Ann Taylor Loft, the first retail tenant to occupy Chapel Square Mall since 2002, finally opened for business last Thursday. Four more stores are slated to open in the mall between now and mid-summer of this year, including Rite Aid, Radio Shack, Coldstone Creamery and Barcelona Wines restaurant.

While it appears that the national development firm Williams Jackson Ewing — famous for its revitalization of such locations as Grand Central Terminal in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. — has dropped out of the project, local developer David Nyberg, who was originally supposed to develop the apartment space, has taken over the mall’s development.

But New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said he was hopeful that Ann Taylor’s opening would help foster greater demand from other stores for that space.

“Whenever you get a national chain I think that it really acts like a magnet,” he said.

Bialecki said the future retail mix at Chapel Square Mall will encourage more people to shop in downtown — from the 25,000 individuals who work there everyday, to the growing downtown residential population, to Yale students. As a lower-priced store, compared to the more high-end original Ann Taylor, the Loft should draw a different crowd. He also said once Chapel Square Mall was filled, it would be distinct from other downtown shopping areas, such as the Broadway or Upper Chapel districts.

“You’re going to find a different kind of store down in Chapel Square, which is good,” he said.

The redesigned Chapel Square Mall will feature stores that face out onto the street, providing greater accessibility to downtown pedestrians. Previously, the mall was designed in a traditional, inward-facing style that critics said was aesthetically displeasing.

But Chip Croft, owner of Seychelles clothing store and an active member of the downtown business community, said he is not as optimistic about the present state of downtown New Haven. He said he is happy Ann Taylor Loft has opened, but disappointed because he has not seen as much retail recruitment as he would like, especially since Williams Jackson Ewing’s participation in the project became uncertain. He said for New Haven to be a true retail destination, it needs more stores as soon as possible.

“Every new store we can get here is desperately needed,” Croft said.

Croft said the Chapel Square Mall area has recently been a “dead spot” that has been blocking progress. He said the purpose of the mall should be to link the Upper Chapel shopping district, where his store is located, with the Lower Chapel one. He said recent sales downtown, especially over the winter holidays, have been very slow.

“Retail in New Haven has always been a house of cards, but right now it’s even more precarious,” Croft said.

Croft said he and other business owners in the area have been especially concerned about The Gap’s exit from the corner of Chapel and College streets. He said as a national chain that catered to a wide variety of both men and women, it was an important asset for the area.

“That’s an important corner which should pull a lot of traffic of all different economic strata,” Croft said.

He said he has heard Trailblazer might move into the site.

Frances DeMaio, property manager for developer David Nyberg, said in addition to the other stores, 65 new apartments will also open in Chapel Square above the retail space. The mall’s old roof will be removed so that the apartment complexes overlook an open-air atrium and Church Street. The first tenant will move in June 15.

“It’s not going to be the mall as you knew it,” DeMaio said.

With the growth of downtown in recent months, Bialecki said he thinks the Chapel Square Mall’s retail and residential spaces will be filled by the end of this year.

“Given the trend of what’s happening downtown and the inquiries that [Nyberg’s] gotten over there, I really think it’s going to be a good year for leasing,” Bialecki said.

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