May 12, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Cost estimates to build the Front Street District in Hartford have risen from $46.5 million to $60 million, but the project's developers say they'll need no additional public money for the long-awaited downtown retail and residential district to go forward.
At a Friday meeting of the Capital City Economic Development Authority, representatives of the HB Nitkin Group said that they had hired a construction manager, had completed some remediation work and expect to begin construction by October.
But as the construction manager dug into the details, the cost started to rise, HB Nitkin's Peter Christian said. His firm - headed by developer Bradley Nitkin - will now have to find more private financing and investment.
"Initially, we generally thought that maybe at five or six years out you'll start to see some cash flow for the property. Now it looks like a ten-year-plus period before you're seeing returns," Christian said.
James F. Abromaitis, the authority's executive director, said the developers expressed no concern about the cost increase.
"The good news is that they believe they have the means to finance it," Abromaitis said.
The district, which would link Adriaen's Landing to the rest of downtown Hartford, is expected to bring a minimum of 115 apartments and 60,000 square feet of retail space, possibly including an ESPN Zone or music venue, to about half of the 6-acre plot on Columbus Boulevard across from the Connecticut Convention Center.
Once construction begins in October, it should be completed within 18 to 21 months, Christian said.
Originally, the project was to be funded by $21 million in state funds, $7 million in funds loaned or granted by the city and $18.5 million of the developer's money. It also includes a $12 million, 15-year tax assessment fixing agreement with the city.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he wasn't too concerned with the price increase, explaining that the project has a lot of public money working in its favor.
"He already has a pretty cushion to operate from, and he should go ahead and move the deal along," Perez said.
But city officials are concerned about the construction timeline. The tax deal with HB Nitkin says that construction will be done by September 2009. Nitkin's current timeline could come close to that.
"I wouldn't want them to move some earth around and withdraw for five [winter] months, because they have a timeframe," said John Palmieri, the city's director of development services. "It makes it more and more difficult for them to get that done if they start much later."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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