With a $1.6 million gift from Yale in hand, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced a city-wide initiative Thursday to boost New Haven’s economy by stimulating local businesses.
Although the specifics of the plan to revitalize the city’s commercial sectors are yet to be determined, the program calls for the formation of the Economic Development Corporation — a body responsible for maintaining and growing current businesses and economic activity and attracting new businesses to the Elm City. Yale has agreed to fund the initiative for five years.
“Today is about a success story,” DeStefano began, at Thursday’s press conference in City Hall, as he told reporters, staff and New Haven residents about the progress that has already been made in New Haven over the past decade.
Plans for the organization first came up in DeStefano’s eighth mayoral inaugural address Jan. 1, in which he previewed Thursday’s announcement.
DeStefano announced Thursday that he recruited a team of experts in urban economic revitalization and development to ensure the success of the initiative. The mayor has tapped Michele L. Whelley — who has spent over two decades involved in economic revitalization projects in the public and private sectors — to become CEO of the EDC. Whelley said she is optimistic and excited to head the project and cooperate with the University as well as the residents and business of New Haven.
Whelley, who has worked all over the country, most recently in Baltimore, said at Thursday’s press conference that while she has not spent much time in the city so far, she will learn quickly from those who have — acting as a “sponge” to ensure the success of the endeavor.
“Working with the community is critical,” she said. “I hope to hear from each and every one of you as soon as I can.”
She will take her post as CEO on March 31, when the initiative begins.
But until the official launch of the EDC, DeStefano said, Whelley will work with members of the board of the EDC to iron out the details of the initiative. DeStefano and the other officials present had few details to offer in the announcement or afterwards about the logistics of the endeavour.
Earlier in his term, DeStefano established a similar organization, which was eventually shut down amid corruption, but the New Haven Independent reported that the mayor said the EDC will avoid becoming a slush fund because it will be subject to Freedom of Information Act regulations, will hold open meetings and will be run independently of city hall.
DeStefano said that once the plans are set, the EDC will be able to help established and new businesses, alike, navigate through regulatory procedures, including land use and zoning laws. After the conference, he added that he expects that Yale will play an additional role in the revitalization through fields related to the life sciences, clinical activities and technology.
Bruce Alexander, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development, underscored the partnership between the EDC and Yale. He said the University and the community have a common stake in the success of the program.
New Haven Resident and Associate Director of Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association Leonard Smart said he believes the initiative will be beneficial for New Haven, so long as the city focuses on and funds the assessment and economic development of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
He said inner city neighborhoods that receive federal funding as federally-designated empowerment zone should be revitalized to “bring up” the community.
Meredith McCaslin of Market New Haven said she is not familiar with Whelley, but is looking forward to March 31, when she takes her position.
“I’m optimistic,” she said.
The final list of the members of the Board of Directors will be announced March 31.