Chapel Square Mall finally set for overhaul

After numerous delays due to legal procedure, the Chapel Square Mall will finally be redeveloped.

Lawyers representing both the city of New Haven and a developing team have set April 1 as a target closing date for an official agreement, said Tony Bialecki, a city economic development officer. Since early January, New Haven has been exclusively negotiating with the developing team, Baltimore-based Williams Jackson Ewing Inc. and Lubert-Adler Partners from Philadelphia.

“There is just some final paperwork that needs to be done, but we’re hoping to finalize a deal on April 1,” Bialecki said.

The developing team’s plan calls for adding street access to all stores, mixing independent and chain retailers, and renovating the office tower above the mall with a combination of residential and office units. The project would take several years to complete, but work could begin soon after the deal is reached.

Under the deal originally proposed, the developers will pay New Haven $2.6 million and assume $900,000 in debts on the property. The city and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce currently own the site.

City officials had hoped to reach an agreement with the developing team by the end of February. The developers met the first major deadline in mid-January by giving the city a $1 million deposit. But the subsequent negotiation process did not remain on schedule, largely because the legal work attached to the project required more time than anticipated.

“That was a target deadline like any closing date is,” Bialecki said. “The lawyers were making sure all the mortgages and all the closing items were in order, and it took longer than expected to do so.”

Rights regarding parking and service tunnels also pushed the closing date back, Bialecki said.

The developers’ lawyers also reached an agreement with 155 Temple St. LC and its owner, David Cordish of Baltimore. Cordish, who developed the Omni-New Haven Hotel at Yale, sued the city when work on the now-canceled Long Wharf Mall project appeared to threaten the promised redevelopment of the mall.

“The lawsuit settlement is part of the closing,” Bialecki said.

The 160,000-square-foot Chapel Square Mall first opened in 1965 as part of an urban renewal shopping complex that included adjacent department stores Macy’s and Malley’s. But Malley’s closed in 1982 and the city demolished the dilapidated building in 1997. Macy’s closed in 1993, and the building remains vacant.

New Haven initially also requested proposals for the former Macy’s and Malley’s sites, but the city has placed plans for those parcels on hold.

Throughout the mall’s history, the city has convinced well-respected developers to upgrade the site, most recently with the Baltimore-based Rouse Company in the late 1980s. But Rouse left in 1995 and the mall slowly floundered, earning the nickname of “the ghetto mall” among Yale students and leading city officials to consider abandoning the project in favor of the 1-million-square-foot Long Wharf Mall.

Williams Jackson Ewing Inc. is well-regarded for creating vibrant retail centers at Grand Central Terminal in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. Matthews Ventures LLC of New Haven and S.N. Phelps & Co. of Greenwich also bid on the city’s May 2001 request for proposal.

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