Amid fears that Pizza at the Brick Oven’s lease on Howe Street would be purchased by real estate firm Noble Investment Group, the eatery received confirmation that their brick-and-mortar space will not be transformed into a new Marriott hotel during a Tuesday meeting.
At the monthly Dwight Center Management Team meeting, which comprised neighborhood representatives and alders, Courtyard by Marriott Assistant General Manager Fernando Solio said Noble — the firm that purchased the Courtyard by Marriott on Whalley Avenue behind Brick Oven last March — does not intend to buy out Brick Oven’s lease and develop an additional Marriott franchise. Another firm’s previous plans to develop a Marriott franchise had led community leaders and residents to speculate that Noble would attempt the same when it signed up to speak at the meeting. Solio instead came to the meeting to announce that the firm hopes to establish a positive relationship with the neighborhood. When prompted to elaborate on Noble’s development plans, he said that the firm will build a parking garage on Howe Street and renovate the interior of the Whalley Avenue hotel.
“We have no plans to expand right now,” he said. “With the new ownership, Marriott just has plans to renovate the hotel. We’re in the midst of doing that and we’re waiting for warmer weather to do parking garages at Howe.”
Solio said he believes building a hotel at Brick Oven’s current location would be a “nightmare” because of parking shortages on the block.
In the fall of 2014, the Newport Hotel Group attempted to build a new Marriott Residence Inn on Brick Oven’s lot. But NHG President Douglas Cohen abandoned his plans after neighborhood anger about the developer’s disregard for community engagement led the Board of Zoning Appeals to halt Cohen’s progress.
At the meeting Tuesday night, community leaders warned Noble to learn from Cohen’s mistakes by working closely with neighborhood leaders. Dwight Management Team Co-Chair Curlena MacDonald said NIG should attend all monthly meetings to listen to and share ideas with the community. Tuesday evening’s meeting was the first that the firm has attended, she said.
“You’re here tonight,” MacDonald said. “But we meet every month. We would want more than a great presentation and then you’re gone. We just want to make sure the people are getting a fair share.”
MacDonald added that she also wants the firm to be transparent about its hiring practices and to increase the job opportunities available to local residents. Solio said that Marriott’s starting wage is $11.50 an hour, and New Haven’s Courtyard Marriott will hire 16 additional employees to develop a relationship with the community by attending meetings and cleaning the streets, among other tasks.
Rafi Bildner ’16 attended the meeting as a neighborhood resident to advocate for Brick Oven, just in case the rumors that NIG would buy out Brick Oven’s lease were true. Bildner said the pizza shop has become a well-loved fixture and that any attempts to replace it would encounter discontent from both the Yale and Dwight communities.
“Though I haven’t been here as long as others, I’ve grown to care a lot about this neighborhood,” Bildner said. “Some of the stuff that you said is troubling me. You’ve refereed to Brick Oven as ‘that pizza place.’ It’s not just ‘that pizza place,’ it’s a well-established restaurant that is equally frequented by Yale students and community residents.”
Natalina Lopez contributed reporting.