Garage Eyed As Temporary “Commons”

Thomas Breen photoAs Yale closes up its “Commons” for a $150 million rebuilding, it’s looking to a York Street garage to serve as a temporary replacement for student dining and big events.

The university is seeking city permission to convert the former dialysis center-turned-parking garage at 150 York St. into a temporary event space that will host both town and gown functions. The university already owns the building, and is waiting on City Plan Commission approval of its updated site and usage plans before beginning construction.

On Tuesday night, two Yale representatives presented the university’s latest plans for 150 York at the monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team on the second floor of City Hall. The university has already submitted its new plans for the building to the City Plan Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the proposal later this week. (Update: The commission approved the plan Thursday night.)

The university is keen on building out the temporary event space to accommodate the imminent two-and-a-half-year closure of one of its current on-campus student centers.

In September 2016, the university announced the proposed expansion of the Schwarzman Center, formerly the Yale Commons, a multipurpose dining hall and event space located at the corner of Grove Street and Prospect Street. The building is named after billionaire Yale alum and Blackstone Group CEO (and Donald Trump pal) Steven A. Schwarzman, who donated $150 million to the university for the project in 2015.

Since the Schwarzman Center will therefore be closed from September 2017 through fall 2020, the university needed to find a temporary swing space to accommodate the many events that take place in the current building over the course of the year. Some of these events are Yale-specific, but the venue is also available for public rental, and is currently used to host such community events as the Walter Camp Football Foundation annual awards ceremony and the New Haven Science Fair.

The university settled on 150 York St. as a suitable location for the temporary replacement dining hall and event space.

“The building was formerly a dialysis center that was operated by the Hospital” of St. Raphael, explained Jeromy Powers, a project planner for Yale’s Facilities Planning & Project Management department.

“That was shut down five or six years ago, and has basically sat vacant during that time frame. Yale acquired the property and still maintains it and operates it as a garage. The idea for this project is to renovate the existing space on the first floor and ground floor for a temporary swing space while Commons is shut down until Fall 2020.”

Yale plans to keep the parking garage in place, but will update the building’s façade as well as the vacant former-medical space to accommodate the building’s new functions.

The university plans to build new bathroom facilities, storage spaces, and a warming kitchen, among other proposed changes. It will also lower the façade’s windowsill and add entries that will be separate from the garage entry.

After the Schwarzman Center opens in 2020, the university plans to find a retail tenant for the front 3,500 square feet of the building. Powers said the university is not sure how the rest of the renovated building will be used after 2020.

Powers also noted that that the only programmatic change that the university is proposing that will affect the building’s footprint is to move up the façade three and a half feet, thereby increasing the overall footprint by around 100 square feet.

“We’re pulling everything a little bit closer to the sidewalk so that it’s not so recessed and dark underneath there,” he said. “But we’re not changing anything about the sidewalk or the parking garage itself.”

The renovated building will be approximately 16,000 square feet in total, anchored by a 12,000 square-foot event space. The space will have a capacity for 700 guests at a seated dinner.

Towards the end of the presentation, community activist Ed Anderson asked if the university’s proposed renovations means that this building will be pulled from the city’s tax rolls.

“Whatever the taxing situation is now, it’s going to stay that way,” replied Karen King, community affairs associate in Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs. “Nothing has changed so far. The garage is going to stay taxable, and the rest is going to be university use, which is what it’s been been up until now.”

Pending City Plan approval, the university is looking to begin construction at 150 York St. in early May after Yale graduation, and then begin operation in September.

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