In response to firm opposition by members of the Middletown and Wesleyan communities, the University has decided not to relocate its bookstore to the Washington Street site proposed by the Middletown real estate company Centerplan Companies. President Michael Roth announced this decision at the faculty meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4. The next day, Associate Vice President for Finance Nathan Peters and Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe sent out an all-campus email to announce the decision and the reasoning behind it.
“On the basis of strong community sentiment, Wesleyan has decided not to relocate its bookstore to Washington Street,” wrote Peters and Topshe. “Objections to the bookstore relocation (and planned development) included concerns about pedestrian safety, increased traffic, and disruption of the residential neighborhood.”
Centerplan’s proposal to include the University bookstore in a three-story complex had been met with considerable criticism. Some of the more common critiques included the dangers of crossing the very busy Washington Street and concern about the negative effects of introducing national chains into Middletown. The University’s decision pleased those who opposed the relocation, including Red and Black Café Owner Ed Thorndike ’89, whose café might have been closed if the bookstore had moved.
“Obviously we are pleased with the decision and not too surprised,” wrote Thorndike in an email to The Argus. “We hope Centerplan withdraws their plan for a scaled down development. As so many people in the Wes community have argued, it’s a terrible location for such a development.”
Many other students and faculty approved of the University’s decision not to go forward with the relocation proposal.
“I’ve been opposed to the project for a while now,” said Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Finance and Facilities Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14. “The Middletown community and the Wesleyan community have generally been in opposition to it, and it would be damaging to town-gown relations if Wesleyan went ahead with the project without the Middletown community’s support.”
At the forum, Centerplan CEO Robert Landino said that even if the University decided not to move the bookstore, the development on Washington Street might still go into construction.
“We probably would go forward with a two-floor building, not a three-floor building, that would include a first floor of retail and a second floor of our offices,” said Landino.
Despite the University’s decision, Wesleyan remains under contract with Centerplan to sell one of the Washington Street properties that will comprise the new site.
“Wesleyan is still under contract to sell one of the four properties to [Centerplan],” Trexler said. “It’s a piece of property that [the University has] been trying to sell for some time. We didn’t offer them anything, it’s just been on the market, and they have a contract to buy it. We could try to pull out of the contract, but there are certain legal implications for that, but there has been some talk about [doing that] among Wesleyan and the Middletown community.”
Though the idea of relocating the bookstore to Washington Street faced heavy criticism, several people have advocated different improvements to the bookstore.
“We do think this is a good opportunity for the University to re-examine the bookstore,” wrote Thorndike. “The business of selling books is rapidly changing, and we should bring all the stakeholders (students, faculty, administration, local community, Follett, and Red & Black Café) together to discuss where the store is headed and what, if any, changes should be made.”