September 1, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Just one week before a critical deadline, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has sent the agency in charge of negotiating a deal for the future of the long-delayed Front Street project in Hartford a pointed missive.
Neither Rell's office nor the Capital City Economic Development Authority would release the letter Thursday, but a source familiar with it said Rell sent a strongly worded message basically telling the authority to "kick this thing into gear and to get it done, get it moving."
The project appeared close to moving forward earlier this year when the state cut a deal with Greenwich developer Bradley Nitkin. The next step was for Nitkin to close a deal with officials in Hartford over city-controlled funding.
But those negotiations - which expanded the scope of the project - have raised the possibility that additional state funding might be needed.
Front Street is the proposed retail, residential and entertainment district at Adriaen's Landing. Part of its goal is to link the Connecticut Convention Center with the rest of downtown.
The state has made several attempts to develop the site. In August 2004, the Capital City Economic Development Authority dumped developer Richard Cohen when he failed to begin building two years after signing a contract with the state.
Then, after a hurried and failed attempt to find a new developer in 2004, the state began anew, seeking interested developers. In April 2005, Nitkin was the final choice for "preferred developer," and the two sides began working toward a development agreement.
In February of this year, the authority signed an agreement with Nitkin that allows for a phased development of the retail, residential and entertainment district. As part of that deal, the state pledged $33 million to the project, and gave Nitkin 120 days to get Hartford's commitment for roughly $16 million in city-controlled cash and tax abatements.
That deadline was later extended until Sept. 8.
But the city didn't like the scope of Nitkin's original proposal - 60 residential units and 43,000 square feet of retail - and told him that if wanted all of the money he was asking for, he'd have to do the whole project. The original scope of the project was 200 residential units and 100,000 square feet of retail.
Last month, in response to Nitkin's comeback offer for 115 units and 60,000 square feet of retail, the city committed $4.2 million in grants and loans and a tax-fixing agreement that could be worth several million dollars.
Because the agreement with the city calls for a bigger project, Nitkin has returned to the state for at least another $5 million, city officials said.
"I hear there's still a gap, even with the deal that was proposed," Mayor Eddie A. Perez said Wednesday.
"Apparently there's millions more that need to be given by the state, and that's what's a little concerning to us," Perez chief of staff Matt Hennessy said recently.
Michael Cicchetti, a spokesman for the authority that is in charge of negotiating the deal with Nitkin, would give little detail Thursday.
"We continue to work with our state partners in discussing the project with the city and the Nitkin Group and are coming to a final agreement."
Susan Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the state's Office of Policy and Management, said the negotiations are at a critical point. "They're exploring some options to help close the deal and they anticipate having closure on those issues as early as the end of next week," she said.
Hamilton did not have a copy of the governor's letter, but was aware that one had been drafted that expressed Rell's "dissatisfaction with the pace at which the project was moving along and emphasizing the importance of getting this closed as quickly as possible."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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