Goal of University Properties is to help community, not inflate prices

To the Editor:

I would like to clarify some common misconceptions that many Yale students seem to have regarding the role of Yale’s University Properties, as exemplified by Pat Ward’s most recent column (“Retail monopoly bad for shoppers, prices,” 3/27).

Here are some cold, hard facts: First, the myth that Yale does not pay taxes is simply false. The University pays in a variety of ways and on a variety of properties. In fact, by paying more than $3 million annually, Yale is the largest commercial real estate taxpayer in the city of New Haven. Last year, the University also voluntary contributed $4.18 million. University Properties manages all of Yale’s commercial properties, including retail stores, office spaces and residential units, in New Haven. Enabled by Yale’s community investment program and founded in 1996, UP is committed to enhancing the quality of life in New Haven through the development of high-quality retail and office environments and the revitalization of surrounding neighborhoods.

More importantly, however, retail development in New Haven is not a simple matter. Nor is it a matter of maximizing profit, as Ward mistakenly said. Having worked at UP for the last two years and as a New Haven resident of 21 years, I’ve seen both how difficult and successful revitalization in the Elm City has been. Many Yale students express the same frustration: Why can’t the University deliver more national, affordable, practical stores? The answer is, in many ways, that it’s not in Yale’s hands. First, we must deal with the space limitations. An average retail chain demands anywhere from 6,000-10,000 square feet. Such a large space is rare for the UP property portfolio. It should also be made clear that Yale does not own every retail space in downtown New Haven. One major misconception is that Yale owns all the space in the Broadway District and in particular the York Square Cinemas, which is not true. There are many other retail property owners in downtown New Haven. At the same time, national chains are just beginning to revisit New Haven. While the Elm City has come a long way in the last two decades, its out-of-date reputation and successful surrounding suburbs make larger chains wary, though misguidedly so.

We at UP are not trying to “raise the cost of doing business.” In fact, we are successfully bringing in smaller, independently owned businesses that make downtown New Haven unique and doing so by offering competitive leases. UP, like all other property owners, must operate under the current real estate conditions. We cannot command Wal-Mart to invest in New Haven, and frankly I am not sure the city’s retail landscape would be better with one.

If interested, Ward and other skeptical Yalies can research UP at www.yale.edu/up. UP also welcomes this kind of dialogue through focus groups, forums and other venues throughout the year.

Stephanie Wright ’08

March 28

The writer is an intern at University Properties.