College Street’s Palace Theater — which has been dark for 12 years — will be able to reopen in May with or without the use of University-owned property.
Since Mayor Toni Harp took office in 2014, the New Haven Center For Performing Arts, a not-for-profit corporation, has set out to renovate the Palace Theater, which will reopen as College Street Music Hall. Though the theater is slated to reopen in May, the theater’s prospects were threatened in November when the city and the University clashed over an easement agreement that would have provided access to a University-owned alley to serve as a fire escape. Since then, the NHCPA has located an alternative fire escape option on the theater’s property, nullifying the need for this particular agreement.
Still, University and city officials are currently negotiating a separate agreement that would allow the theater to use a University-owned parking lot adjacent to the theater.
“[The agreement] being negotiated now addresses vehicular loading access to the stage area of the theater,” Steve Mednick, the attorney representing the theater, said in an email. “That is the only remaining issue between the parties.”
In addition to permitting loading access, the parking lot agreement would also allow for visitors to park on a lot on University land, said New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81. He added that those with season tickets to the theater could park in the College Street lot while inexpensive overflow parking would be available on Temple Street.
The status of the parking lot agreement, however, remains unclear.
According to Bruce Alexander ’65, University vice president for New Haven and state affairs, the University sent a document to the NHCPA and it is currently awaiting signature.
But Mednick said there has been no agreement or document that is awaiting signature and that the parties are still negotiating. The NHCPA received a revision of its agreement proposal from a University lawyer roughly two weeks ago, said Mednick, to which they responded with a revised version within 72 hours.
“There is no agreement between the city and Yale,” said Mednick. “All I have to say is that we are still negotiating, we’re hopeful for an agreement, but we believe everybody is operating in good faith to do what is in best interest for the downtown community,” Mednick added that NHCPA’s request is relatively uncomplicated and that he expects the matter will resolve in the near future.
Alexander attributes any confusion between the parties to the “back and forth [communication] by lawyers on the language details.”
This is not the first instance of miscommunication between city and Yale officials regarding the Palace Theater. At end of last year, the NHCPA believed that in order to attain a building permit, City Hall would need to establish an easement agreement with Yale in order to gain access to an alley that would serve as an emergency fire escape. According to Mednick, the NHCPA sent a draft easement agreement to the University in autumn 2014.
Email exchanges between Alexander and Mednick -— obtained by the New Haven Independent through the Freedom of Information Act -— revealed heated disagreement over the fire escape agreement.
In the extended email conversation surrounding the easement, Alexander cited his specific concerns with the theater’s reopening.
The main point of dissent concerned Yale’s legal right to terminate the fire agreement easement with only five days notice, which was drawn up in a 2007 license agreement with the NHCPA. But cancellation of the agreement with such short notice could seriously harm the business, said Mednick, so he proposed an agreement that would require 13 years notice of any cancellation. Ultimately, the NHCPA discovered an alternative fire escape in an archway once they looked at the floor plans of the theater.
Although the parking agreement has not been signed, the College Street Music Hall will open in the May, said Mednick.
“The city has issued permits, the renovation is underway, and they are planning a springtime opening of the Theater,” said Laurence Grotheer, communications director for City Hall. “Everything is in line for the venue to open this year.”