Walk along Whitney Avenue from Grove Street on a typical Saturday afternoon and you will find many people from campus, nearby neighborhoods, and beyond who are enjoying the area’s mix of restaurants, shops, and community arts venues. The foot traffic is hailed as a good sign for business — and that, in turn, is a good sign for New Haven’s tax base, which has grown stronger over the past decade.
Among the places drawing crowds on lower Whitney is Crêpes Choupette, opened last year by Adil Chokairy at 24 Whitney Ave. as part of Yale’s University Properties portfolio. An immigrant from France who came to America in 2005, Chokairy moved to New Haven from the suburbs in 2013. In 2014, he began pedaling a crêpe cart attached to a bicycle. Chokairy has since built on the cart’s success at his café on Whitney — where, he reports, take-out and sit-down business is strong during the weekdays, on evenings, and weekends.
Chokairy’s story illustrates how New Haven has become a “city transformed,” as it was described in a Washington Post article in 2014, which also touted the Elm City as a place “with Boston’s historic charm, Philadelphia’s artistic pleasures — and Buffalo’s beer prices.” The New York Post has said, “Connecticut’s capital of higher learning is getting its second wind,” while a New York Daily News headline proclaimed: “New Haven is happening.” Noted restaurateur Mario Battali described New Haven as “cosmopolitan and yet comfortable,” when he and his partners opened Tarry Lodge New Haven as a tenant of University Properties in the Broadway District in November 2014.
Supporting businesses, schools, and more
Battali’s and Chokairy’s businesses were brought to New Haven through Yale’s longstanding community investment program. For more than two decades, Yale has made strategic investments on Chapel Street, Broadway, and Whitney/Audubon to reinvigorate these downtown districts, support longtime businesses, and attract new retail and restaurants. These efforts downtown are part of a comprehensive set of initiatives that also include support for the public schools, homeownership, and workforce and economic development.
There are nearly 90 commercial tenants in Yale University Properties buildings, more than two-thirds of them owned by local and regional retailers and restaurateurs. High-profile tenants include international retailers like Apple, which launched its New Haven store in September 2011 on the same day it opened new stores in Paris, Sydney, and Shanghai, and New Haven originals such as Claire’s Corner Copia, which celebrated 40 years in business in 2015, next door to its sister restaurant, Basta Trattoria, which opened in 2004 and is also a University Properties tenant.
Yale pays taxes on all of its non-academic properties, including the entire University Properties portfolio, and is consistently one of the city’s top real estate property taxpayers. Yale’s total property tax payments for the current fiscal year exceed $4.5 million.
Voluntary $8.2 million payment to city
Beyond the taxes paid on all non-academic real estate, Yale makes a substantial voluntary payment each year to New Haven. Every nonprofit college and university in the nation is exempt from paying taxes on its academic property, but very few make such voluntary payments to their home cities. Yale’s payment to New Haven is more than $8.2 million this fiscal year, making it the single largest voluntary payment made by any university to any single city in the nation, even though there are many universities larger than Yale in terms of budget or campus size.
"New Haven is a place more full of opportunity than it is beset by challenges."
— President Peter Salovey
Yale’s ongoing partnership with its neighbors in New Haven has played a role in helping the city’s tax base get its own “second wind” in this new millennium, as the Wall Street Journal noted in a 2011 article, “Yale Draws Interest to New Haven’s Center.” In that article, Bruce Becker said of the 360 State St. project, “"I wouldn't have done this 15 years ago but today, there's demand from people coming in from the suburbs to live in what's becoming a very vibrant city."
That new development is now one of the city’s top taxpayers, as are properties developed by Winstanley Enterprises. That firm’s principal, Carter Winstanley, credited New Haven’s growth to “a successful partnership between the city, the university and private investment” in the Wall Street Journal in 2013. The article noted that Yale “has helped stoke the growth of the city's healthy biotech and medical businesses,” a process that continues to yield results such as the dedication on Feb. 29, of the new headquarters of Alexion Pharmaceuticals in the Hill-to-downtown district, Alexion will also soon be one of the city’s top taxable properties.
New Haven's tax base stronger than Hartford's, Bridgeport's
Data from the Connecticut Data Collaborative demonstrate that New Haven’s tax base has grown stronger, especially compared to similarly situated cities like Hartford and Bridgeport.
From state FY2004 to FY20014, the latest data available, New Haven’s equalized net grand list — a measure of taxable property — grew by 38% in the recent decade, while Hartford’s equalized net grand list grew by 6%, and Bridgeport’s by 16%. New Haven’s tax base overall stands stronger than Hartford’s or Bridgeport’s, with an equalized net grand list per capita 27% higher than Bridgeport and 29% higher than Hartford as of state FY2014. (Note: equalized net grand list figures are a measure of only the taxable real and personal property, i.e. the gross property estimate minus any tax exempt properties.)
New Haven’s tax rate is likewise lower than that of those two cities. New Haven’s equalized mill rate, an “apples to apples” measure of the effective tax rate in cities, is 26% lower than Bridgeport’s and 27% lower than Hartford’s, according to state data available through the data collaborative.
The positive trends in the tax base coincide with positive demographic trends in New Haven. According to the U.S. Census, New Haven had the largest population growth of any city in New England from 2000 to 2010. New Haven consistently ranks at or near the top of apartment occupancy rates of all markets in the nation. And while the total number of jobs statewide was flat over the last decade, the number of jobs in New Haven grew by 9%.
Considering the positive direction of New Haven’s economy and tax base, Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president of New Haven and state affairs and campus development, recalls remarks made by Yale President Peter Salovey to the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce a few years ago: “New Haven is a place more full of opportunity than it is beset by challenges. Sure, we have challenges — issues in common with cities across nation. But — and most importantly — we have uncommonly abundant assets beyond most cities our size.”
“President Salovey is right and New Haven has more opportunity to prosper for all its residents. We at Yale are committed to do our part,” Alexander says. “The lessons of the past and our collective progress are very clear — the best recipe for community prosperity is when we cooperate and work together as partners.”