Though land disputes between City Hall and Yale delayed the renovation of the Palace Theater on College Street last November, all legal issues have since been resolved.
Upon taking office, Mayor Toni Harp made renovating the Palace, which has been vacant for 12 years, a top priority. However, email correspondence between Yale officials and City Hall Development staff obtained by the New Haven Independent through a Freedom of Information request have revealed that finalizing the renovation was no easy task.
In those exchanges, Bruce Alexander, vice president for New Haven and state affairs, sought to maintain Yale’s legal right to terminate the easement — the right to use Yale’s property, the alley adjacent to the theater, in the event of an emergency — with only five days notice, which was drawn up in a 2005 license agreement. But, attorney Steven Mednick proposed an agreement that would require 13 years notice of any cancellation, because, if the Palace had to close within five days, they would lose their business entirely.
“In any negotiation there are obstacles that need to be overcome and at times, there are sticking points,” said City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
To go ahead with the renovation and obtain a building permit, City Hall needed to establish an easement agreement with Yale, which would give the Palace Theater the right to use the adjacent alley in the event of a fire.
In an email exchange between Alexander and City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, first published by the Independent, miscommunication over the easement agreements led to tensions.
“The university has in no way agreed to the use of our property and he is proceeding totally at his own risk,” Alexander wrote in caps lock on Nov. 20, 2014, in reference to Mednick. “This is not the way to get the University’s cooperation. Perhaps he has decided he does not need our property.”
In the extended email conversation surrounding the easement, Alexander cited his specific concerns with the theater’s reopening.
In a Nov. 12 email, Alexander specifically noted he was concerned the opening of the theater may adversely affect other businesses in the vicinity, most notably the Shubert Theater, which stands on the other side of College Street. Alexander added that granting an easement might prevent the University from eventually developing the area around the property in the future.
University spokesman Tom Conroy said the multitude of lawyers and parties involved contributed to the dispute.
“There were several different lawyers involved, some of whom did not have the full history of the agreement previously entered into in 2006 between the University and the non-profit entity that owns the Palace Theater,” Conroy said.
Despite the emphasis placed on using the fire escape as an easement, the Palace Theater did not ultimately need to use the alley owned by Yale in the event of an emergency, and therefore the easement became unnecessary. Still, the theater has since reached a different legal agreement with the University regarding parking space usage.
All misunderstandings and issues have been resolved, according to Conroy, and an agreement that “accommodates the needs” of the Palace is awaiting signature.
“The proposal to resurrect the theater reflects the great progress that has been made in downtown New Haven in the last 15 years or so, and the productive relationship between the City of New Haven and Yale has contributed significantly to that progress, and helped make New Haven more attractive to various types of development,” Conroy said.
The Palace Theater is slated to reopen in May and the name will be changed to College Street Music Hall.