Seeking entrepreneurs, Science Park strives for liveability

Developers are currently interested in making the Science Park neighborhood appealing to Yale entrepreneurs.
Developers are currently interested in making the Science Park neighborhood appealing to Yale entrepreneurs. Photo by Alexandra Schmeling .

Just over a week after University President Peter Salovey emphasized the importance of student contributions to Yale and New Haven’s “idea economy” in his inaugural address, developers in nearby Science Park are looking create a more “liveable” environment for Yale and New Haven innovators.

Once home to factories, Science Park was established in 1982 as a collaboration between Yale and New Haven and sits on 80 acres of land between Yale’s Science Hill and New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood. Now housing research labs, technology startups and biotech companies, the park has in the past only been used during the workday, with the nearest housing and retail in the surrounding neighborhoods. After years of delays, developers — notably Yale’s University Properties and Forest City Enterprises — have embarked on projects to add residential and retail spaces designed to reshape Science Park into a 24-hour community. Developers and administrators interviewed suggested that the transformation would prove key in furthering entrepreneurship at Yale and encouraging students to stay in New Haven to start businesses after graduation.

“With apartments in Science Park, entrepreneurs who typically work all hours of the day and night will be able to live and work within a five-minute walking radius,” University Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 said.

In September, Gov. Dannel Malloy and a handful of city economic development officials broke ground on the Winchester Lofts, a $60 million project that will bring 158 loft-style residential units to the park. Developers involved in the project, which is slated to be completed during the summer of 2014, said they hope to create a 24-hour community at the complex for the first time.

Abe Naparstek, a senior vice president at Forest City and the project’s leading developer, said the goal is to build “the best apartment building in New Haven.”

“It’s going to be a place where people really want to live,” he said.

Naparstek said he hopes the new development will attract Yale faculty, staff and graduate and professional students, along with employees of companies located in and around Science Park.

The lofts can also provide housing for recent Yale College graduates who are starting businesses in New Haven, he said.

Naparstek said Forest City communicates frequently with University Properties about its plans for the development.

Still, developers said residential space must also be paired with retail space to create a vibrant atmosphere.

Through University Properties, a Yale body that has played a significant role in the development of Chapel and Broadway Streets, the University plans to add significant numbers of retailers to the park by leasing space along the ground level of the Science Park Garage.

“People don’t feel at ease when there’s no one about,” Associate Vice President for University Properties Abigail Rider said. “Good retail brings foot traffic, street activity and visual interest to the area at street level — where the people are. It feels alive.”

Currently, the restaurant Ivy Bistro, which opened in 2011, is the only retailer leasing University Properties’ space. Rider said there are plans to bring several other retailers to the space, but she declined to name any specific retailers with which University Properties is negotiating.

Despite the added residential and retail space, developers said bringing Yale students to the park will continue to pose a challenge. The surrounding area boasts some of the highest crime rates in the city.

Jon Soderstrom, the managing director of Yale’s Office for Cooperative Research, which has taken a large role in aiding projects and businesses in the park, said there the office is considering plans to incentivize students to spend time at Science Park.

“We have to develop programs that will attract them off campus,” Soderstrom said. “Frankly, no matter how attractive those programs are, we have to work really hard to get people to walk those two or three blocks.”

In discussing his hopes for encouraging entrepreneurship at Yale, Salovey has often pointed to the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute as an important resource for students hoping to turn their ideas into functioning businesses.

The YEI, often in conjunction with the Office of Cooperative Research, has previously supported startups that have used space in Science Park and contributed to its development, including CT Tech, a company that provides startups with “incubator space” and access to investment managers and other partnerships.

While Yale startups will first be given space at YEI’s offices, those successful enough to require more room will receive help from the University in finding space at Science Park or other locations nearby, Alexander said.

Nevertheless, tensions regarding the park’s ultimate purpose remain. Though Yale administrators and developers are eager to discuss the park’s role in fostering innovation, leaders on the New Haven side of the collaboration are more likely to emphasize the generation of jobs in the Newhallville and surrounding communities.

The focus of the park has always been to create jobs for local residents, said Florestine Taylor, who works for the Science Park Development Corporation, a nonprofit sponsored by Yale, New Haven, and local stakeholders that oversees the development of the park.

Though many Newhallville and Dixwell residents were once employed at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company factory, the number of local jobs has plummeted since the factory closed in 2006. Taylor said a primary responsibility of the park is providing jobs to those without advanced degrees in addition to research and other high-skill jobs.

Science Park currently houses portions of Yale’s administrative, Information Technology and maintenance staff.

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