NEW HAVEN — Matthew Nemerson, New Haven’s economic development administrator for the past five years, a local history buff and longtime public policy wonk, has resigned as of Friday to take a job with a tech firm in the private sector.
Nemerson informed his staff Thursday of his plans.
He has worked in development for decades as one of the founders of the Science Park Development Corporation, later as head of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce before he became the head of the Connecticut Technology Council.
“The mayor is grateful for his contribution to New Haven over the long term and as economic development administrator for the past five years,” Laurence Grotheer, spokesperson for Mayor Toni Harp, said. “He and the rest of the city can look back on his tenure and note the substantial progress that has been made on economic development on many fronts.”
Nemerson is one of the four original coordinators overseeing departments in the city appointed by Harp after she was first elected in 2013.
He is the last one to leave, having been preceded by Community Services Administrator Martha Okafor, Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter and Budget Director Joseph Clerkin.
Nemerson, however, probably was the most public figure as the economic development director navigating the city’s long complicated approval process, the overlay of union pressures and the inevitable clash with other strong personalities.
“You work 60 hours a week for five years and it gets to you,” Nemerson said.
He was put on leave by Harp for three weeks in June. He explained that the stress of a heart attack and his mother’s death, combined with the expectations of the job, had become an issue.
“I’ve been unhappy with my ability to lead my departments and I believe the mayor shares that concern,” he said at the time. “These things happen sometimes and it’s good to get a break and focus on some of these issues and myself.”
The number of apartments constructed downtown and the hundreds more in the pipeline, as well as agreements for affordable housing, have grown exponentially since Nemerson came to the office.
Ironically, long-stalled projects on the city’s agenda since Harp was elected, have advanced recently.
Nemerson said all the departments that reported to him “are doing great work and are putting the city in a very strong place.”
He said he is happy that an agreement has been reached on the Residences of Ninth Square that will upgrade that complex and clear the debts that threatened its survival as a successful mixed-income investment that stabilized the center of downtown.
The deteriorated Church Street South project, where hundreds of residents lived in sub-standard housing for decades, is close to being totally demolished due to the work of the Livable City Initiative and hundreds of tenants living there have been relocated.
A development process undertaken by the New Haven Parking Authority has led to the College Street Music Hall poised to bring another venue downtown to the last large entertainment space on College Street where dance clubs once reined.
As recently as this week, Nemerson said a path forward has been found to advance the long-stalled Live Work Learn Play project at the former Coliseum site, one of the first things that was on Nemerson’s list of things to do when he was hired. Clay Fowler of Spinnaker Real Estate will partner with Max Reim of LWLP.
Nemerson also reached out in the last few months to Ron Caplan, president of the PMC Property Group of Philadelphia, whose multiple lawsuits held up a Spinnaker project across the street from PMC apartments in what was widely seen as nuisance suits to stall a competitor.
Nemerson found a way to settle the last of those suits as well as one against the city, which paves the way for Spinnaker’s approved 223 apartments on Chapel Street to proceed.
The block bound by Crown, High, George and College streets has been transformed through investments by Centerplan, Robert Smith’s Metro Star Properties and Randy Salvatore’s RMS Companies.
Salvatore’s latest project is also changing the Hill in a $100 million development with hundreds of apartments that for decades were parking lots. That was only possible after a way was found to move beyond a 1989 deal that had tied up the property for 26 years. It was also an example of the competing interests on the Board of Alders that almost sunk the deal.
Nemerson, who has spent much of his life in New Haven, was happy to bring his experience with tech companies at Science Park and with local business through the chamber to the table.
As he is leaving, he said the city has to find a way to satisfy the East Shore neighbors who continue to object to more flights at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport in order to grow the city’s economy.
The administrator said he was proudest of District New Haven on James Street where the alders, the city and the state were able to pivot and take a chance on a proposal by David Salinas to turn the former CT Transit Co. bus barn into a co-working innovative tech center that is proving hugely succesful.
Michael Piscitelli, the deputy economic development administrator, said Nemerson was “an exceptional leader” in that he got the economic team on same page to strategize for important infrastructure to deal with climate change and its impact on the jobs and businesses at Long Wharf and to continuously lobby for high-speed rail.
Piscitelli will be the acting economic development administrator, a position he also assumed in June. He is also currently the acting City Plan director.
Piscitelli said Nemerson saw the real value in backing tech innovators, particularly at The District, and pushed the city into the new economy.
Carlos Eyzaguirre, one of the newer members of the economic development department, said he learned a lot from Nemerson. He said they bonded over their deep connection to the city given all the years they have lived here.
He said Nemerson also gave the business development office free rein to get their jobs done.
Helen Rosenberg, an economic development officer, has seen many administrators come and go.
“It’s easy to get bogged down in the process required to complete development projects, but Matthew encouraged us to not lose sight of the vision for New Haven while taking those stepts to realize it,” Rosenberg said.
Nemerson was one of seven Democrats who dropped out of the mayoral race early on in 2013 to support Harp. After her election, he said heading economic development in New Haven was his “dream job.”
He said he expects to take a short time off before going to the private sector. In the meantime, he is helping with policy recommendations as a member of one of the multiple teams appointed by Gov.-Elect Ned Lamont to help with the transition from Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration.
Nemerson said his youngest daughter is about to go to China and he looks forward to now being able to spend time with her before she leaves.