Negotiations between the city and a prominent real estate developer over two separate downtown properties could simultaneously create retail space and expand facilities for a local media company.
The Northside Development Company, which currently owns a building on the corner of Orange St. and Chapel St., is looking to expand the facility by purchasing the nearby, publicly-owned lot at 812 Chapel St. This acquisition, according to Northside owner Paul Denz, would create the opportunity for retail and housing facilities on a major New Haven intersection. Denz and Matthew Nemerson, the city’s chief economic development administrator, met on Tuesday to negotiate both the future of the Chapel lot and another property on Church St. that the city wants Denz to sell to Barry Berman, owner of a fast-growing radio network called CRN.
“The reason I would like to purchase the empty lot is that you can take my building and that empty lot and you’ve got a parcel large enough to build a reasonably sized building…[with] retail along the bottom floor [and] apartments up above,” Denz said.
In his meeting with the city on Tuesday, the city produced a first draft of a Memorandum of Understanding — an agreement between two parties — but Denz said it may take a while for the transaction to be completed.
“The city’s going to want to appraise the property and they’re requiring us to meet with neighborhood groups, show a design, do a traffic study,” said Denz. “It’s a process.”
Nemerson said that he has worked with Denz — who has developed over 2,500,000 square feet of real estate in his 28 years in the industry, according to Northside’s website — on several real estate projects in the past.
He added that the city is currently waiting for Denz to finalize plans for the facility, should he end up purchasing it. Right now, Denz said he expects the buliding to be four or five stories.
Nemerson complimented Denz’s portfolio of projects throughout the city and said he would like the project to be as impactful as possible.
Complications have arisen because Denz is also pivotal in negotiations over a second property — the Exchange Building on Church St. This time, however, he is a potential seller.
Denz said he purchased the Exchange Building about eight months ago. Though it is currently empty, Denz said he has been “talking” to Barry Berman, the owner of CRN, about purchasing the place.
“The city likes it because it’s the kind of tenant that they like to see,” Denz said. “It brings in…high-paying upscale jobs.”
When asked whether he intends to sell the building to Berman, however, Denz was hesitant. “We’re discussing,” he said, after a long pause.
Denz denied that the city was using its ownership of the Chapel St. property as leverage to get Denz to sell the Exchange building.
“I own a lot of real estate in other parts of Connecticut,” Denz said. “I’m not in a position where I need to buy that property. They’ve expressed a desire to see Barry there, I’ve expressed a desire to buy the lot…one has nothing to do with the other.”
He added that he initially contacted City Hall before Mayor Toni Harp’s administration, which includes Nemerson, assumed office. Since the transition, New Haven development has taken on a number of development projects in the area around the properties being discussed.
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer named 100 College St. as an ongoing project that has advanced nicely under Nemerson’s guidance. He also said that low vacancy rates around the city have made lots like those at Chapel and Church appealing to the entire market, adding that housing is an industry of focus.
“New Haven is fortunate in that it has a very low vacancy rate — that makes available parcels more attractive and more valuable,” he said. “It’s also one of the Mayor’s objectives to encourage developers to provide additional housing units in New Haven, as well.”
Denz was less optimistic about New Haven’s recent development, referring to much of it as a “vanity project” that is not bringing in enough money.
The Exchange Building and 812 Chapel St. are located 453 feet from each other.