The Feldman brothers developers won unanimous approval to convert the historic James E. English Building on State Street into 39 market-rate apartments as city planners applauded a nearly all-residential project that seeks to avoid the empty groundfloor storefront phenomenon.

Commissioners granted that approval Wednesday night during the regular monthly meeting of the commission in the groundfloor meeting space at the 200 Orange St. municipal office building.

They approved the site plan submitted by Jacob and Josef Feldman’s MOD Equities for 418 State St., the red-brick, four-story commercial-office building that was built circa-1865 and that currently sits vacant at the corner of State Street and Court Street downtown.

The site plan calls for the building’s conversion into 39 apartments, a mix of one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms, as well as a ground-floor commercial space of roughly 844 square feet.

Commissioners also granted unanimous approval for the developers to receive a special permit allowing them to build out apartments on the building’s first floor. The underlying zone for the district does not allow first-floor residential use as of right.

As for the apartments being added to the first floor, which used to house such commercial enterprises as The Regal Beagle and Adolf Viennese Couturier-Furs, Mucilli said, that part of the building will not have to stay residential forever.

“The first floor design is such that, if commercial use along the State Street corridor comes back, then the first floor could easily be restored to its commercial use.”

MOD formerly won site plan approval back in 2015 to build out 18 apartments in the building. The updated site plan doubles the allowable units, and makes the project nearly entirely residential.

There will be recreation space, bicycle storage, and restrooms in the basement, an amenity space on the rooftop, and apartments in between. As for the small commercial space planned for the Court Street side of the building, he said MOD is looking to attract a coffee shop or some other “grab and go” food service operation, as opposed to full restaurant or bar.

“It’s a difficult street to have retail last,” he added, even though it’s right across the street from the State Street commuter train station.

He said the developers have demonstrated respect for the neighborhood’s size and scale, its need for apartments, and the building’s historic character.

Westville Alder and City Plan Commission Adam Marchand agreed, and noted his own support for a nearly all residential project at this site.

He said that, for almost the entirety of his eight years on the commission, there has always been a big push for residential use on upper floors and commercial uses on the ground floor.

“A lot of those commercial spaces have gone vacant and we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the commercial landscape with the advent of other forms of commerce and shopping and whatnot.

“And so, although I think it would be most people’s preference everywhere, or in many, many places, especially downtown, I don’t think the market would support that.”

Better to have people living in those spaces, he said, then to have them reserved for businesses that never materialize.

Retail on the ground floor gives people a reason to be out and about on the streets, making it safer and more interesting. Blocks with no retail feel dead, devoid of life and activity. The Regal Beagle was a lively place and had to relocate, so retail was there and was made to leave. Jane Jacobs’ observations about what makes for life in a city are still valid and relevant. We ignore them at our peril.

Regal Beagle was too corny to get a beer, just saying the name makes me cringe.  I think a lot of Wooster Sq residents would support a decent bar & grille in that location, but sounds like they have a great plan for quick coffee - the train commuters will appreciate that.

Can’t agree more with @Patricia Kane. This is a colossal mistake. With so many changes happening in the city it is imperative to have active ground level retail.

This action sets a very bad precedent for other citywide properties. We are looking at an area that will be redeveloped in the long run with changes promised to make the city more pedestrian friendly. That can’t happen with residences on the first floor.

The changing face of commercial does not mean nobody want to shop locally. It is just an excuse for purposefully poor marketing to businesses that insure the storefronts stay empty so the developers can put in lucrative apartments.  If rents are fair there are many small businesses that would thrive in this location.

This building is only two blocks from the Green and near huge apartment complexes filled with people that need good quality services.

City Plan is fickle and panders to the developers while it maintains it is trying to grow commercial corridors. We need leadership with a consistent vision and some new blood with open creative minds and the energy to lead the Commission in the 21st Century.

Mark 8:36 KJV: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? No shame hast the Judas Goat!!

I think not having retail on the ground floor of a building is a critical decision given the fact that it’s Downtown and right across from the train station.

I would think that part of the idea would be to make that part of State more vibrant just like some of the other nearby streets in the area. It’s rather abnormal not to see commercial space where there is also living space in Downtown.

You can go on as much as you want about the desirability of retail on the ground floor, and quote Jane Jacobs and so on.  But Jane Jacobs died in 2006 and the way people shop has continued to evolve.  People shop online.  We may not like it, but just look around.  Street-level retail now consists almost entirely of eateries, take-out, hair and nail salons, and dry cleaners, with the occasional pharmacy, UPS/FedEx store, shoe repair, tutoring classroom, and so on.  What’s left of retail is in the suburbs—supermarkets and giant big-box stores—and they too are under stress. 

Actual STORES, where people go in and buy things—clothing stores, shoe stores, hardware stores, stationery stores, gift shops, toy stores, bookstores—are rare and getting rarer.  Only the very fittest will survive.  Singing the praises of street-level retail won’t do a thing to change that simple fact. 

Better to admit it and put much-needed apartments on the ground floor than decree that because Jane Jacobs accurately pointed out the virtues of sidewalk retail in the 1980s, we shall HAVE SIDEWALK RETAIL!! COME WHAT MAY!!! and then what we get is blank plate-glass windows for twenty years the way we have on Audubon Street and too many other places.

If you can’t fill a retail space across the street from Neighborhood Music School, the Creative Arts Workshop, and a block away from ECA, where can you fill one?

Jane Jacobs is one of the most well-respected ‘outsider’ voices in history. Knowing her work is vital to understanding urban planning. But, does her thesis apply universally, in any city, in any time period? I think we should listen to contemporary outsider critics just as much as legendary figures like Jacobs. When she wrote Life and Death, Jeff Bezos was not yet born, the internet was barely a concept. How does Greenwich Village in 1960 resemble New Haven in 2020?

@Gretchen Pritchard Really- get real?- a place to grab food across from the train station, a convenience mart, even a D&D wouldn’t fly across from the train station. The reality is that this is an opportunity and the developers across this city continue to find ways to discourage business when they can make more money on apartment.

There is no train station that I can think of that is not an isolated free-standing station or that is near a shopping area where there is not a vibrant retail area- look at Fairfield or almost any of the stops. Those are thriving areas. Don’t neighborhoods need services- and this part of state st is indeed a neighborhood now. Look at Upper State St for example- full of businesses on the first floor- and this one with the train station advantage! Of course there are areas where commercial may not fly but this is not one of them.

And by the way, the Regal Beagle is now doing fine on Whitney ave in a BASEMENT site where Anna Liffey was located.

The city is pushing Commercial Gateway Corridors and going thru all kinds of rezoning efforts to enliven commerce in this city. Is this a waste of time? If this is a pipe dream we ought to cancel all of that now and get a virtual cup of coffee on our way to the train.

> Eh. You have a point, but it don’t always have to be a regular store or a coffee shop that has to take up a storefront. I feel that coffee shops and grab-n-go mini marts are so common that you can probably find them anywhere throughout a city. Which is basically the truth.

Something different and appealing is always welcomed. You really shouldn’t have to go outside of a city just to go shopping either. That’s just my personal view. Also, shopping online is not even all that it’s cracked up to be for lots of people. It just makes people lazy if anything.. and it takes away a lot of job opportunities.

Patricia, neither the Regal Beagle or the other ground floor occupants had to leave. In the case of the Regal Beagle, half of their new space is in the basement, with a corresponding rent. To get the special permit, the Feldman’s had to show that they had been unable to find new commercial tenants in spite of a good faith effort.

HewNaven, to extend your point, the Greenwich Village of 2020 bears very little resemblance to the Greenwich Village of 1960. Bleecker Street in particular is plagued by ground floor vacancies.

Jacobs’ argument for ground floor retail was that shopkeepers provided “eyes on the street.”  As Gretchen and HewNaven note, retail has changed radically since she when wrote. So too has residential land use. When she wrote, most employees worked something like 9 to 5 (factory workers such as my dad had an 8 to 4 shift). Today, employees work all sorts of hours and many work from home.

Even if there were storefronts,  how the hell does anyone park to go there? Ever try to go to NH Market???  Every space taken every day , all day..  This is convenient strictly for the crowd who want another trendy, expensive area to look at and maybe a chic coffee shoppe to visit.  Can we stop with the coffee shops?  To live downtown,  one needs stores- we don’t order milk online . Very few grocery shop online.  As I recall, there was the MOHEGAN MARKET somewhere near there on State by Chapel or Grand.  REAL PEOPLE need more than coffee and biscuit shops. 

Who exactly are we renovating downtown for?  Who is an expanded TWEED for?  Who was the State St train station (1/4 mile from Union Station) for?  Our taxes are funding our own expulsion from our own city!!  How stupid are we?????

@CityYankee “Who is an expanded TWEED for?”  For tens of thousands who you refuse to admit. Cities in N.E.  are dying and no amount of money spent will change that. In a recent list of the 10 worst cities in CT, Hartford and Bridgeport were rated worse than New Haven. New Haven has the shoreline, museums, some of the best Italian food in the state, Hartford and Bridgeport can’t even make a decent pizza. Wooster street is well known and on the list of many visitors. There is no going back to the glory days of the city, Shartenberg’s, Malley’s, and all the large and small stores are gone. Shopping habits have changed from the cities, then suburban malls and now on-line dominates. I remember, Grant’s, Newberry’s, Kresge’s, Woolworth’s and the many small produce stores and some good restaurants. People come to New Haven today not to shop but to visit the tourist spots, Yale and its Museums, historic spots, etc. Now how do many arrive here from far away places, yes, many fly in and its to the cities advantage for them to fly into Tweed and not Bradley or the New York airports so money can be spent here with local store and restaurant owners. I never expect you to get it because of your tunnel vision, you can’t see beyond the runway issue and how Tweed can be part of the areas revival, no one comes to New Haven by Trailways or Greyhound that are on vacation. A modest increase in airlines and flights at Tweed can have big impact on the cities well being. Also more passengers will increase the airports income and the number of airport and airport related jobs. I don’t expect the SCOTUS to take the appeal by the state regarding the runway because the appeal court decision was unanimous and the state has a very weak case. The master plan still needs to be formulated which will take about 18 months, in the meantime, I foresee some new service in 2020 that will be welcomed by many area residents. Hope to see you at Tweed on a future flight, hope some seats are left.

Steve, I agree that the Supreme Court is unlikely to take up the Tweed case. It denies cert. in most cases and there is not a division among the circuits. And the state has a weak case on the preemption issue. The Federal Aviation Administration has “occupied the field” of commercial aviation safety and a state cannot establish runway length restrictions that FAA finds are unsafe. But the state’s position on standing is stronger. While there have been several decisions to the contrary, the doctrine that municipalities are merely “creatures of the state” has been around for a long time.

According to the Register, the Regal Beagle’s lease was not renewed because the building’s owners wanted to build apartments there. This is the link to the story:

From my travels downtown I find that most storefronts are filled. When I moved here in 1999 there were many more empty storefronts. Large parts of downtown were deserted. State Street is a main commercial corridor and it has been for hundreds of years.  Ground floor apartments are inappropriate at this location and the owners’ argument does not match the story their former tenants gave in the Register article.

@Stephen Wilcox This is EXACTLY what has been done elsewhere- these developers either have City Plan Commission under their thumb, in their pocket, or the Commission is really gullible! TIME FOR NEW LEADERSHIP on the Commission. Time to wake up the new director and let her know she is being manipulated and needs to pay attention to those warning her to listen to the neighborhoods, listen to the citizens. These people will be leading the new city-wide zoning program!  We will soon find a repeat of the 50’s-70’s redevelopment fiasco if this is not stopped NOW.

It’s time the citizens of NH stood up en masse as did some folks in the Dixwell and Grand Ave Corridor areas. This is CRIMINAL behavior- manipulating tenants to create uninhabited spaces and then because they are empty they claim hardship ‘cause nobody “wants” to rent it. This is BOGUS. The Commission is negligent in its research of facts.

We need an investigation… Anyone willing to challenge City Plan Commission? An investigation if not legal action is long overdue.

We can only hope the Mayor-elect is paying attention. We have been trying to tell him and his staff about this type of conduct. We can’t afford to get this wrong.

Regarding the issue of “ground floor retail” it should be noted that Jane Jacobs was fighting against a form of urban design that, at the time, would have turned her beloved West Village into a vast landscape of hi-rise residential towers surrounded by lawns and parking lots and few stores. Today that same neighborhood suffers from stiflingly high rents. Traditional cities also DO have streets with little or no retail. Some end up functioning as de facto services streets. You can see this in the NYC theatre district where some streets like W51st have more service entry bays (to theaters and hotels) than stores. I was in Montreal recently and was stunned at the number of “mom and pop” stores and cafes operating along the commercial arteries within residential neighborhood I was in (Le Plateau / Mont Royal). Why? It’s not like they don’t have automobiles, Amazon or Canadian Tire. It must be a combination of rent and a good climate for small retail. Follow the money.  I recall living in Washington DC in the 1980s at the beginning of a huge wave of commercial office gentrification moving eastward from 16th St towards Chinatown. New class-A office buildings were being build and developers were practically giving away leases on the “frontier” in order to aggressively fill up space and reach their density targets within 5 years. It worked! Moving to New Haven and seeing what a tough time the Ninth Square street level retail was having, I’d often wonder if the city and developer had ever considered steeply discounting the rents. How low do you have to go to attract and keep a “mom and pop” store or cafe in the first place? Sadly, quite a bit of the “retail” in Jane Jacob’s old neighborhood is now chain drug stores and bank branches…not to mention overpriced “flagship” boutiques for international luxury retailers.

Stephen, thanks - I may have been mistaken. And you are right that downtown is in better shape than it was 20 years ago. But ground floor vacancies are a real problem, in both existing and new buildings. Ninth Square is a ghost town and there are storefronts at 360 State and The Novella that have been vacant since the buildings opened years ago.

Dear Kevin, a couple of questions for you :   1.  9th Square wasn’t a ghost town at first.  What happened there?  Why are ground level storefronts empty?

2. Where is this Renaissance that gentrification was supposed to bring?  Can it be because those of us who wish to support downtown find parking difficult and those who live there don’t wish to shop there? Or Is it because our shopping tastes differ?  I’m not sure.  Parking is an issue and I think maybe that the plan to create a captive shopping audience downtown is not enough to sustain those businesses.  What do you think?

Looking to the past, there were stores of every type downtown; from grocery to fabric, to retail. Even millennials need to buy hardware or toilet paper or reasonably priced clothing .  They don’t live on trendy, expensive coffee shops and Internet bars (or do they?!?!?).  As I ask the questions, I wonder if the dichotomy between building a downtown for Yale and suburbanites to play in versus the needs and desires of NH residents in general is working against us? ————-  looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

@StephenWilcox : I agree with your observation about the need for either new people in City Plan (although Leslie Radcliffe does a good job of listening to the neighborhoods) or simply abolishing it. We likely need a real, qualified City Planner to implement what we know about what makes an urban space desirable, rather then rubber stamp developoment when it does little for the city and more for the out of town developers.   The process leaves a lot to be desired.   The Board of Alders has not moved to mandate an affordable housing component similar to the one at 360 State St.   Dennis Serfilippi’s idea of a developer donation to a fund so the City can build its own affordable housing is one that should be explored.   Right now significant historical and architectural properties are either collapsing under the wrecking ball or at risk.   The downtown is becoming an impersonal series of cheap, rectangular boxes that add nothing to our experience as we walk or bike around. It’s clear that people want walkable, bikeable cities, but blank facades with no life at ground level just creates more dead zones.   The regular “kvelling” about the “success” of Ninth Square is a joke. I’m told that 1/3-1/2 of the apartments are Section 8. And the last Board of Alders vote to extend tax concessions was to “allow Yale workers to live close to work”. I can’t make this stuff up.     So the Principality of Yale continues to hoard its wealth, expand in other neighborhoods (and towns), while leaving the actual residents of New Haven to try to figure out how to meet the needs of the populace with only 45% of the land taxable. And YNHH is likewise expanding, without adding anything to the tax rolls.     One does not have to be a psychic to see that this is unworkable.     Good luck to Mayor Elect Elicker in taking on this mega-dysfunction.     The game is rigged and the residents of New Haven are the losers.

@JoeCH: The West Village is lost. Luxury shops are leaving. The rents no longer make sense even for high end retail. Jane moved to Canada rather than watch the destruction of a once special place.   When DeStefano was Mayor I begged him not to let New Haven turn into Stamford.   Too late.

“The downtown is becoming an impersonal series of cheap, rectangular boxes that add nothing to our experience as we walk or bike around.”

Plus, if we don’t build them, those families will just rent the existing neighborhood housing in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, driving out everyone who lives there now.

CityYankee, you may have been in New Haven longer than me. But Ninth Square has been largely a ghost town in the 30+ years I have lived here. The decline of brick and mortar retail is a widespread phenomenon. Among other places, it is affecting malls, where parking is really not an issue. In addition to shifting to on-line purchasing, consumers are changing what they buy.. Families spent far more eating out than when I (and I expect you) were kids. This helps explain the plethora of restaurants downtown.

@Anonymous: I think it appropriate that you live in a cheap, rectangular, cookie cutter box yourself. Personally, I think people deserve better. I think they deserve quality architectural design and quality construction - unlike the building structure that fell down in a wind. I also think we deserve pretty and interesting places, interesting stores, vest pocket parks, great sculpture and an intelligent mix of the old and the new. We deserve to have a good experience as we walk or bike or take a bus.   It’s the mindless focus on new building for its own sake, regardless of whether it contributes to the city or not, that will destroy it from within.   I suggest you read “Babbitt” for a long range view of where your attitude leads.

Api 5l Steel Pipe

CityYankee: I have observed the “Ninth Square” since its inception.  Bentara was a surprising success, but teh general area has always struggled to attract tenants, commercial and residential.  The “Residences at Ninth Square” would not be half section 8 if the area were more desirable.  Including a subsidized housing component was part of the incentive to get people to move to that forlorn corner.  While technically not in the Ninth Square, the Armed Forces Recruiting center on Orange Street was another politically forced tenant in what might otherwise have been vacant space, just as the FBI building on the Arena block was a result of Rosa’s influence.  Heck, Gateway was a DeStefano project because no one wanted to build something taxable on the Malley’s & Macy’s sites.  Much of what appears to be vibrant retail downtown is in Yale owned property, where Yale place appearance above profitability.

cityyankee: Milk may be ordered on-line through Peapod by Stop & Shop, along with virtually all victuals one wants.

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