“The members of ‘B. B. Hind and the Blue Mooners’ do not have to worry about finding a New Haven gig. Their guitarist, Joel Schiavone, owns New Haven Restaurant.
And quite a bit more.
Since he became active in New Haven development four years ago, Schiavone, Yale ’58, has become a main mover in the down town revitalization effort. He owns over $5 million in New Haven real estate and his interests include the New Haven Restaurant, the New Haven Nighthawks, and the Connecticut Limosine Service.
Although he owns eight corporations, Schiavone eschews the staid and stodgy three-piece suited business world, attending meetings clad in khakis and Izods. Several years ago, he sent a Christmas card which featured him in somber pinstripes standing next to his office desk. An engraved insert explained that he had been asked for an official portrait. No lamb in wolf’s clothing, Schiavone had the inside of the card show the same scene — except his back was to the camera, stark naked.
Not everyone appreciates Schiavone’s style.
‘When you’re dealing with the conservative banking community,’ said one city staffer, ‘it basically comes down to the fact that he doesn’t wear socks.’
‘He is erratic. He’s in two different bands and he’s appeared on the Green in a tutu. Bankers have to ask, ‘Do we want to be out on the line several million dollars in mortgage money on him?”
Schiavone recognizes that his personal style may be difficult for the business community to accept, but says people eventually come around. Commenting on the infamous pink tutu that he sported at the New Haven Bed Race, Schiavone smiled sheepishly and said, ‘I’ve had my moments. It’s too bad I don’t have a photo. I’ve got great legs.’
Schiavone was not always a colorful character in New Haven. A self-described ‘non-entity’ at Yale, he explained, ‘I didn’t go to the right prep school and I did not do the right things. I always felt kind of awkward.’
In Silliman, Schiavone played intramural soccer and tennis. When he ventured out of the confines of Yale it was not necessary to frequent downtown New Haven night spots.
‘I went to girls’ colleges — Conn. College and Smith. There was no reason. I just didn’t have anything else to do.’
Schiavone doesn’t blame Yale entirely for his ambivalent feelings. ‘I was not a very mature person at the time. Fifteen years later, I became secretary of the class and am still. I met a large number of people I was sure I didn’t like and now I found out I like them.’
After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1961, Schiavone took a temporary leave of absence from the family scrap metal business. Unable to get a banjo gig in Boston, he bought his own bar. In a matter of several years, over a dozen Your Father’s Mustaches — a gay Nineties style pub — stretched across the United States and Europe.
Schiavone phased out most of the clubs by the early seventies. ‘The old-time nostalgia was selling less and less. Drugs and hard rock were not a part of our philosophy of life.’
The realization that night-club night life was not conducive to a wife and child brought Schiavone back to the family business that he now owns with his brother. The company diversified in 1974, and soon Joel Schiavone scrap metal alchemist was also owner of the Shoreline Times, Connecticut Limosine Service, and the New Haven Nighthawks.
Beginning in 1978, Schiavone strategically bought up properties in what he considered ‘the emotional heart’ of downtown New Haven. By showing his faith in the economic vitality of the city, Schiavone hoped to lure other investors downtown.
Schiavone renovated two run-down downtown buildings which now house Bryan Alden and the New Haven Restaurant. The New Haven Restaurant with all its New Haven memorabilia exemplifies Schiavone’s role in the city. With its slogan, ‘A great town — A great restaurant,’ it sells not only french fried ice cream but an image of the city as well.
Currently, Schiavone’s main projects are the Elisha Blackman building on the corner of York and Chapel and the Warner building across from the Art and Architecture building, plans for commercial space on the bottom and either residential or office space above. The Warner building will also have stores on the first floor and twenty-two luxury apartments above. Using photos of the buildings in 1895, Schiavone will attempt to have it look exactly as it did in that era.
In the future, Schiavone plans to tum the College St. / Crown St. area into an entertainment district. He has brought up buildings surrounding the Shubert Theater and proposed to convert the Roger Sherman Theater, across the street, into a performing arts complex. Financial negotiations with the city have been strained in the past, but talks have resumed recently. He anticipates an important announcement regarding its status later this year.
Schiavone has been criticized for not living up to his visions.
‘He came on the scene, two or three year s ago, as Mr. Downtown Developer. He built an image that I don’t think is sustained by his performance,’ said Andrew Houlding, managing editor of the New Haven Advocate.
‘The image is that he’ll spend a lot of money to do things right. The fact is-either he doesn’t pay attention to the specifics of the work or he had no intention of doing it in the first place.’
The Advocate had run a story in March detailing the Schiavone Realty and Development Corporation’s violation of fire codes at 1044 Chapel St. Fire escapes were in disrepair and workmen had nailed fire escape doors shut, according to Houlding. A Legal Assistance lawyer said the Corporation moved to force tenants out of the building by raising rents before renovations were completed. The Schiavone Realty and Development Corporation has been involved in 17 eviction cases since 1976.
Critics also point out that it is taking Schiavone more than three years to renovate the Blackman building, during which time it has been left an ugly, gutted hulk.
Schiavone admits that development is a ‘slower process than I’d imagined. I’ve only been involved in real estate for four years, and the past two to three have been an absolute disaster from a development point of view.’ Interest rates have risen from eight to 21 percent.
‘It’s impossible to do development work without mortgage money. Neither Yale nor any financial institution has made any attempt to provide mortgage money in downtown New Haven. Unless someone in the city takes the leadership, it’s going to prolong the process ad infinitum.’
Some see Schiavone’s impulsiveness as his real problem.
‘In his three buildings on Crown and College St., he had the tenants out and the demolition started before the financial package was together,’ said a city government source. ‘This is not the conservative ‘one step at a time’ theory operating. It basically guarantees the building sitting vacant for a while.’
The tendency to change seemingly fixed attitudes is characteristic of Schiavone. ‘It can be very positive in that it gives him a flexibility, but it also means you can’t pin him down. You think a building is going to be commercial on the first floor and residential above, then you discover it’s all residential. There are code implications in this change,’ said a source in city government.
Henry Milone, owner of Gentree, and The Brewery, offers another perspective on Schiavone’s protean tendency. ‘He never answers your questions, but he’ll navigate you towards solving your own. He somehow instills the interest and enthusiasm to answer the question yourself. You leave saying ‘Yes, there is an answer and I can find it myself.”
Milone sees the showman side of Schiavone as an ‘escape from the methodical very calculated life he leads.’ For four hours a day he’s flamboyant, Milone says; he spends the remaining time concentrating on the concerns of eight major corporations.
Schiavone’s self-awareness impresses Milone. ‘Joel took me to Boston, to a class on family-held corporations at Harvard. It was a case study course and they were studying his. I sat in on the lecture he gave and was amazed at his awareness of who he is, his honesty regarding his limitations, and his candidness about his abilities.
Schiavone has indeed reflected on his activities, past and present.
‘There’s an enormous amount of ego involved,’ he said. ‘When I was at Yale, I had a lot of inferiority and insecurity. Growing up meant getting out all those anxieties. You’ll find most people who work hard — make a lot of money — have a psychological drive that forces them onward and up. I’m no different than anyone else.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of Issuu, The New Journal at Yale, “Profile: Joel Schiavone developing downtown,” by Linda Schupack, December 4, 1981. (top) “New Haven developer, businessman, banjo player, Joel Schiavone.” Image courtesy of the New Journal at Yale, photo by Ann Chien, December 4, 1981