’ They found a dilapidated building in the Dixwell neighborhood to develop into an artists incubator that could retain the talent and help redevelop the neighborhood.”

Brand said he believes now’s r the right time for this project to open, given the skyrocketing rents in New York City that are sending artists up into Hudson Valley towns like Beacon and Newburgh.

PostMasters plans to offer six-month fellowships to curators, year-long fellowships to younger artists and residencies to established artists, said Carrie Mackin, co-founder and executive director. The exact numbers are still being worked out, but the building’s current design has 17 slots that can be divvied up among the three programs. (“It won’t be hard to fill them,” added Helen Rosenberg, one of the city’s economic development officers.) PostMasters expects each fellow will be paired with two high school students to mentor, Mackin added.

The $5.8 million project is funded largely by private donors. It is also supported by grants from the Ford Foundation and RISC Foundation, Price said.

While an arts center is technically not in keeping with the area’s RM-2 zoning, planning staff noted that a previous factory there wasn’t either. Tom Talbot, the deputy director of zoning, recommended the switch to limit “uncertainty” in the area about whether heavy industry might return.

“It may be possible to legally conduct industrial type operations that could be detrimental to the neighborhood in terms of noise, hours of operation, and commercial vehicle traffic. The most immediate benefit to the neighborhood of this proposal is the assurance that once this proposed operation commences on the site no further industrial use of the property would be possible, short of a Use Variance,” Talbot explained. “It is clear to staff that this proposed use is more compatible with a residential neighborhood area than any industrial use would be.”

The renovation has already resulted in a cleanup of the Macalaster Bicknell factory, which once produced chemicals and lab equipment. (More recently, the building hosted an illegal operation that was repackaging Chinese electronics for resale on Amazon and eBay, until it was raided by law enforcement in 2015.) PostMasters received a $200,000 investment from the city and state brownfield loans to remediate the site, allowing it to replace a roof and knock down walls that had asbestos.

According to the zoning ordinance, the project should have 48 parking spaces, but the team has asked for a waiver to only have 13 spots. Stephen Studer, a Milford lawyer who’s representing the project, said that Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church had agreed to open up 60 spaces on its lot. There’s also 29 on-street spaces nearby and three bus lines, Studer added.

The zoning board’s chair, Benjamin Trachten, asked if there would be any “live entertainment” at the development.

Price said that the only thing close would be discussions of art in an assembly hall.

“I don’t know if you could call that live entertainment,” Price said.

“No, I would not call that live entertainment,” Trachten deadpanned.

Talbot noted the project’s “pedestrian accessibility” in his advisory report. “When taking into consideration the unreasonable level of parking required by the Zoning Ordinance, all appear to indicate the appropriateness of the requested reduction.”

If PostMasters gets the necessary approvals from the City Plan Commission and a favorable vote when its application return to the zoning board, the project could be completed as soon as Sept. 2018.

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posted by: NHVCyclist on September 27, 2017  8:44am

I was there last night for a hearing on my own (much smaller) project, and was very excited to hear this presentation.  This is a great project for the city and the neighborhood, that has support from immediate neighbors (including a church that has offered to share its parking lot).  The plans to engage with Hillhouse are very positive. 

This is NOT a Yale project and has no financial backing from Yale.  Let’s put that out there before the typical negative comments are made. Yale does endorse the project, as does the city.  Good to see some agreement there. 
The quicker this gets built, the better.

posted by: anonymous on September 27, 2017  9:51am

Yes, artists, tech startups, and other industries are fleeing NYC because the cost is unmanageable, but they are generally going to low-crime areas like Beacon or other suburbs. 

This type of development wouldn’t be on the table if crime rates hadn’t plummeted in the Dixwell area in the past decade. A lot of progress was made there, especially the past few years, but it is fragile.

If the city wants to see positive developments like this continue throughout every neighborhood, not just areas such as State Street, Westville, lower Dixwell, and Downtown that are “gentrifying” and/or already well-off, it needs to ensure that youth and people returning from incarceration continue to have opportunities and we keep making investments in infrastructure like housing, parks, and transportation. 

Right now, the state budget cuts out a lot of that.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 27, 2017  9:51am

That’s the goal for the two artists and one financier behind the PostMasters Project, which is hoping to revamp an industrial complex at 169 Henry St. into 38,000 square feet of apartments, artists’ studios, gallery spaces, offices, an assembly hall and a cafe.

Snake-Oil and Three Card Monte being sold.This is nothing more then the gentrification vampires moving into the hood with Market Rate Apartments.How much will those apartments Cost? Who will they be for?

Brand said he believes now’s r the right time for this project to open, given the skyrocketing rents in New York City that are sending artists up into Hudson Valley towns like Beacon and Newburgh.

I wonder has he seen the rents here in New Haven?He should take a look at the rents DownTown.

Keep on sleeping in the Hoodsand the El Barrios .Soon this will be you.

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posted by: brownetowne on September 27, 2017  9:57am

This looks like a fantastic project, very excited to see this new development in the area.

posted by: NHVCyclist on September 27, 2017  10:38am

Another note, since I was actually at the meeting:

There will be a whopping four (4) residential units.  From what I understood the purpose for some/all would be to house visiting artists who are part of exhibitions at the center for 1-2 week periods, as opposed to an expensive stay at the Omni or Study across town. 

Not sure how anyone could be unhappy about a vacant, environmentally-contaminated property that was most recently used for illegal activity, in a residential neighborhood no less, being converted into a positive use.

posted by: ADAK on September 27, 2017  10:42am

Very excited to see this develop. Hope it comes to fruition. What New Haven has going for it is the access of big city without many of the costs. Wish more people would take advantage of that instead of moving out to higher cost areas.

On a more personal request, wish this was closer to the artists that are rapidly joining in Westville. With many private studios and West River Arts collective in the area, it would have been nice to see more collaboration and growth of creative minds in the same neighborhood. There a few empty building looks to be filled up there too…

That being said, the building they chose has a lot of potential. Good luck!

posted by: CT DRV on September 27, 2017  12:14pm

Okay, a few things:

Which high school students? Preference should be given to public school students, esp. given the proximity of the property to Hillhouse. If you’re going to work with the community, then do just that- don’t have these opportunities be only for the sons and daughters at Choate, Cheshire Academy, and Hamden Hall.

Which, if any units will be affordable? We all know 99.9% of artists aren’t top level income earners, but many times the housing programmes and tax credit programs for artist housing cater to exclusively white, well-educated, upper-middle class folks. Minneapolis had “artist” housing built into old factories and it ended up just increasing the segregation in that neighborhood. Unless the units -all the units- are designated as affordable with less than 30% of total income going to rent for an average Dixwell resident (determined via the census tract’s Area Median Income) than this development will just be another urban pioneering venture that furthers the segregation in New Haven. We have enough of that, let’s not do more.

While not a Yale project, I would imagine Zucker and Bruce Alexander would cackle with glee when this project is completed. This particular projects seeks to further the creep of the wealthy, white, and privileged into Dixwell. It would be the boom that they would need to re-open the bougie coffee shop at the end of Henry and begin to buy up the housing stock that stretches from Hillhouse HS to Munson. Add in the massive, 300+ unit 201 Munson project, and the renters and home-owners along Henry don’t stand a chance before the rent skyrockets as transient, LL-Bean clad Yales takes over the block.

A wave of East Rock cold brew and kombucha is cresting over the peak of Prospect and about to crash into Dixwell.

posted by: brownetowne on September 27, 2017  12:21pm

@ADAK - There’s a lot of neat stuff in Westville so it’s nice to see development occurring in an adjacent neighborhood as well, but the location is certainly close to West River Arts, only 1.5 miles away.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 27, 2017  12:28pm

@Three, is there anything you actually agree with?  Can you point me to one article where you were for something happening in New Haven?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 27, 2017  12:47pm

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 27, 2017 12:28pm

@Three, is there anything you actually agree with?  Can you point me to one article where you were for something happening in New Haven?

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posted by: southwest on September 27, 2017  1:08pm

Love it great idea hope it go forward…need young people and their creative ideas…hope the people on the zoning board don’t try to block it…it’s about time abandon building in the hood is rising for exciting adventures in the near future !!

posted by: Peter99 on September 27, 2017  1:10pm


You are one negative person. You must look in the mirror in the morning and hate what you see looking back at you. You see gloom and doom in New Haven where others see hope and dreams. It sounds like most of the folks that comment regularly in the Independent are tired of you also. You have negative so long you have reached a point where folks no longer really care what you have to say or how many times you say it. You have become non-relevant.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 27, 2017  1:38pm

@ Peter99

If I have have become non-relevant.They why did you read my post and answer me?

Last to you and all who say I have become non-relevant. Let me say this to all In the words of the late Redd Foxx who would close his show by saying.If I have hurt any one.Then From the bottom of My Heart I do not give a XXXX.So this is my answer to all who I have said I have become non-relevant.I do not give a XXXX.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 27, 2017  1:42pm

Will this project be competing with the Q-House, or are these projects competing with each other to get built?????

posted by: brownetowne on September 27, 2017  1:46pm

I think threefifths would prefer to see a laundromat at this location.  Actually, where is a decent laundromat nearby?

posted by: Colin Ryan on September 27, 2017  1:48pm

This is a fantastic project and it highlights the need to speed up revisions of outdated zoning districts and parking requirements in advance so we can encourage more of the same.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 27, 2017  2:00pm

I think both Kaphar and Brand got an interesting life lesson here—just because you have an art degree from a reputable university doesn’t mean that you can support yourself as an artist…. 

Retaining more ‘Yale Students’.....??? 
Didn’t I hear a question like that at the Mayoral Debate…?

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 27, 2017  2:22pm


Wasn’t Kaphar’s most recent entry into NHI a proposal about art in laundromats??
I liked that idea of using art to build community, and after reading this article,  I wonder where the middle ground is…

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 27, 2017  4:40pm

posted by: brownetowne on September 27, 2017 1:46pm

I think threefifths would prefer to see a laundromat at this location.  Actually, where is a decent laundromat nearby?

I would like to see Apartments for people with low to moderate incomes.

posted by: robn on September 27, 2017  6:02pm


How would you feel about supporting projects that create jobs and lessen the number of low to operate income households because they’ll have more job opportunities?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 27, 2017  8:48pm

NHVCyclist re. your “not sure how anyone could be unhappy” comment - you clearly have not read 3/5ths posts on this and other development proposals :-).

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 27, 2017  9:06pm

posted by: robn on September 27, 2017 6:02pm


How would you feel about supporting projects that create jobs and lessen the number of low to operate income households because they’ll have more job opportunities?

True.But you still have to have a roof over your Head.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 27, 2017  9:52pm

CTDRV, if, in an alternative universe, (1) the legislature authorized municipalities to include affordable housing requirements in their zoning codes and (2) New Haven adopted such requirements, they would not apply to this project. Changes in zoning law are prospective. Moreover, affordable housing requirements in other cities apply to larger developments. None that I am aware of would affect a four-unit development.

posted by: M Short on September 28, 2017  7:23am

I got a chance to see this initiative first hand in its development as a volunteer for a couple of months, and to get to know some of the people associated with the initiative beyond those at the hearing. It’s hard to decide what to say about this because the whole thing was so inspiring to be involved with that I don’t know where to start. All I can say is that the longer I stayed around this group, the more convinced I was of their sincerity, their commitment to positive community impact, and that the idea was the beginning of something great. To those who would forward gentrification concerns, this group spends more time considering displacement and adverse impact than any business or real estate group I have ever seen. To those concerned about the impact of Yale, this project is decidedly not controlled by the University, but brings to bear positive opportunities the university’s presence can bring to town for the community. What I loved most was feeling a connection to a project that I felt was ‘next level’ in community engagement and protection/revitalization, town gown relationship, and overall advancement of what we have to offer in New Haven. I could not believe more deeply than I do in this project and this group as a positive for us in New Haven.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 28, 2017  7:39am

Bill,  going to your first question, I don’t know how this project is funded, but the funding for the Q House is committed. The legislature periodically rescinds bond authorizations for projects that don’t go forward. But I’m not aware of any cases where they have pulled funding for a project that is under construction.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 28, 2017  1:37pm


It just seems to me that between the Q-House and this project, there is a lot of money and a lot of potential overlap…  that was the gist behind my comment….

Matt Short,

What is this group doing in the community now? 
It seems that ‘good works’ go a long way to sell projects like these…
All I have heard is what they ‘want’ to do, not what they have done….

posted by: M Short on September 28, 2017  2:06pm

Hey Bill,

I don’t want to suggest that I can speak for them. It’s not that I feel that I couldn’t say things they have done collectively and individually that are significant, it’s just that I don’t feel it’s my conversation to have. This group is at the beginning of their road, and I just wanted to bear witness about my own experience with them, somewhat to share with others, and somewhat because I’m very pleased myself that this is on its way.

I hope they will earn others respect like they’ve earned mine.


posted by: Bill Saunders on September 28, 2017  2:30pm

Matt Short,

Well, it was a pretty praise-worthy post from you to have no content to back it up….

My ‘advice’ for people at the beginning of the rode is ‘show your community worth’ first, before you embark on dreamy multi-million dollar enterprises…

Long-term vision is more important than long-term space….

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 28, 2017  11:17pm

Matt Short,

Do you have any idea how much money is going to purchase 169 Henry Street….

Vision Appraisal shows that the property sold for $350k in 2012, and is currently assessed at $527.6k….  sounds like some nice profit potential for the right ‘actors’....

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 30, 2017  4:19pm

Bill, thanks. Point taken, but I will be pleasantly surprised if the folks behind Q House and the developers of this project collaborate.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 1, 2017  3:28am


One of the most interesting omitted facts from all of these articles is that Titus is a well-anointed artist under the Yale Brand…..he is in fact a TIME Magazine Person of the Year…..  he has art at the Yale Art Gallery…..

This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum…

He is a PROXY. 

The fact that the first comment on this article makes an adamant plea about ‘no Yale money’ being involved is a real ‘tell’.  I have never seen so much support for a project with no reported track record from the principals….. 

In fact Titus’s accomplishments are not even mentioned…...they are pretty significant if you are to take that ‘stuff’ seriously…..

Some of the other commenter’s are obviously involved in this project on a ground level as well.. 

As a side note, I heard through the grapevine that the artist occupying the Pirelli Building is doing that through Yale Proxy Contacts….

Beware of the Yale Proxy…...  the money doesn’t come from the University, but…........

Where is the investment in the artistic base that is here, and why the on-going ruse…...