City officials pitch controversial $1.3 million purchase of Monterey Club
The Monterey Club hosted giants of Jazz before falling into disrepair under the ownership of mega-landlords Ocean Management.
Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker evoked the names of Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington on Monday morning in the hopes of securing support for a $1.3 million deal to buy the run-down Monterey Club and its surrounding buildings. All four performed at the Monterey Club while it was open between 1934 and 1991.
Joined by Monk Youth Jazz and Steam Collective founder Marcella Monk Flake, Cultural Affairs Commission member Jesse Hameen Jr. and Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church Pastor Kelcy Steele, Elicker and Liveable Cities Initiative executive director Arlevia Samuel hosted a press conference on Monday outside of the Monterey Club. On Wednesday, the Liveable Cities Initiative board will hold a vote on the controversial deal.
“Driving through this part of Dixwell Ave always takes away a little bit of joy because of the disrepair it’s fallen into, so this purchase will help bring some of that joy back to Dixwell Ave,” Elicker said at the press conference.
The purchase from Ocean Management of the four pieces of property on 262, 263, 265 and 269 Dixwell Ave. was put to a vote by the Liveable City Intiative’s board in December, but they deferred the vote to January over concerns about the price of the deal.
The city was willing to pay $350,000 more than the appraised value of the four properties, even though the Monterey Club is the only one of the four buildings in the deal that holds a significant historical value. Ocean Management, a company that owns more than 1,000 mostly-low income apartments across the city, has also faced numerous housing code violations at their properties in New Haven.
“This is a beyond ridiculous return for a property owner that has done nothing but sit on it until they’re ready to make a profit,” LCI board member Nadine Horton said at the December meeting. “That’s insane.”
Elicker told the News that the city had to pay higher than market rate since no properties in New Haven were currently being sold at market rate due to rising housing prices.
“We reviewed comparable property sales and they saw similar increases in prices,” Elicker said. “A lot of the Ocean portfolio was for sale and we didn’t purchase most of those properties because they weren’t of strategic value to us.”
According to both Samuel and Elicker, the focus of the deal has always been preserving the history of the Monterey Club. They city agreed to buy the adjoining properties as a necessary part of the deal with Ocean Management.
Flake said that the club held emotional and historical significance for many New Haven residents and jazz lovers.
“Both my friend and daughter of Monterey’s owner Rufus Greenlee are ecstatic to know that this property will be preserved,” Flake said. “We’re so happy to know that it will be used to educate and revitalize the Dixwell community.”
The city, in concert with the Liveable City initiative, has been negotiating the purchasing of all four parcels of land, which have been sitting empty and in disrepair for more than 10 years. The LCI is responsible for fighting blight in the city, and identified the four properties as significant due to their location on Dixwell Ave.
Currently, the city plans to hold onto the Monterey Club and its adjoining deli for development while turning over the two multi-unit houses to Beulah Land Development Corporation, a nonprofit affiliated with Dixwell’s Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church that will then be responsible for developing the housing units. Under the current agreement, the new housing units will include affordable housing.
“This is a smart decision for the city to buy these parcels,” Dixwell alder Jeanette Morrison told the News. “Dixwell needs development and this is the right step forward.”
The two properties that will continue to be held by the city will be developed after the creation of a community input forum, where Dixwell residents will be able to discuss what they would like to see happen to the two properties.
According to New Haven director of economic development Mike Piscatelli, the funding for the purchase comes from the federally funded Community Development Block Grant for neighborhood commercial projects. The grant was allocated to the city last year, and the grant money will expire in the second quarter of this year.
Dixwell’s redevelopment has included the recent reopening of the Q House in 2021.