By his own admission, developer and former state legislator J. Martin Hennessey has had his share of failed projects. "I've been down the path 150 times," he jokes.
In 1996, Mr. Hennessey was almost finished converting the Mitchell School in Wethersfield into apartments for older tenants when he defaulted on a $3.9 million loan from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. He lost another project in East Lyme at about the same time. Two years later, another elderly housing project in the South End went down and buildings on Capitol Avenue owned by a company for which he was a managing partner were foreclosed.
That didn't prevent the Capital City Economic Development Authority from setting aside $2.5 million from its public parking funds Tuesday to help finance one of two hotels Mr. Hennessey plans to build on the vacant portion of the Capewell Horse Nail factory site.
CCEDA's resolution would be the third commitment of government cash for that location in seven years. Two years ago, the state authority dedicated $2.5 million for the same parking facility. But Mr. Hennessy couldn't attract private financing and the timeline on the commitment expired. In 2000, city officials promised him $11.4 million to turn the factory into an apartment complex. But after three years, they got tired of waiting for him to get financing and withdrew their pledge.
Mr. Hennessey insists that things are going to be different this time. With all due respect, we'll believe it when we see it.
CCEDA's attraction to Mr. Hennessey is largely based on the fact that the Capewell site is a stone's throw from the Connecticut Convention Center, which the state owns and which would draw more business if it had additional hotel rooms nearby.
The authority's faith in Mr. Hennessey's ability to deliver, however, might be measured by the fact that its offer comes with strings attached. It gives him only three months to form a partnership with a construction contractor who would have an equity interest in developing the hotel, and six months to secure city approvals and several million dollars in financing.
That is no easy task. We wish Mr. Hennessey the best of luck.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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