Chapel mall renovation agreement finalized

The city of New Haven finally closed a deal worth nearly $6 million with a well-respected developing team to rejuvenate the Chapel Square Mall, ending over four months of exclusive negotiations that began in early January. Tony Bialecki, a New Haven economic development officer, confirmed that the deal closed at approximately 4 p.m. yesterday.

The development team consists of Baltimore-based Williams Jackson Ewing Inc. and Philadelphia’s Lubert-Adler Partners. The redevelopment plan will add street access to all of the stores in the mall over the course of several years.

“We’re going to recycle it, update it, and really front the stores on the street like an old urban grid,” said Lehr Jackson, a Williams Jackson Ewing partner.

Officials familiar with the project said new tenants may arrive as early as December. But the 160,000-square-foot mall will first close for several months for a complete overhaul. Jackson said the mall’s roof and air conditioning systems both need to be upgraded. Contractors also plan to add glass facades in an effort to improve the structure’s facade.

“The mall building right now looks like a prison,” Jackson said.

The development team hopes to attract fashion stores, home furnishing retailers, restaurants and cafes to the mall. Jackson said that the new retail center will include a food court and that the final commercial mix set will include independent and chain retailers.

“We’re looking for the best locals, the best regionals and the best nationals,” Jackson said.

The future of the mall’s current shops remains unclear. Scott Healy, the executive director of the Town Green Special Services District and a member of the city project committee that selected the developing team, said the stores would be able to relocate nearby.

“There are enough vacancies in the area that all current tenants should be able to find lease properties,” Healy said.

The office tower above the mall will also be renovated to put in a combination of residential and office units. Several floors are currently unoccupied because of asbestos, Healy said. After asbestos abatement, these floors will become residential space. Floors currently serving as office space will be gradually upgraded.

Under the complicated agreement, ownership of the mall changes hands from the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce to the developing team.The developers will pay $2.7 million to the city to erase all back taxes on the property.

The team will also pay another $3 million to Cordish Company and Omni Hotels to settle a lawsuit that has hindered the mall’s development. In 1998, Baltimore’s Cordish Company sued the city when work on the now-canceled Long Wharf Mall project appeared to threaten the promised redevelopment of Chapel Square. The Cordish Company was responsible for the 1996 redevelopment of the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale.

In addition, the firms reportedly made a payment to the Omni’s developers for the rights to develop the mall’s second floor. When the mall first opened in 1965, the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel, now the Omni, opened directly into the mall’s second floor.

City officials were thrilled that an agreement had finally been reached.

“It’s a good chance for the mall to redefine itself,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “We’ll have retail there on the ground level; the lawsuit is finally over. We’re headed in the right direction.”

Matthews Ventures LLC of New Haven and S.N. Phelps & Co. of Greenwich also bid on the city’s May 2001 request for proposal, which initially included not only the Chapel Square Mall but also the adjacent sites of the former Macy’s and Malley’s department stores. Plans for the now-vacant Macy’s building and the site where Malley’s once stood are on hold.

Williams Jackson Ewing has earned a solid reputation by managing the retail renovations at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and Washington’s Union Station.

“They’re very good at retail recruitment and doing quality projects,” said Chip Croft, the president of the United Merchants Association and a member of the city’s project committee.

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