Published January 13, 2015
Yale University has produced Nobel Prize winners, Supreme Court justices and presidents. Nearby, a nightclub called Toad's Place has landed musical legends such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Count Basie and U2.
But after years of fighting, Yale and Toads can't find what they're looking for in a dispute over a walkway. And if Toad's can't get any satisfaction, the popular hangout for generations of Yale students and others could close.
Yale's new president, Peter Salovey, plays the double bass and sings with "The Professors of Bluegrass," a group he and several colleagues and students created more than 20 years ago, so the club is hoping he'll be sympathetic. The corporate attorney for Toad's, Jim Segaloff, quipped recently: "We would guarantee him a gig every Thursday night if we can work this out."
Toad's has been an asset to New Haven for many years, as has Yale in a much different vein, Segaloff said. Yale's attempt to effectively close Toad's down seems "unwarranted and unnecessary," he said.
Yale denies it's trying to close Toads.
The dispute involves a walkway next to Toad's that leads to the campus. Toad's says it needs access to the walkway from its side entrance for emergency purposes.
Yale says there was an agreement in place for 30 years in which it voluntarily allowed Toad's and its employees and patrons to access Yale's property in case of an emergency only. Yale said it proposed another agreement lasting 10 years, but Toad's contends it does not need Yale's permission to use Yale's property.
Toad's says Yale's proposal wouldn't work in case it needs to get a loan or sell the place. Toad's disputes the property line and contends it has rights to the walkway after so many years of using it.
A lawsuit by Yale seeks to prevent club patrons from exiting onto its property, accusing the club of failing to prevent trespassing by patrons who smoke, drink and litter. A judge last month dismissed some of Toad's counterclaims.
"Yale is still willing to enter into a license agreement affording Toad's access for emergency purposes while at the same time preventing the improper and disruptive use of Yale's property," spokesman Tom Conroy said in a statement. "There is no desire by Yale to have a negative effect on Toad's business."
Toad's denies it's causing problems on the property and questions why Yale alleged trespassing after allowing the arrangement for decades.
Yale, which also is New Haven's largest retail landlord and has an endowment worth more than $20 billion, was involved in a similar dispute with a restaurant that won its case before the state Appellate Court in 2010. Yale vowed to appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, but the restaurant ultimately left New Haven because of the time, money and emotional costs of the litigation, said the restaurant's attorney, Hugh Keefe.
"In these types of disputes, Yale has unlimited and overwhelming resources and a very long historical perspective," Keefe said in a statement.
Yale said at the time that it was simply defending its property rights.
Segaloff said years ago that a lawyer who represented Yale at the time compared the university to the Vatican, saying it takes a long-term perspective. He says Toad's just wants access to a few feet of property for emergency purposes and suggested a 99-year deal would work.
"There will be a new pope and in 99 years you'd be all set for your long-term perspective, whatever that means," Segaloff said.