For months now, residents of Mansfield, Sachem and Winchester streets near Ingalls Rink have dealt with the inconveniences of living right next to one of the largest construction projects in Connecticut history. Almost every day of the week, from before dawn until dusk, trucks, workers and construction supplies trundle noisily down residential streets, largely occupied by graduate students and young families.
But Bulent Ozalp, who owns three homes within a few blocks of the new colleges and has seven tenants, does not mind at all. To Ozalp, the construction means one thing: higher property values are on the way.
“I can smell that money will come,” Ozalp said.
He surveys the fast-growing skeletons of the colleges and sees change coming to the neighborhood where he has lived for the past 10 years. His rationale is this: As undergraduates move into the area, foot traffic and security patrols will increase, and the neighborhood atmosphere will become more appealing to people who might otherwise choose to rent or buy real estate in Wooster Square, East Rock or communities outside New Haven.
The opening of the new colleges is still two years away, and the day they reach full capacity even farther. For decades until they were torn down to make way for the colleges, Yale-owned office buildings and classrooms occupied the site, so Ozalp’s properties are technically no closer to campus than they were before construction began. It is too early to tell if Ozalp will prove correct, too early to draw any conclusions about exactly what the new buildings and the new presence of 800 undergraduates will mean for people who live nearby, in Dixwell to the northwest and Newhallville to the north. But already, it is clear that the buildings will influence people well beyond their brick walls and Gothic towers.
First, there is the sheer size of the endeavor: approximately $500 million in construction expenditures, “orders of magnitude more than most projects” in New Haven, according to Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, the city’s director of economic development. At least some of that money will flow directly into the pockets of New Haveners; in early June, Bruce Alexander ’65, University Vice President and Director of New Haven and State Affairs, pledged to hire 500 city residents over the next two years, including 100 construction workers.
There is the promise of jobs inside the colleges after they open. And there is the near-certainty that students who live a 10-minute walk north of Cross Campus will interact with spaces and places many undergraduates today simply do not encounter, such as the basketball court at Scantlebury Park and the adjacent Farmington Canal Trail.
Then there are facts with murkier implications. Hundreds of Yale employees have moved into offices in Science Park, and they are eager to see more retail options in the area. Within the last year, the first residents have moved into the Winchester Lofts across the street from Science Park. About 20 percent of the apartments have been reserved as affordable housing units, but the market rate for a one-bedroom apartment starts at $1,480 a month. Amid all of this change is the persistent reality that in Dixwell, 54 percent of residents are low-income, and in Newhallville, which surrounds Science Park and extends to the north, 58 percent are, according to DataHaven, a nonprofit data analysis organization.
Already, there is disagreement about how to interpret these facts and draw conclusions about what the colleges mean in the context of the other forces shaping the neighborhoods. Alder Jeanette Morrison, who represents Ward 22, which includes Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Morse, Ezra Stiles and the site of the new colleges, lives near the construction.
“I watch the building process, and I get excited,” Morrison said, noting that the colleges are slated to open in 2017, the same year as the refurbished Dixwell Community Center or Q House. She sees opportunities for connections and relationships between students and people who live nearby.
Newhallville Alder Brenda Foskey-Cyrus, whose ward encompasses Science Park and the Winchester Lofts — located about half a mile north of the construction — is not so sure that development will lead to benefits for current residents of the neighborhood. If any of her constituents have gotten jobs or found a better home because of it, she does not know about it. She said she keeps a close eye on the influence of Yale and Yale affiliates in her ward.
“I’m not going to go to sleep on ’em,” Foskey-Cyrus said. “Cause you don’t know what’s gonna happen when you wake up.”
STRIVING TOWARDS “MODERN UTOPIA”
Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 stands on the fourth floor of the parking deck at Yale Health. Facing north, he sees Scantlebury Park, its basketball court and playground crawling with neighborhood children. Beyond the park are the tidy homes and quiet streets of Monterey Place, a mixed-income housing development. Trees obscure the view somewhat, but in the distance are the office buildings of Science Park. Behind him is the construction site of the new colleges, humming with activity on a Tuesday afternoon.
The panorama is very different from what one would have seen at this spot during Morand’s undergraduate days in the mid-1980s. When he was in college, the high-rise Elm Haven public housing complex occupied the space where Monterey Place sits; The New York Times called Elm Haven “notorious,” and even now residents recall the project as a locus of poverty and bleakness. There was a commercial laundry facility where Yale Health and the Rose Center lie, and abandoned train tracks running through the neighborhood, going nowhere.
At his 25th Yale graduation reunion, Morand brought some friends to the area to show them the community meeting center inside the Rose Center, which houses the Yale Police Station and the Dixwell-Yale Community Learning Center next to Yale Health.
“I asked my classmates how many of them remembered being at the corner of Ashmun and Bristol streets during any of their four years in Yale College,” Morand said. “Not surprisingly, none of them had been.”
Today, no one questions Yale’s choice to construct the new colleges at that very intersection. But that might not have been the case in generations past, when the contrast between a downtrodden neighborhood and student residences boasting grand pianos and stately courtyards would have been jarring. Though Yale has not been the only driver of transformation in this area over the past two decades, it has played a major role in shaping the neighborhood.
Turning to face the construction, Morand described campus expansion as a “strategically incremental” process. Even so, over time, the incremental steps can add up to significant change.
“If you had told almost anyone that on a Tuesday afternoon you could stand here and see bicyclists, office workers, neighborhood kids, freely, safely, seemingly happily enjoying this common space, I don’t think anybody would have believed it was possible,” Morand said, identifying the mid-2000s as the turning point at which it became possible to envision the present reality of the space. “At the same time, this development [the new colleges] will be one that reinforces [the strength of the neighborhood].”
Perhaps the most important factor behind the area’s transition from a no-go zone for Yale students to a vibrant neighborhood was the demolition of Elm Haven and the construction of Monterey Place. Elm Haven was built in the 1940s and city planners envisioned it as a “modern utopia” alternative to slum housing. But as the city went into decline after World War II, the vision proved untenable.
Bill Dyson, who moved to New Haven in 1970 and has lived in Newhallville since, served in the Connecticut General Assembly for 32 years. Dyson recalled the Elm Haven high-rises as a vast space filled with poor people, lacking opportunities and even a grocery store.
“You had at one point pockets of despair that existed in fairly close proximity to Yale,” Dyson said. “I call it despair and the absence of jobs and things just looking depressing and bleak for people.”
The high-rises were demolished in 1988. With the help of federal funding, what eventually took their place was the mixed-income Monterey Place. The units include affordable rentals, affordable homeownership options and market-rate housing.
As the transition occurred, Yale began to play a small role in Dixwell’s housing market. The Yale Homebuyer Program was established in 1994 to provide financial incentives for Yale employees to purchase homes in New Haven. At the time, the city had a major blight problem, to which absentee landlords were contributing. Greater homeownership was seen as the solution. Over the past 21 years, over 1,076 Yale employees have used the program to buy homes in New Haven, including 77 in Dixwell.
In the mid-2000s, Yale’s visibility in the neighborhood increased. The University purchased a commercial laundry facility at the corner of Canal and Lock Streets, and had conversations with neighbors about what they wanted to see there. The Rose Center opened in 2006 to house both the Yale Police Department and the Dixwell-Yale Community Learning Center.
Later that year, Yale paid the city $10 million to obtain land, adjacent to space it already owned, for a “yet-to-be-divulged expansion project,” according to a Sept. 22, 2006 New Haven Independent article. The University also gave the city $500,000 to expand the then-vacant Scantlebury Park. The deal created a full parcel of University-owned land just north of the Grove Street Cemetery.
“Once the site has been assembled, the University will actively study the best academic use for the site,” declared a City of New Haven press release on Aug. 1, 2006. “The University expects to begin its planning in earnest in the fall.”
Today, thanks to the deal, the new colleges are under construction, and Scantlebury Park plays host to children and families enjoying the playground, picnic tables and water features. According to Morrison, the park “brings two sides of the ward together.”
In a sense, the park paved the way for the colleges. Without it — and without the $10 million investment — the University would not have had the uninterrupted space to build. And without the park, along with Yale Health and the Rose Center, future members of the class of 2020 may have had concerns about moving into brand-new colleges adjacent to empty space and a neighborhood, as Morand said, “once dominated by outdated housing blocks, barren land and wasted industrial facilities.”
Morrison and Dyson both say the chatter they have heard from residents about the colleges is largely positive. Morrison praised Lauren Zucker and Karen King at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs for keeping her in the loop as development proceeds, and she dedicates a portion of her ward newsletter to “News from Yale.”
Despite the links between Yale and Dixwell, it is clear that a town-gown divide persists. On campus, the new residential colleges are a focus of debate and conversation, something to look at during a long walk up Science Hill. But Of 15 Dixwell residents surveyed in Scantlebury Park and Monterey Place, only one — 69-year-old Danette Chatfield — knew what was being built on the parcel of land across the Farmington Canal Trail. James Hillhouse High School student Carlos Mejia, 16, was excited to find out the exposed beams and tractors will give way to dorms.
“I’d like that to happen,” he said. “We’ll see different people.”
Chatfield was not so sanguine. Sitting outside a home on Webster Street, gazing out at the yellow construction cranes in the distance, she expressed unease about Yale’s increasing presence in the neighborhood where she has lived since the 1960s.
“I think Yale is taking over New Haven,” she said.
“But that’s a good thing,” countered her neighbor, 72-year-old Rosalind Rogers, citing the park, the security of the Yale Police Station and the possibility of jobs.
“Next think you know they’ll be coming up here,” Chatfield continued. “If we’re not dead by then.”
GROWING SCIENCE PARK
To Foskey-Cyrus, two events loom large in the recent history of Newhallville, where she has lived for over 60 years. The first was an act of nature: the tornado that blew through the neighborhood in 1989, destroying homes and injuring residents. The second was the result of abstract economic forces: the slow demise of the Winchester Repeating Arms Factory, which finally closed in 2006 after decades as a keystone employer in the neighborhood.
Foskey-Cyrus does not see the growth of Science Park in her ward as a constructive antidote to that destruction; she thinks Newhallville residents have not shared in the benefits. Nevertheless, the recent change has been significant. The Winchester Lofts are starting to fill up with occupants, at least some of whom, if the bumper stickers and parking passes on cars in the parking lot are any indication, have an affiliation with Yale. In June, the New Haven Register reported that 1,500 people, including 800 from Yale’s libraries and IT departments, work in Science Park.
The new residential colleges will not be much farther from the offices of Science Park than they are from Cross Campus. With the upcoming influx of students to the new colleges as well as the recent shift of Yale employees to Science Park, the center of campus is shifting northward. The character of the neighborhood between the two may change as well, as more Yale affiliates move into the area, accelerating a population transformation that has been in motion for decades.
Marlene Tureck and her husband own seven homes on Winchester Avenue, within a few blocks of the construction. When they first moved to the street in 1985, there were hardly any Yale graduate students living there. The area had “a really bad reputation,” Tureck said, that led people to avoid it. But that has changed over the past 30 years, and today, many of the residents are graduate students renting rooms.
“We probably started some of that, getting the graduate students here,” Tureck said. “We’d put an ad in the Yale Housing Office.”
Demographic shifts have been gradual, as has the neighborhood’s physical refurbishment. The four blocks of Winchester from Sachem Street to Science Park, and on Mansfield Street over the same distance, have been repaired over the past 20 years.
Like Ozalp, Tureck is hopeful the opening of the colleges will better the neighborhood’s reputation, and in turn the value of property.
“I like the neighborhood, I like my neighbors, and I wish everybody would stop thinking East Rock was the only place you could live,” she said.
The growth of Science Park seems to be proving that development begets more development. On Monday, a second location of the G Cafe will open its doors just across the Farmington Canal Trail from Science Park. Developer Juan Salas-Romer of NHR Properties bought the property, which will also include apartments, because he could see that the area was developing, he told the News in January. Before Salas-Romer purchased the space, it had sat empty for several years.
At least one person is already eagerly awaiting the G Cafe opening: Matthew Beacom, head of technical services at the Beinecke, who has worked at Science Park since April. Though the workspace at Science Park has elements that “are really terrific,” one of the disadvantages is the lack of retail and food options in the vicinity. Beacom said G Cafe will provide a bakery and coffee shop within walking distance of his office — something currently lacking. There is the Chinese restaurant Ivy Bistro, a convenience store called Vinny’s Food Store, Paula’s Science Park Cafe for lunch, and very little else.
“We’d love there to be coffee shops, restaurants,” Beacom said. “It’d be great if there was a bank or something like that nearby. All those things that you occasionally need … there’s a lot of desire on the part of the staff for that.”
Beacom may get his wish: There is commercial space for lease in Science Park, and retailers are sure to eventually recognize the profit potential presented by hundreds of hungry workers, especially if G Cafe proves successful. With the opening of Winchester Lofts, the area will transform from a 9-to-5 zone to a 24-hour community, presenting even more opportunity for restaurateurs.
Even excluding Winchester Lofts, the movement of Yale jobs to Science Park could change residential patterns. Kevin Glick, head of digital information systems at Sterling’s Manuscripts and Archives Library, lived until June 2014 in a Wooster Square condo with his wife, who works at the Beinecke. They liked being able to walk to work and avoid driving. When the couple found out her job would be moved to Science Park, they realized the walk would be too far from Wooster Square. With assistance from the Yale Homebuyer Program, they decided to purchase a home in Dixwell, on Frances Hunter Drive just south of Monterey Place. In the year that they have been on Frances Hunter, there have been three home sales in the vicinity, all to Yale employees, Glick said. Prior to that turnover, he estimates there were one or two other Yale employees on the block.
Nemerson said he believes homeownership is rising on Henry Street and Division Street, near Science Park, helping to make the neighborhood more “solid.” Despite the fact that the Winchester Lofts and Salas-Romer’s new development will have rents higher than the area’s average, Nemerson is not concerned about long-time residents being priced out, because the developments are adding to the housing stock instead of replacing more affordable homes.
Foskey-Cyrus, however, remains unimpressed by the developments in the area. The biggest impact she has seen so far is worse traffic. What she would like to see — what everyone would like to see from Yale, it seems — is jobs.
HOW SHOULD YALE HIRE?
In June, two days after Alexander promised 500 jobs for New Haven residents over the next two years, 700 people, representing labor unions, religious groups and local activist organizations marched to call on local employers to do more for the Elm City. The group ended at the site of the new colleges — a choice made to underscore the fact that city residents will be watching closely to see how Yale fills positions at its new real estate, said Emily Ferrigno, a library services assistant in the Music Library, a member of Local 34’s executive board and a library steward for the union.
The statistics the marchers cited were bleak: Unemployment among people of color in New Haven is 20 percent, according to Scott Marks, a community activist and founder of New Haven Rising, a local labor organization.
In this climate, the construction of the new colleges is both an opportunity and a test for Yale. But if neighbors feel they did not get a fair shake when it comes to applying for jobs inside the colleges, the occasion could be a bitter one, marked by a heightened visibility of the divide that still remains between New Haven and its wealthiest institution.
Hiring New Haven residents is also the among the most important things Yale can do to ensure it does not contribute to gentrification as it expands, said Cynthia Horan, a lecturer in the Political Science Department who teaches courses on the politics of cities.
“The best thing the University can do for New Haven, and it would be true for the hospital as well, is to be a good employer,” Horan said. “Just to pay people decent salaries and have benefits and all that.”
Yale maintains that this is exactly what it does. Of its 13,000 employees, 4,000 are currently New Haven residents, Alexander told The New Haven Independent in June. And one of the reasons Yale jobs are so sought-after is that their benefits and pay are highly competitive.
Demone Lucky, 33, watched his four-year-old daughter play in the fountain at Scantlebury Park on a recent Sunday afternoon. Lucky grew up in the area, attended James Hillhouse High School and still lives near the park. The neighborhood now is nicer than when he was a kid, he said. He works in West Haven for City Line Distributors, a food distribution company, but he would like to work at Yale, maybe in one of the new colleges. He said he already applied for jobs through New Haven Works and has not gotten any calls from Yale.
“Maybe it’s my fault, too,” he said. “But all I know is what I see, and I see them always building, not asking me to help.”
As Yale builds, and as New Haven develops — Nemerson said the last two years have been the strongest the city’s economy has seen in a decade or more — some displacement of residents may be unavoidable. Indeed, though Morrison is optimistic about development in Ward 22, she believes that gentrification is under way. She said she has met with residents who are currently renting and say they want to get out of the neighborhood before property values increase and their rent goes up.
Development, Morrison said, must be managed carefully.
“I am not going to allow economic development to push my people out,” Morrison said, noting Dixwell’s history as a destination neighborhood for African Americans leaving the U.S. South early in the 20th century. “This ward is where black people came.”
Morand, surveying the area north of Yale’s campus, said he believes the new colleges will complement Dixwell’s ongoing development. He took out a few photographs, one showing the site of Monterey Place in the early 1900s, crowded with the homes that preceded Elm Haven. Another showed the Elm Haven project shortly after it was constructed, a set of long buildings in neat rows. Today, less than 100 years after the first photograph was taken, the scene has been transformed for a third time. The message: the only constant in a city is change — people, structures and fortunes.