The likely closure of the Shaw’s supermarket on Whalley Avenue will be a blow to the surrounding community — but for the developers of 360 State Street, it may be a blessing in disguise.
New Haven developer Becker + Becker Associates has been negotiating with supermarkets interested in moving into 360 State, the largest private construction project in the history of New Haven, since mid-September, and the closing of Shaw’s may jump-start the opening of that downtown grocery store, the company’s president, Bruce Becker ARC ’85 SOM ’85, said. But Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, in whose ward 360 State is located, said she does not think the closing of Shaw’s will affect the negotiations between Becker + Becker and supermarket chains.
While Becker declined to release the names of the supermarket chains with which his company is negotiating because he said it might compromise their discussions, he said now “the ball is in our court” to select among the interested chains. He said he is 90 percent sure a large-scale supermarket will open there by the end of the year, and he will announce the store within 60 days.
“Ideally we would like to see Shaw’s remain open for the Whalley Avenue neighborhood,” Becker said. “[But] the closing of Shaw’s will create more demand at [360 State].”
Still, any supermarket that moves into 360 State will be about half the size of the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s. Becker + Becker has allocated between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet of space to the prospective supermarket, making the largest possible supermarket 27,000 square feet smaller than the Shaw’s.
At the same time, community leaders said the opening of a new grocery store downtown will not affect the potential for a new one to open in the Shaw’s lot.
“I think ultimately they would take a look at nearby demographics and the facilities and space provided to them, rather than nearby competition,” Clark said.
Sheila Masterson, executive director of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, a private urban planning and consulting company that is currently helping to find a replacement for Shaw’s, said that, if anything, she welcomes the competition. She added that in 1998, the year before Shaw’s opened, her association had a survey conducted by an outside consulting firm that assessed the feasibility of opening a major supermarket in New Haven. The consultants found that the population density of New Haven was high enough to support three Super Stop & Shops, she said.
Masterson said the tenants of the 500 apartments at 360 State will “considerably increase the population density” and the need for another large supermarket in New Haven.
Clark, a frequent shopper at Shaw’s, said the delay in finalizing an agreement between a grocer and Becker + Becker is the result of the requirements of the grocers under consideration.
If Becker + Becker does not secure a supermarket for the ground floor of 360 State, the city will fine the firm $250,000 since, in September 2007, the city granted Becker + Becker the right to develop the site provided the building include a supermarket.
To reduce the traffic the supermarket will cause — a possible deterrent for large supermarket chains considering the property, Becker said — the firm connected 360 State to Pitkin Tunnel, an underground public roadway that will allow supply trucks to unload without clogging downtown streets.
But the closing of Shaw’s does not only make 360 State more appealing to supermarket chains, Becker said — it is also forcing him to reevaluate the needs of the community that the new grocer should meet.
“Although the factors leading to our decision as to what supermarket to select relies to a certain extent on which one will be most successful and will be able to pay a certain amount of rent,” he said. “We are more interested in one that will meet the broadest spectrum of needs for local residents and Yale.”
Kelly Murphy, the city’s economic development administrator, said in September that the original contract for 360 State stipulated that the developer must recruit a grocer “of comparable quality and service to that of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.” But Clark said at the time that the chains “showed either little interest or insisted there be more parking.” A rendering of 360 State on the development’s official Web site depicts a grocery store labeled “Natural Foods.”
The construction crane at 360 State St. will be removed today so that the finishing touches can be put on the development’s retail and parking structures.