Marriott Runs Into More Dwight Friction

Paul Bass PhotoThe new owner of the downtown Courtyard Marriott received a get-to-know you message from neighbors — an attempt to stop him from renewing his hotel’s liquor license.

The new owner, Noble Investment Group, purchased the Whalley Avenue Marriott a little over a month ago.

The transaction has put on hold the Marriott’s plans to build a second hotel, a longer-term-stay Residence Inn, behind the Whalley hotel, at the corner of Elm and Howe. Noble Executive Vice-President Ben Brunt told the Independent Monday that his team is “studying” the idea before deciding whether to revive that plan and seek neighborhood and city approvals.

For now, Brunt said, Noble is focusing in making “a significant multi-million-dollar” renovation of the 207-room Whalley Avenue hotel.

As the new owner, Noble (through the company it hired to manage the Whalley Marriott, Interstate Hotels and Resorts), needs to receive approval from the state consumer protection department’s Liquor Control Division to keep selling booze. It filed an application to do so.

The commission subsequently received letters from neighbors opposing the application, on grounds that the new owners haven’t met with them to explain any expansion plans.

As a result, the commission has launched an investigation (and has sealed the public file), according to spokeswoman Claudette Carveth.

Aliyya Swaby PhotoThe letters were signed by leaders of the Dwight Community Management Team, Dwight Alder Frank Douglass and others.

Douglass said the opponents are seeking “respect.”

“They [the new owners] should come to the management team and let them know what their plans are: How big is it going to be? We don’t know if they’re going to expand it, put a nightclub in,” Douglass said.

“We’ve tried” to meet with Douglass and others, said Brunt (pictured). “But they were unavailable. We’ll hopefully be back in the market in short order and have meetings.”

Brunt attempted to hold meetings during a recent visit here from Atlanta.

Douglass said he received only a day’s notice, so the meeting couldn’t take place. “I have a job. I have to support my family. I can’t just take off because somebody drops their hat in town and says, ‘Let’s talk.’ It’s all about respect.”

Robert Sullivan, of the Interstate Hotels management company, said the Marriott has a provisional license that allows it to continue dispensing liquor pending resolution of the application process. He said no changes in use are envisioned for the Marriott, only cosmetic improvements like “paint, wallpaper.”

“The facility is a Courtyard. It’s been a Courtyard forever. It’s going to stay a Courtyard. That’s the only plan we know of,” Sullivan said.

The “respect” complaint refrains a complaint the neighborhood had about the Marriott’s previous owners, who sought to build the 115-room six-story Residence Inn at Elm and Howe (on a lot housing the Brick Oven Pizza restaurant). Neighbors succeeded in blocking the proposal at the zoning board and City Plan Commission after they said the owners failed to meet with them first before seeking public approval.

Technically, Newport Hotel Group owns that property. It had planned to build the hotel there for the previous Marriott owners. Now the firm needs to wait to see what the new owner decides.

Noble has retained local zoning attorney James Segaloff to represent the firm before city agencies in the event of a resubmission.

If the decision is to try again, expect to see some neighborhood meetings.

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posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on May 5, 2015  7:20am

The Dwight Community Management Team, Frank Douglass, and Scott Marks should be ashamed of themselves. They’re using the new hotel owner’s attempt to renew their liquor license as a hostage in negotiations about an expansion plan which may or may not even happen.

The Community Management Team has already shown that they care more about their “not in my backyard” mentality of caring more about how fast traffic is than creating local jobs in the area, and this is just the next step in total disregard for taxpaying businesses in the area. Not sure if they’ve noticed, but there aren’t a ton of high profile businesses over there on Whalley.

Maybe they should actually wait until the expansion plans are released, if at all, before they start making demands and holding a liquor license hostage. Otherwise, they just look petty.

posted by: Theodora on May 5, 2015  7:22am

Nothing gains respect like hostage taking. Oh, wait.

So folks want to gain respect of a hotel owner at the risk of losing respect city-wide. Makes a lot of sense.

posted by: robn on May 5, 2015  7:54am

The expansion plans have already been submitted and all hotels have a small bar in them. This continues to smell a lot like a UNITE HERE union shakedown. Why isn’t Alder Douglas promoting the expansion of an already established business in his neighborhood? Oh I forgot, he’s a member of UNITE HERE. Feathering ones own nest?

posted by: KatieP on May 5, 2015  7:54am

Why don’t Douglass, Gillespie, and MacDonald do something about the fights that break out at Popeye’s Chicken across the street from this Marriott all the time? 

I used to have business guests stay at that Marriott, and they would watch the fights from their windows.  How is that good for the neighborhood?  That’s been going on for years, where are these concerned citizens on that? Following their logic, maybe they should shut down Popeye’s?

Who in their right mind would try to put a nightclub inside of a Courtyard Marriott?

posted by: Noteworthy on May 5, 2015  7:58am

Alder Frank Douglas and his hostage taking cohorts are really showing the love for a company who has made a major acquisition, is going to put millions of dollars into renovations, pay taxes and permit fees in the thousands of dollars - and keep employing people from New Haven. Talk about showing respect - it is really arrogant and frankly, Mr. Douglas, idiotic. How about embracing the new company and putting on the best face, not the sorriest backside to our new city investor?

posted by: deathandtaxes on May 5, 2015  8:30am

I’m just embarrassed that I live in Mr. Douglass’ neighborhood.  I used to attend DCMT meetings regularly, but nothing ever got resolved, and the concerns and grievances that were aired were just ridiculous.  Respect?  I wish had some for the so-called leaders of my neighborhood.

posted by: ILivehere on May 5, 2015  8:36am

We should start a petition to disband the Dwight street management team and the city should send a letter to the new owners apologizing of the grossly inappropriate behavior of this quasi governmental agency. This is what you get when you vote for unite here candidates.

posted by: Razzie on May 5, 2015  8:37am

Where in the world is Matt Nemerson on this??!! This hostage taking has got to stop ... Has New Haven now officially become the newest banana republic?

These are the very same actors that derailed the plans for an existing neighborhood business (Marriott) to build a major expansion that would have contributed substantial money and resources to the city’s future development. And rather than put up with their shenanigans, the previous owner left and is developing facilities in more rational and hospitable locations. This is not just a Dwight issue. The DCMT idiocy threatens the health and viabiity of New Haven as a whole. Frankly, I find their “Respect” protestations to be insulting. If you want respect…then show some respect for the other neighborhoods and citizens of New Haven!

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on May 5, 2015  9:53am

The Residence Inn would bring in nearly half a million dollars, annually, in property taxes.

Can we send the Dwight Mgmt Team a bill for that amount?

Is Douglass representing the neighborhood on this one, or his employer? (Isn’t he a union organizer?) Does it matter to anyone that the immediate neighbors are almost unanimous in their support for the Residence Inn, which will make that whole area much, much safer?

posted by: Frank Columbo on May 5, 2015  10:32am

KatieP- Right on Popeye’s reference! 
I attended a Craig Ferguson performance at SCSU this past winter.

Craig apparently lodged at that Marriot because he made a very unflattering comment about the activity at Popeyes.  I was mortified that would be his impression of New Haven.

posted by: TheGhostOfRogerSherman on May 5, 2015  11:09am

@KatieP, You get 500 common sense points!

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 5, 2015  12:31pm

I am really beginning to think that DCMT is run by a bunch of Yahoos.

One only need look at the ugly monstrosity being built at the corner of Chapel and Howe to see the fruits of their vision….

They make a big deal about moving a historic home , but do absolutely nothing to ensure the design new apartment complex is anything but abhorrently ugly.

They should have found the house a better home in a nicer neighborhood and fought hard for a decent design. 

They failed twice.  Three time counting this debacle….

posted by: Adam on May 5, 2015  12:35pm

Absolutely ridiculous. You block a major hotel that will provide tax revenue, jobs and a much better look to that neighborhood because of a hotel owner who didnt show at a meeting? This isnt a pawn shop or a liquor store, what does this guy need to explain? We all know what a Residence Inn is for gods sake. Im starting to think that neighborhood opposition is having too much stake in the decisions of the PZC when I see a project like this go down the drain

posted by: Esbey on May 5, 2015  12:45pm

Where in the state liquor laws does it say that part of the process is showing the right kind of “respect” to self-proclaimed neighborhood “leaders”? Being elected Alder comes with certain rights and responsibilities.  Running your own private approval process for liquor licenses and neighborhood development is *not* one of them.  You cannot command local property owners to “respect” you, that is not the way a democracy works. 

All the folks commenting here are correct.  This is a blatant shake-down attempt.  If it succeeds, then New Haven is in big trouble.  All attempts to create jobs and a tax base will be held up by groups looking for their share of what they perceive to be “the loot”.

I hope the mayor steps up on this one. She is doing an excellent job overall on development, but this is nuts.

posted by: NewHaven06511 on May 5, 2015  12:54pm

Moving New Haven backward! NHI has reported “Meanwhile, the grand list has not grown over the past year; it slightly dipped” and now one alder trying to exercise veto power on growth in jobs and taxes, meaning either higher taxes for union members who live here or worse budget for unionized city employees. Backward and near sighted.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on May 5, 2015  2:31pm

Seems like there would be a lot of support for a new Alder. Who is the viable candidate. Energy towards promoting their efforts to unseat the current candidates would be better spent than a petition.  Maybe unite here will decide to put up a different candidate themselves. This certainly seems brutal for the job creation brand they have attempted to convey.

posted by: KateW on May 5, 2015  2:50pm

I disagree with all the above comments.  As a 35 year homeowner just two blocks from the Marriot and its proposed expansion, and having paid over $200,000 in property taxes for the privilege of living here, I say - good for Frank Douglass, my Alderman.  Marriot pays its workers extremely low wages and does not interact with the community on any level. Its expansion design had major flaws both in appearance and functionality.  And it wants to wipe out a thriving business that is well loved by neighbors, Marriot guests and tons of Yale students - Brick Oven Pizza.  As for the comments about DCMT - they are unfair and flippant with no recognition of what DCMT has accomplished - everything from Dwight Plaza /Stop & Shop to the Montessori School and the beautiful community room on Edgewood that is cooperatively now utilized by Amistad School. The people that have been denigrated in above comments have worked extremely hard to improve and maintain the Dwight community.  DCMT has 25 years of experience in considering what is needed here and getting good stuff done.  If you don’t like the way the new apartment complex on Chapel looks - you should have seen the original designs before DCMT got involved. I am not against Marriot getting their liquor license - or their proposed expansion if they decide to proceed with it as long as they: 1. do not decimate a fantastic restaurant (best idea would be to build the new restaurant in the facility and contract with Brick Oven Chef to be the vendor) or 2. do not design their delivery/trash plans to be faced on Elm Street with an impossible turn radius for big trucks and ugly stretch for all of us who enjoy walking down Elm on our way into central New Haven.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 5, 2015  3:16pm

Kate W.

With regards to the Upcoming Ugly Apartments at Chapel and Howe, one need look no further than the College and Crown development for comparison—the designs for both projects look like they were purchased from the same ad in the back of Popular Mechanics, the only difference is C&C purchased some extra architectural details that make their structure slightly less unsightly…... 

These developments are all about shoddy construction and cheap design to maximize profit.  I am all for changing that dynamic, but I don’t see one example in current New Haven development that could even be used as and example….

posted by: Razzie on May 5, 2015  3:51pm

I walked past the corner that the Brick Oven occupies ... What an ungodly mess of a site! That wood pile has got to go. I would welcome a Residence Inn there, instead of the current mess.

posted by: Rafi on May 5, 2015  4:16pm

I thoroughly resent what the previous commenter, “Razzie,” wrote (wouldn’t be surprised if they are involved with the developer/new project, seems fishy). Anyhow, the point is this: Pizza at the Brick Oven is a community landmark. Kadir Catalbasoglu, the owner (whose son Hacibey just got into Yale, and will be a freshman next year), is a community fixture, and a friend to so many in New Haven. I expect a massive amount of community support to rally around the restaurant—developers normally get their way, and knock down whatever they have to, but they should be ready for a big fight if they try to go after the Brick Oven anytime soon. It’s beloved by Yale students and New Haven residents alike, and one of the most respected small business in the community. Good luck, Noble: I doubt you’ll get your way this time.

http://www.nhregister.com/business/20150425/after-growing-up-among-yalies-son-of-new-haven-pizzeria-owner-accepted-at-university

- Rafi, Yale ‘16

posted by: robn on May 5, 2015  4:31pm

KATEW,

Hah!

1) Yale, City Hall under Mayor DeStefano and the GDDC under Linda Townsend-Maier lured Stop&Shop; to Whalley in early 2011 (before Frank Douglass even ran for Alderman).

2) The government has a say in worker compensation; it’s called minimum wage and if you want to change it you should lobby your legislators.

3) If Brick Oven Pizza wanted to stay where it is, it could buy the land and refuse to sell. Otherwise its subject to the same economies that every other business is subject to.

4) Saying that the DCMT is responsible for the aesthetics of a building that isn’t as bad as it was before isn’t a resounding endorsement.

5) The government has a mechanism for managing aesthetic issues and it’s called zoning. The appropriate place to discuss a loading dock location is at a variance hearing or, if the proposal is as-of-right, by trying to change the zoning law.

posted by: asdfghjkl; on May 5, 2015  4:38pm

There are people who like it, sure. That’s why it’s still in business. I don’t think, though, that we should be so conservative when it comes to change. The new Marriott would benefit many people, as well - hence why it’s a viable project. Plus, it will being in more tax revenue that that city can use. It’s probably the case that a pizza place is not the best use of that particular parcel of land. And it’s not like the owners would be banished from the city. There are plenty of storefronts in the area that they could relocate to.

posted by: Theodora on May 5, 2015  4:39pm

KateW,

You say you disagree with all of the comments, most of which object to the hostage-taking initiative by a wayward alderman and a couple of his selfish constituents. Then you say you don’t have a problem with the Marriott getting its license.

Kinda hard to follow that circular logic.

posted by: Bradley on May 5, 2015  6:48pm

The restaurant/bar at the end of my block changed ownership recently. FWIW, the new owner is African American. Even though I am vice chair of my neighborhood management team, the idea of contesting the transfer of the liquor permit never occurred to me. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I’m going to assume that the new permittee is a decent guy who will run the business responsibly.

KateW, DCP regulates businesses that sell booze, it is not a zoning agency. The issue before the DCP is whether Marriott is a suitable entity to take over the liquor license. If DCP denies the transfer on extraneous grounds, such as those you raise, Marriott will take the agency to court where it will lose.

posted by: new havener on May 5, 2015  8:50pm

New Haven needs a lot of things, most of all, revenue, by way of tax assessments.

It seems the DCMT knows this, and in the spirit of community organizing, are actively engaged in the time-honored, though less than honorable, tradition of shakedown.

On the streets, respect equals ‘I’ll acknowledge you, if you acknowledge me’ and ‘I’ll do for you if you’ll do for me’

posted by: KateW on May 6, 2015  5:58am

Robn re Hey
1.  Stop & Shop had already rejected the location, Yale and the Mayor DeStefano & Linda had nothing to do with it taking another look.  It was lured there by its current manager Anne Demchak who became interested after I showed her the site one spring afternoon in 2009 including the vacant lot that could become a gas station, making it more profitable for S&S.  Her bosses from NY Metro were coming through CT a few days later and going to lunch with her and she drove them to the location and talked them into reconsidering it.  I called Linda and told her that S&S might be reconsidering it.  The rest is history.  It is DCMT that had identified the need for a full service supermarket there and had refused to accept anything less.  GDDC by its defined mission is charged with developing what DCMT has identified as its priorities for the neighborhood.
2.  In addition to paying minimum wage to its maids, Marriott also pays extremely low wages to its on-site managers, even those who have worked there for many years – not making for very motivated or happy hoteliers. 
3.  I am sure Brick Oven would buy the land if it was for sale.  It had a 25 year lease with 10 years left on it that Marriott is trying to break.  My position is that the giant corporation needs to adequately compensate the beloved thriving small business, and not destroy the livelihood of its owner by offering a pittance for the loss of his business that he expected to continue for the remaining ten years of the lease they signed with him.  (And now that his son has been accepted at Yale, will no doubt need to pay the tuition)
4. The Chapel Street apartments would look worse than it does were it not for members of DCMT advocating strongly with the developer to improve his designs.  Some changes were made, not all that we wanted.
5.  The former Marriott owners withdrew their application to zoning because DCMT identified a major design flaw they knew could not be overcome with a variance request

posted by: robn on May 6, 2015  7:29am

KATEW

1)Interesting story but not as far as I’ve researched, not how it was reported.
2)As I’ve written in this forum before, the Zoning process considers use and form and is in no way a forum for labor agitators to exert leverage.
3)I’d be interested in reading the first person account of Brick Oven’s wants/intentions. It seems reasonable that Matt Nemerson would help negotiate a new nearby space with an equitable stipend for the move and downtime.
4)Don’t know what to say about less ugly.
5)The heart of it is two legal processes. Now is the liquor license which has a formal avenue of public appeal. Later is a new zoning variance application which would be a forum for public discussion. Although I personally think outreach would be smart, neither process requires a ritual kneeling in front of the DCMT.

posted by: Razzie on May 6, 2015  10:03am

Rafi—

For what it’s worth, I lived around the corner from that location for more than 15 years ... and NO—I have no connection to the developer or Marriott. (Point of fact, there is no current development project on the table because it was withdrawn due to the opposition by the same actors who are challenging the liquor license renewal.) I feel confident that I have a longer investment in that community than a typical Yale senior class member. or even that of Brick Oven’s relatively brief stay at that site.

But this issue is not about whether Yale students like Brick Oven pizza. You are welcome to your choice. In my mind this issue is about process—whether a small group of self-interested protesters should be allowed to hijack and derail a major development project that will do considerable good for the greater community. And as you know, the story is about the liquor license and DCMT’s efforts to thwart its renewal, not about whether a Residence Inn will replace Brick Oven Pizza.

posted by: Mister Jones on May 6, 2015  10:39am

I’m not a fan of the new hotel project—too big and ugly, and out of scale with the neighborhood. But fighting the Courtyard’s liquor permit on those grounds is pretty shaky. Meanwhile, why all the hating on Popeye’s? Good food, good local operator, they serve everyone. Is there some racial bias or stereotyping going on here?