With Commons at the Schwarzman Center set to close at the end of this academic year, University administrators are looking to convert a York Street facility into a temporary events space.
Yale received unanimous approval from New Haven’s City Plan Commission on Thursday evening for the plan to convert 150 York St. into an event center with a capacity of roughly 750 people. The renovations would add bathrooms, an entryway, storage space and utilities to the building, which includes vacant space — previously occupied by a dialysis center — and a parking garage. Construction on the project is expected to begin next month.
The dialysis center, which was operated by the Hospital of Saint Raphael, shut down roughly five years ago. According to Yale spokesman Tom Conroy, the former dialysis center is the focus of the renovations, and the parking garage will not be changed. Once the space is completed in the fall, the University plans to use it to host events such as alumni gatherings and the freshman holiday dinner, which will be held as two separate meals until the Schwarzman Center reopens in 2020.
The dialysis center is being converted to “accommodate functions during the Schwarzman renovation that are normally hosted at Commons,” Conroy said.
And Associate Director for Project Planning John-Paulo Fernandes said the University is looking to create an “assembly space for the short term.”
Last September, following a $150 million donation from Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman ’69, the University announced plans to transform Commons into a cultural programming and student life center named after the donor.
When the Schwarzman Center’s renovations are completed and the temporary event space is no longer needed, the University will lease the street-side part of the building to a retailer.
The University acquired the 150 York St. facility in 1996, when it purchased a 60,000-square-foot building at 1156 Chapel St. as part of an extensive program to upgrade its art facilities. The parking garage is adjoined to the rear of 1156 Chapel St., which now houses the Iseman Theater and Yale School of Art.
Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, who will leave his deanship before the site opens, said the plans are “welcome news” to him. Although he was aware Yale owned the building and had considered different uses for it over time, he did not know the University was considering the project.
During Thursday’s city meeting, commissioners spent the majority of their time questioning Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven affairs and University properties, and Fernandes about the existing bike racks surrounding the property.
Since many Yale affiliates bike and some of the “antiquated” bikes racks are not secure from bicycle thieves, Commissioner Adam Marchand GRD ’99 asked the University to consider putting more racks around the block to complement 150 York St.’s conversion.
“The more racks, the better,” said Marchand, who is also the alder for Ward 25.
After Zucker discussed the venue’s expected events and Fernandes said that only a dozen functions would take place annually, Commissioner Leslie Radcliffe wondered if the University needed to install additional bike space at all.
Edward Mattison LAW ’68, chair of the City Plan Commission, found the middle ground, suggesting Yale at least explore the possibility of bike rack expansion.
“We’re not going to add on requirements that are not in the ordinance, you guys have always been cooperative,” Mattison said. “I would think if there were 750 people, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to look at [adding more bikes].”