Local residents weigh impact of new SOM campus

As construction moves ahead on the new SOM campus, some of its neighbors are apprehensive about the impact of the project on the area.
As construction moves ahead on the new SOM campus, some of its neighbors are apprehensive about the impact of the project on the area. Photo by Sharon Yin.

With construction of the new School of Management campus on Whitney Avenue now 11 months underway and the structure beginning to take shape, local residents and businesses are coming to understand the impact the campus will have on the surrounding neighborhood.

The $230 million project has thus far combined steel with concrete into the looming 242,000-square-foot building now visible along Whitney Avenue. Local residents, many of whom opposed the new campus when Yale sought its approval by the Board of Aldermen, have come to accept the building as a reality. But as the rising steel skeleton reveals the true physical size and scope of the building firsthand, twolocal businesses said they expect commercial growth, while several residents said they fear decreases in their homes’ values and a permanent shift in the neighborhood’s character.

“Sometimes buildings like [the new SOM building] look better if there’s more space around them because it balances the environment,” said John Herzan, the preservation services officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust. “In this case it looms over the neighbors.”

The future SOM campus is bordered on two sides by the Lincoln Street and Bradley Street residential neighborhood, whose residents fought the building’s construction when Yale first put forward its proposal in 2009. Twenty residents of the neighborhood signed a petition urging the City Plan Commission to consider their concerns before approving the design for the building. After the Board of Aldermen approved the campus’s Planned Development District, which provides the necessary zoning permissions for the project to proceed, Bradley Street resident Joseph Tagliarini ’83 filed a lawsuit appealing the decision, alleging that the design of the new campus did not fit the existing area physically or aesthetically. New Haven Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino dismissed Tagliarini’s case in April 2011.

SOM Dean Edward Snyder said he has not received any formal complaints from the community concerning the construction, though he said a common reaction to the structure has been, “Wow, it’s big.”

Yale spokesman Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said he is confident that community enthusiasm will increase when construction has finished, transforming what was “asphalt surface parking” into “a campus with extensive green space and lots of additional street life.”

But some neighbors of the new campus are concerned about its effect on property values and questioning whether the building currently taking shape will match the design in Yale’s proposal.

Since the steel structure of the building began forming behind his Bradley Street residence, Tagliarini said an assessment on the house has reflected a 25 percent decrease in his property’s value. He said many had expected more green space around the building than there will be.

“I think that [residents] were sold on the idea of an image of a significantly sloped landscape plan … with a higher percent of the site going to be converted from parking lot to greenery,” Tagliarini said. “When you’re back there now and you look at the size of the building and how close it is to the lots, there just is very little opportunity for achieving any significant green space that is of value.”

Herzan said that while the plans for the new campus were in the works, the Preservation Trust requested that Yale use the two buildings already at the Whitney Avenue site, which were constructed for the Security Insurance Company in the early 20th century, rather than construct a new facility. These buildings have been torn down to make room for the new SOM campus.

Herzan acknowledged that the architecture in the Lincoln-Bradley area is already varied, but he said the old buildings at the site complemented the area’s “ecosystem” better than the new campus will, adding that its large glass facade will clash with the building’s surroundings most strikingly.

Despite continued reservations from homeowners about the new campus’s long-term impact on the neighborhood’s character, city and University officials as well as business owners and real estate developers said the influx of business school students and faculty could spur economic development in the area.

“The general effect with a development like this will certainly bring businesses like small coffee shops, delis, printing services and things of that nature,” said Kevin Weirsman, vice president of Colonial Properties, a New Haven-based commercial real estate broker. “These enterprises will capitalize on the daytime traffic of faculty and students.”

The campus will likely increase the customer base for businesses already in the area. Jason Sobocinski, the owner of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro on Whitney Avenue, said he anticipates the arrival of new customers once students and faculty begin using the new campus.

“We are very excited about the project,” Sobocinski said. “It is an absolutely beautiful building, and we are always looking for more customers.”

Not all neighborhood residents welcome the predicted increase in business activity.

SOM professor Douglas Rae, who lives on Lincoln Street, said he feared the “fauna of food carts” that currently line Prospect Street will migrate with SOM’s student body and set up shop near his driveway.

As they prepare to descend on Whitney Avenue, SOM students and faculty leave behind a unique set of buildings. SOM’s current use of the mansions lining Hillhouse Avenue gives the school a “distinctive” and “distinguished” campus, Herzan said.

Rae said the new campus was more representative of a business school standard, though he would have preferred a building more in line with Yale’s traditional “faux-gothic” style.

“This new building screams, ‘Look at me: I’m serious about what I’m doing,’” he said.

The new SOM campus will open in late 2013.

Comments

  • Yokel

    No…the building screams something entirely different…”I’m a monument to Wall Street excess and corporate greed…”

    • 20Y12

      This is a shallow and presumptive response that generalizes SOM as a feeder school for Wall St., which is simply not the case. Only 40% of the class of 2011 went into financial services, a reasonable number in comparison to its counterparts. Before you assume things about SOM, look into it more and realize that there is tremendous variety in academic and professional interests among the student body.

  • Sara

    I’d take a thousand new jobs, over a chance to avoid a 25% decline in a few millionaires’ property values. Just saying.

    Yale should have built this structure several times larger than it did, because the campus and downtown are running out of space. I’m sure Yale could have filled a million square foot building with time.

    We need to increase density and jobs in our urban core if we want to have any chance competing with the far more sustainable cities of Europe and Asia. Also, moving jobs out to West Haven is dumb – the Yale employees being moved there hate it out there. Yale should be kept as a university in one location, not a strip mall spread out over the state.

  • joey00

    Like development in Manhatten,when one runs out of room North > South ; East>West
    Then you build up ^ .It does’nt look that bad,we have seen much worse in construction downtown ,ala torn down East Rock School..This does resemble the old 70’s game Ker Plunk,run Col Klink..All you need now is scholarly giants to roam this new earth, and marbles

  • ldffly

    I haven’t been in New Haven for a long time. Looking at the picture, I hope this thing looks better at completion. Would someone tell me specifically where it’s located on Whitney?

  • ACPD

    I never drive down Whitney Ave into New Haven anymore. (This building is located directly across the street from the Peabody on Whitney Ave) The sight of it is so depressing and infuriating, I can’t bare to look at it. It dwarfs the Peabody and literally blocks out the sunlight from Whitney. It is a monument to the, aggression, narcissism and hubris of Yale and many in its administration.

    Yale has been allowed to do as it pleases with so much of the property of New Haven that it has become a parasite that is destroying its host. This construction, combined with the complete devastation of all the ivy, trees and lawns of Yale has converted an inviting, peopled landscape with history and connections to the community into a sterile theme park. It really is more dreadful than any of us could have imagined.

    • ldffly

      I didn’t want to say anything on the lines you bring up because I haven’t been in the city in a long time. This description is very depressing. Yale has produced some great architecture but they haven’t always taken good care of it. I bumped into some old timers (1970s) who used to tell me how beautiful Hillhouse had been. Some of the newer buildings on that street were just plain ugly.

      Not being an architect always makes me hesitant to comment on these matters, but when a building overwhelms its surroundings, I think we all have a right to say, “No good!”

      • ldffly

        Something else occurred to me, make of it what you will. Prof. Karsten Harries used to obeserve that gargantuan building is typically one sign of a late culture.

  • ACPD

    P.S. I call this new building “The Casino” for obvious reasons.