New Haven’s Board of Education will soon be able to add commercial landlord to its list of functions.
The ground floor of the new Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, set to open in January 2009 on the corner of College and Crown streets, will contain approximately 2,900 square feet of street-side retail space, care of Yale University Properties. School Construction Coordinator Susan Weisselberg said the decision to choose University Properties to solicit the bids was made a few months ago.
“We work with Yale regularly,” she said. “[University Properties] offered to do this for us for no fee. They have a sense of the market and the downtown area.”
Associate Vice President of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said the University currently has numerous academic partnerships with the high school and ONSHA is working to expand the school’s link to Yale museums, professional schools and other departments.
Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said the idea to add retail space may be a novelty for a public school, but that the concept’s practicality is irrefutable.
“People have been asking all along why can’t we put more retail in some of these not-for-profit, city buildings,” Clark said. “Yale was persuaded to put taxable property in [the British Art Center], and it’s turned out to be an enormous success.”
Weisselberg said University Properties will help identity tenants and collect proposals for the space. Morand added that the lease will be held by the city and the final decisions on which tenants move in will be left up to New Haven Public Schools.
Recently, the contractors received direct orders from the State that no food-service businesses would be allowed to open on school property, since it would lead to competition with the school lunch providers. Instead, arts-related retail such as craft or music stores might be the best fit, she said. Clark reiterated the point, suggesting affordable retailers which will attract customers of all ages, such as a 10,000 Villages or a bike shop.
“Obviously, we won’t be opening a liquor store there,” Weisselberg clarified. “We have a better sense of what won’t work than what will.”
In addition to the retail space, the arts-themed school will feature a 350-seat theater with the ability to earn revenue when not used by students.
Construction on the school, a project which has cost $69 million, has met multiple obstacles, including community disapproval that the space would not be used to bring more commercial tenants to the street and concerns about traffic and parking.
But Clark said the Coop high school, the Gateway Community College and any added retail space will all be a blessing for the downtown and its future development.
“Anything that’s going to bring hundreds and hundreds of people downtown is going to be great,” she said. “These kids are adding that much more traffic.”
But many residents remain skeptical of the implications of adding retail to a learning environment. Weisselberg said, as an important security measure, the entrance to the stores will in no way be connected to the entrance to the school.
The Cooperative Arts high school is relocating to the new location from Orange Street and in the process will expand to accommodate 650 students through a lottery system, with 65 percent coming from New Haven and 35 percent from the city’s suburbs.
—Victor Zapana contributed reporting.