Jeremy Kutner

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In late 1995, a dream that had fixated New Haven’s leadership since the 1960’s was coming to an end. Long buffeted by a population and wealth exodus to the suburbs, leaders had looked to a glittery downtown shopping mall to draw people, and their money, back to the city. Downtown was remade to accommodate retail heavy hitters: Macy’s, Malley’s, and the Chapel Square Mall. But it wasn’t working. Macy’s was gone. Chapel Square was hemorrhaging tenants. And so, after decades of public effort to make large-scale retail work downtown, the city’s mayor was ready to write the idea’s obituary: “[New Haven mayor John] DeStefano said he has been working since summer on ‘defining the role of the downtown for the future.’ In that time, the mayor said, he has come to believe that having a large shopping mall downtown is probably no longer feasible.”

Yet what happened next took just about everyone by surprise. Instead of giving up the retailing ghost, DeStefano announced plans for a $500 million upscale shopping paradise, a brand new suburban-style mall, just outside the downtown core and subsidized with $85 million in public money, at the confluence of the three highways that intersected the city. “Hailed as the salvation of a city too long becalmed in the economic doldrums,” the New Haven Galleria project promised to remake Connecticut’s retail landscape and return a bounty of jobs and new tax revenue to a suffering urban center. It also launched one of the most protracted and expensive land use fights in New Haven’s history, sparked a lobbying, legal, and public relations war that pitted the city’s downtown core against the city’s leadership, and ended in complete failure. Or, at least, that’s the way it seemed at the time. In the years since the Galleria’s demise, almost all of the key players who worked for half a decade to bring the project to fruition have forsaken it as misconceived, oversold, or potentially ruinous. DeStefano himself, during his failed campaign for Governor of Connecticut in 2006, said that trying the build the mall was the biggest mistake of his career. How this economic miracle that nearly transformed a city morphed into a historical pariah, and whether the now-maligned megamall would have actually benefitted the city as whole, is the subject of this analysis.


Paper submitted by Jeremy Kutner for Yale Law School course taught by Professor Robert Ellickson. May 1, 2012.