Forum looks at city retail

“Underwear, everyone wants underwear!” Bruce Alexander, one of Yale’s highest-ranking officials, said, in reference to student requests for greater New Haven retail at an open forum Wednesday night.

It is not every day that students have the chance to discuss such intimate issues with a university vice president. But as part of an initiative to get students more involved with downtown economic development, the Yale College Council hosted an open forum with Alexander, the vice president of New Haven and State Affairs. He presented a slide show about Yale’s partnership with New Haven and answered questions from students concerned with everything from dining options to, well, underwear.

YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 said the forum was a positive first step in bridging the gap between Yale students and University Properties, the Yale office that leases out retail space around the University, of which few students seem to be aware.

“There has been a growing concern among students that Yale plays a large role in how New Haven is developed, and that there is often a divide between Yale students and the plans for this development,” Cedar said.

Alexander explained to students that because they are a changing constituency, with a quarter of the students changing each year, it is often difficult for University Properties to know what students would like to see come downtown. And since students are New Haven residents for less than eight months each year, local retail must be able to attract enough non-students to survive the other four months, Alexander said.

“We’re trying to create an experience in New Haven that is unlike them all,” Alexander said. “We need enough strong names to keep our local businesses alive, but our small tenants are what distinguishes us from other cities.”

YCC representative Austin Broussard ’06, who organized the forum, said he hears a lot of students complain about the limited retail options in New Haven, so he wanted to give students a chance to communicate their thoughts to the people directly responsible.

“It is important that we take student suggestions as to what University Properties should put in so we can keep business in New Haven instead of everyone waiting to shop until they go home,” Broussard said. “Our end goal is to find a group of interested students to form an advisory committee to work with University Properties.”

But student requests for some businesses, such as a big name movie theater or a national sporting goods store, to come to New Haven were met with little optimism. Alexander said that many national retailers are increasingly shying away from downtown urban areas because of a lack of large lot space and parking spots.

Students also voiced concern about the high prices of grocery markets and clothing stores in the area directly surrounding Yale campus. Alexander said that when University Properties signed contracts with certain stores on Broadway, such as Gourmet Heaven, it included a clause demanding that the store not charge above suburban commercial grocery prices.

“This is something we’re always conscious of and try hard to work at,” Alexander said. “As Yale students going out into the world and starting to affect some of these decisions, maybe you can help us out.”

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