Update: Nov. 14, 1:40 p.m.
Mayor Dan Drew will hold a press conference Wednesday at 4 p.m. about this proposed Washington Street development. Check back with Middletown Patch later this afternoon for a full story.
A Wesleyan University blog post, announcing the possible relocation of the campus bookstore to busy Route 66, has met with local reaction from some who think it could mean knocking down a portion of the city’s historic district.
Assistant Vice President of Facilities Joyce Topshe and Assistant Vice President of Finance Nathan Peters published the post on Nov. 9, addressed to Wesleyan faculty and staff, announcing Broad Street Books could be relocated to a 10,000-square-foot retail area on Washington Street, between High and Pearl streets.
“While the bookstore would be the anchor tenant, the new development is expected to also include national branded retail and restaurant tenants as well as local businesses,” the Topshe/Peters post reads.
Neither Topshe nor Peters could be reached for immediate comment.
Wesleyan University has made no formal announcement of where the bookstore would exactly go in its proposal nor mention of whether the Red and Black Cafe would be part of plans.
On Nov. 10, the student-run blog Wesleying picked up the post, garnering comments from concerned students and community members. Student reaction to the announcement online ranged from: “'complex' and 'national branded' — this sounds like a terrible idea!” to "’national branded retail and restaurant tenants’" does not sound good at all to me.”
Co-founders of the The Middletown Eye local news blog, Jen Alexander and Ed McKeon, who both live nearby the proposed site, also object to the idea. Two posts on the Middletown Eye, on Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, addressed the proposal.
Alexander tells Middletown Patch she was surprised at the news. “The notion that Wesleyan was shopping for a new location for its bookstore — if we had any idea, it would have been something we would have jumped on,” she said. Starbucks and Chipotle’s, Alexander says, have been floated about town as two of the proposed tenants.
The National Registry of Historical Places has protected 108-356 Washington Street in Middletown since 1985.
“I can't imagine a worse idea,” McKeon, a Board of Education member, commented on Topshe/Peters post. “The demolition of at least one, but probably two, 19th-century homes would be necessary to create the mini-mall, permanently altering the streetscape on the entryway to Middletown and Wesleyan.
"I can say one good thing about this project," Alexander wrote. "I applaud the open discussion about whether this would be a good or bad move for the university, and the opportunity to speculate on how it would affect the non-university community in town."
Alexander clarified her take on the location of this proposed development in a post on the Middletown Eye. However, the university has not said that buildings will be torn down.
“The new building, to be located where two historic houses now stand, would consist of 10,000 square feet of space on two floors. The potential anchor tenant would be a chain bookstore, which would have an affiliation with Wesleyan as their textbook dealer. There would be other tenants, who might include national chain restaurants and stores,” she wrote.
The block of Washington Street between High and Pearl streets comprises four historic buildings and a small “finger-shaped” parcel in between the two easternmost homes — 186 to 172 Washington Street — which are homes and land owned by various people:
- 172 Washington Street, built in 1870, owned by Lee Osborne, sits on half an acre
- 184-6 Washington Street, owned by Wesleyan, was built in 1875, is .37 acres and has been divided up into apartments
- A .35-acre plot in between these two homes, the site of a former community garden at 180 Washington Street, is owned by JDS Holding Co. A web search turned up the principal as John R. DeSena of Middletown.
Commercial Realtor Trevor Davis confirmed he represents one of the sellers, but declined to clarify which parcel. "It is under contract to Centerplan [Companies of Middletown.] I didn't know about the bookstore.”
Stephen DeVoto, Wesleyan professor and Eye blogger, voiced concern about the city's independent coffee shops. “Wesleyan needs to be very careful about destroying a local business. For example, enabling a Starbucks would be the absolute worst thing that Wesleyan could do, because it would draw business away from three locally owned purveyors of excellent coffee.”
City officials have not commented on plans to tear down any buildings with this project. An open forum will be held at Wesleyan on Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m. in 41 Wyllys, Room 112.