For the past few years, the empty windows and imposing, concrete exterior of Chapel Square Mall have been eyesores at the corner of Chapel and Church. But over the next month, upcoming offerings including a cafe and a new facade across the street could liven up the area.
The latest tenant to move into the newly-renovated Chapel Square Mall space this summer is Caffe Bottega, the third project from the Backroom at Bottega and Bottega Guiliana owners. Across the street, the developers of The CenterPointe — a mixed-use property on the corner of Chapel and Church — will take down construction and scaffolding to reveal a two-story glass facade, said Michael Schaffer, of C.A. White, a real estate company.
Caffe Bottega will primarily be a venue for live entertainment, co-owner Carla Maravelle said; catering to a slightly more reserved crowd who might enjoy a “Vegas-style” lounge feel with a wide selection of wines and martinis. The cafe will open early for breakfast and close late with dessert and live shows. Maravelle said that the dinner menu would feature lighter dishes and tapas-style dining.
“This place is going to be generally directed to the person looking to see a show and be with the people that they’re out with — it’s not a club place at all,” she said.
C.A. White is currently negotiating with T-Mobile to occupy space in the CenterPointe’s ground floor and is working with another potential tenant for the level’s main space, Schaffer said.
“That corner will look drastically different. And I don’t think people will fully appreciate how different it will be,” Schaffer said.
While developers did not reveal which other businesses they hope to lure to the area, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District Scott Healy said some bigger national companies have been showing strong interest in coming to New Haven.
“We’re not beating the bushes. They’re largely becoming more aggressive coming towards us,” Healy said.
In addition, Healy said College Street LLC plans on improving the building’s facade — which, with its solid concrete walls and dim lighting, is rather unappealing for pedestrians.
Management at College Street LLC, the developer of Chapel Square Mall, said they have leased out 60 percent of the retail space so far — Ann Taylor Loft and Cold Stone Creamery have been in business for months.
Yet some critics — especially of the Chapel Square Mall project — are concerned that not enough is being done to promote one of downtown’s potentially busiest locations.
Local architect Robert Orr ARC ’73 , of Robert Orr and Associates, said while he is glad to see so much downtown activity, he is worried that too much space on the first and second floors has been dedicated to residential units, leaving less space for the kinds of retail businesses that could revive Chapel Square.
“People have been trying to patch it up, and trying to re-cloak it for the last 20 years. Different developers have come in and jazzed it up, and it goes through a brief reincarnation, and then it kind of goes back to being a creepy mall,” Orr said. “I worry that this is going to be yet another.”
Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said she would have liked the city to consider more feedback from the community when considering what kinds of businesses would most benefit the public. She pointed out that few businesses represent the needs and budgets of many residents.
“We have low and we have high, and absolutely nothing in the middle,” Farwell said.
Orr said a department store, like JC Penney, would have been a good fit for the location.
But Healy said a home appliance store or bookstore is a more appropriate “anchor” business for New Haven and that bigger department stores tend to require more space than the city has to offer. He added that the developer has had a history of responsiveness to the community and that he is optimistic that the building will meet the community’s needs.