The city plans to sell its remaining stakes in Dixwell Plaza for $750,000 to a local redevelopment team looking to convert the 1960s-era shopping complex into 50,000 square feet of new commercial space and 150 new apartments.
That public land deal — which would reserve 30 residential units to be set aside at affordable rents — is detailed in a new proposed Development and Land Disposition Agreement (DLDA) between the city and the Connecticut Community Outreach and Revitalization Program, or ConnCORP LLC.
ConnCORP is a for-profit subsidiary of the Science Park-based job training nonprofit Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT).
Livable City Initiative (LCI) Acting Executive Director Arlevia Samuel submitted the proposed DLDA to the Board of Alders on Monday as a communication.
The proposed land deal now advances to various reviews and, in some cases, public hearings, to be hosted by an aldermanic committee and the City Plan Commission, before returning back to the full Board of Alders for a final vote.
The proposed DLDA submission represents the biggest public step forward since the start of the pandemic for the ambitious $200 million planned overhaul of the shopping plaza located on the western side of Dixwell Avenue between Webster Street and Charles Street.
“As you know, the Dixwell Plaza has been in a deteriorating condition for many years with high vacancy rates and substandard property maintenance,” Samuel wrote to the alders in an Oct. 18 letter about the Urban Renewal-era shopping plaza.
She wrote that the developer has assembled the financing necessary to purchase the rest of Dixwell Plaza, and has plans to redevelop the site as a “mixed-use, mixed-income community”.
“As a more general point, the ConnCORP team consists of leaders in our community with a demonstrated commitment to inclusive growth and community development, highlighted by ConnCAT’s nationally-recognized programs at Science Park,” Samuel continued in her letter. “The vision for Dixwell Plaza is in keeping with our overall efforts to revitalize Dixwell Plaza in a manner that builds a stronger community and I look forward to sharing this proposal in more detail at the committee hearing.”
The DLDA submitted Monday night builds off of details for the planned redevelopment first presented publicly earlier this year by the local team behind ConnCORP, which includes Paul McCraven, Erik Clemons, Carlton Highsmith, Genevieve Walker, and Yves-Georges Joseph II.
During two community meetings—one held in Stetson Library, one held in the nearby Elks Lodge—the team described plans to bring a new performing arts center, banquet hall, grocery store, museum, office complex, daycare center, retail storefronts, and 150 apartments and townhouses to the neighborhood’s fraying commercial hub.
They also celebrated the project as led by local African American investors and developers, and to be built on a site that sits at the heart of one of New Haven’s historically African American communities.
Unlike some other planned new construction projects around town, the proposed Dixwell Plaza DLDA does not include any upfront tax abatement deal associated with the new affordable apartments.
The DLDA states that the project “shall remain taxable in accordance with the customary assessment practices applied to all real property within the City, and that the Developer agrees to pay all taxes and assessments lawfully assessed against the Property and the improvements thereon”. The DLDA also states that the developer nevertheless retains the right to apply for property tax abatements that are currently open to any other builder in the city.
According to a slideshow included with the DLDA submission, the proposed new mixed-use complex will be called ConnCAT Place on Dixwell.
5 Years, 150 Apts., 50K Sq. Ft. Of Commercial Space
The proposed DLDA and Samuel’s accompanying letter describes how ConnCORP and its subsidiary companies have already purchased six of the 12 condos that make up Dixwell Plaza, as well as the nearby Elks Lodge building at 87 Webster St.
The land deal would see the city sell all remaining publicly-owned properties at Dixwell Plaza to ConnCORP for $750,000. The city would set aside $50,000 of that revenue for the Q House Development Fund. The project’s accompanying slideshow presentation states that the city’s current interests in the plaza were most recently appraised as worth $700,000.
The publicly-owned parcels slated to be sold include two Dixwell Plaza condos—at 200 Dixwell Ave. and 26 Charles St.—as well as a “public way” that currently provides pedestrian access between Dixwell Avenue and the city-owned property west of the plaza, and a “public plaza” that is a parking lot situated between the condos and Dixwell Avenue.
The proposed deal would require ConnCORP to build 150 new residential units and 50,000 square feet of new commercial and/or retail space within five years of acquiring the public property.
It would also require the developer to set aside 20 percent of those new residential units—or no less than 30 units in total—at deed-restricted affordable rents for 20 years.
At least 15 of those affordable apartments must be reserved for tenants earning 80 percent or less of the area median income (AMI), and at least another 15 must be reserved for tenants earning 60 percent or less of the AMI.
As for the commercial space, according to the proposed DLDA, the developer cannot lease, sell or use any of those storefronts as “a discount department store, ‘dollar’ store, firearms and/or ammunition store, charity thrift shop or the like, adult bookstore/adult entertainment establishment, tattoo parlor or massage parlor of any kind, or liquor store.”
The land sale agreement would require the developer to abide by the city’s 12 ½ and 12 ¼ guidelines—which set minimum construction hiring goals for minority and women contractors. It would also set a resident construction workforce goal for the project of 25 percent.
The deal would allow the Stetson Library to remain on site in Dixwell Plaza until April 2021, at which point the library branch would move into the new Q House community center across the street. It would also allow for the full return of the New Haven Police Department substation currently located at 28 Charles St.
If the developer does not complete the project as outlined in the DLDA within five years of signing the agreement, it will have the option of extending the project schedule by 12 months—and will have to pay the city $5,000 for each month included in that extension period.
The project is slated to begin construction in 2021.
Mercy Quaye, the founder of The Narrative Project and a spokesperson for ConnCORP, told the Independent that the details of the planned Dixwell Plaza redevelopment are still being worked out. She called this DLDA submission “is just one step on a long road” towards the project’s completion.
“[W]e’re eager to see the project through and bring the plans that were created with community input to life,” she said in a written statement. “We remain committed to partnering with community leaders to answer some of the concerns residents shared with us. We know that housing, jobs and security are high priorities, now more than ever, and we’re working to create a cultural hub that addresses those concerns as best as possible.”
The proposed land deal also represents just the latest large-scale construction project slated for the Dixwell/Newhallville area—with 150 apartments planned for a city-owned vacant parcel bounded by Ashmun Street, Henry Street, and Canal Street; nearly 400 new apartments planned for a long-vacant former Olin site at 201 Munson St.; and 69 new apartments planned for the former Joe Grate lot at Dixwell Avenue, Munson Street, and Orchard Street.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the proposed land sale will be heard by LCI’s PAD committee and its board of directors. That is incorrect. The proposed deal will be heard by an aldermanic committee and the City Plan Commission before returning to the full Board of Alders.