Last May, longtime Yale administrator Bruce Alexander ’65 announced his retirement from his position at Yale as vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development. Nonetheless, his legacy has continued as he continues to work on several other projects with actors from both the University and the Elm City.
“The University made a very large and positive impact on New Haven over the past two decades, and it’s clear that the state of Connecticut has financial and economic development issues it still needs to work through,” Alexander told the News.
In his 20-year span of employment with Yale, Alexander made major changes — including pioneering Yale’s efforts to modernize Broadway, Chapel Street and the Whitney Avenue Arts District and helping the University’s commercial project entity, Yale University Properties, accumulate over 100 storefronts. He served as vice president of New Haven and state affairs between 1998 and 2018. Before that, he worked at a real estate company where he oversaw projects around the country before retiring at age 52. His friend, Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 persuaded him to work at Yale full-time.
“Bruce strengthened the University Properties division of Yale and basically started buying empty spaces. He would always say he started filling them in like broken teeth,” said Anne Worcester, chief marketing offcer of Market New Haven, when asked about Alexander’s contributions to Yale and New Haven.
But Alexander did not look to improve just aspects of the University during his tenure. In 2000, Alexander, along with then-Mayor John DeStefano and then-CEO of New Haven Savings Bank Charlie Terrell, founded Market New Haven as the marketing agency for the City of New Haven. Alexander then went on to chair the organization until his recent departure. The public-private partnership promotes New Haven as a vibrant destination for travelers by engaging in various advertising campaigns and hosting events like the biannual New Haven Restaurant Week.
Lauren Zucker, one of the people charged with filling Alexander’s role at Yale, is the associate vice president for New Haven affairs and University Properties. Senior Vice President for Operations Jack Callahan Jr. ’80 praised Zucker for “remaining on point for Yale and New Haven relations” and noted his commitment to “supporting her in the University’s efforts to sustain and extend” its relationship with the Elm City.
According to Karen Peart, director of external communications for the University, Yale continues to add to its local offerings. Recently, Pokémoto, a Hawaiian poké restaurant; Yamasaki Teriyaki, one of New Haven’s many Japanese restaurants; and Salon E’ Selim, a popular hair salon, have all opened as part of University Properties and seen success. In addition, Yale continues to support programs like New Haven Promise, the internship and scholarship program for local New Haven students.
Although Alexander has retired from his former position, he still works part-time as a senior advisor to University President Peter Salovey and with the state commission for economic development.
“My recent assignment from President Salovey is to support the state and governor in any way that I can in helping the local and state economies grow,” Alexander told the News.
Last spring, Alexander served on a state commision that examined the state’s “physical stability and economic development.” It examined the financial circumstances of the state, which, according to Alexander are “currently problematic.”
Alexander noted that the state provides 40 percent of New Haven’s budget. The University is interested in supporting the state’s economic development and has asked Alexander to participate in its efforts.
Despite the University and Alexander’s impacts on the business and economic development of New Haven and the state of Connecticut, there has been some debate as to whether the addition of major brands has benefitted the city.
Since the opening of Patagonia and L.L. Bean at the Shops at Yale, Yale students and local residents have voiced their concern about the influx of major brands to downtown New Haven. But Alexander said that the addition of these brands only benefit local businesses — and certainly do not hurt them.
“There seems to be a narrative that local businesses can’t thrive in New Haven, which is false,” Alexander told the News. “Local businesses thrive in the environment where suburbanites are brought here for the Apple Store or Patagonia, then shop or dine at local businesses while they’re here.”
Alexander said that out of the 110 shops at the Shops at Yale, about 75 percent are locally owned. He said that because the Yale community is away for nearly five months of the year, local merchants cannot survive without a mix of retail that brings in actors from outside the city. Alexander said that a situation “can’t be improved without the help of large corporations,” a hot topic which is discussed by “people who don’t understand development.”
Alexander retired from his position as vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development in 2018.
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