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City, Businesses Share Vision

June 5, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

A plan called Hartford 2010 has goals big and small, from turning huge swaths of downtown real estate into a nationally marketed site for major development to transforming a North End criss-cross of roads into a nexus of neighborhood retail.

But just as significant as the details of the vision - slated to be unveiled today - is the fact that the city and its business leaders share it. Together, they say, they can better sell the city.

"We've got now some specific things in the city that we can say offer you a true urban option with some specificity to it, and not just say, `Come in and look at this parcel,'" said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the MetroHartford Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce. "It's, `See how this parcel fits in the broader scheme of things.'"

Urban designer Ken Greenberg - whose 1998 city study created a discussion about the viability, accessibility and future of downtown Hartford - has completed a $250,000 study with an eye toward better connecting the various development projects in the city with one another, and with the region. The fee was paid by the city and a broad spectrum of businesses and community organizations.

The mission statement was clear from the beginning: "What actions can we take to make the neighborhoods, including downtown, more attractive for incremental private-sector development," Griebel said.

So Greenberg and his team decided to look at six major city intersections - some ripe for small changes, others ripe for big ones - brainstorm ideas, and then test them in the marketplace. Those six intersections, or "tridents," are: Terry Square, Upper Albany/Blue Hills Avenue, Asylum/Farmington, Downtown North, Downtown and South Green.

On the bigger impact side, the plan sees Downtown North - the area just north of I-84 - as a major development opportunity with national potential. It also sees Main Street downtown as a "central address" for the city, with new developments as well.

Areas such as South Green and Upper Albany/Blue Hills stand to benefit from mixed-use plans-in-progress to bring in new retail and residential opportunities, while the west-of-downtown area called Asylum/Farmington has the potential for development that would serve to better connect the city to West Hartford and beyond.

Finally, Terry Square, in the city's North End, could be a new retail hub.

"By doing things in these highly visible settings, with critical stakeholders for each of the tridents, these are likely to have a pretty strong multiplier effect that will be more than the sum of its parts," Greenberg said.

Perez and Griebel said the plan commits the city and the business community to each other.

"It's not only getting [corporate] buy-in," said Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez. "It's knowing that they're going to have to help us sell."

Greenberg said the key to the sell job is the common message "that the city is prepared, that it has a vision, that it can get its staff in all ranges of departments and agencies working in the same way, and that the community is behind it."

"Having all those opportunities will really be very effective in positioning Hartford to take advantage, to take a sailing analogy, of every wind that blows," Greenberg said.

One small but important next step for the city and its business leaders will be to implement the various streetscape and traffic improvements that will make these changes possible.

When it comes to Downtown North, Griebel also said he hopes to host a national design panel on the best way forward.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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