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Two Plans Provide Portal To Park Street

Developers Submit Their Visions For Entry From Main Street To Hispanic Community

July 12, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Two multimillion dollar plans to turn 2 acres of city-owned land into a thriving gateway to Hartford's Hispanic community have been submitted to the city and will compete for approval this summer, city officials said.

While one design tries to reflect the neighborhood's architectural character, the other hopes to redefine it, their proponents say.

Brothers Joseph and Frank Citino of Providian Builders propose a $26 million, four-story, antique-looking complex with apartment, retail and office space, along with parking.

In their competing plan, a group of Hispanic city businessmen proposes a $64 million complex with two high-rise towers of 10 and 17 stories, more than 40 condominiums, a banquet hall, a boutique hotel, a chapel, parking, and a 40,000-square-foot square called Plaza Mayor.

The city will now begin its review.

Providian plans 75 apartments, 57 units of retail space and 88 business spaces, Joseph Citino said. He added that much of the retail space may already be spoken for, thanks to negotiations with three national retail tenants. Also, the Citinos are working to have the apartments earmarked for people 55 and older, he said.

The $26 million project would be funded by $4 million from Providian, $2 million in private investment, $5 million in government assistance and $15 million in loans. Providian did not mention a purchase price for the city-owned land at Park and Main streets.

Together, the brothers have been in the housing business since 1987. Recently, they opened a 10,000 square foot commercial and residential space at 318-320 Franklin Ave. that includes Francesco's Restaurant.

"I'm born and raised in the city, so I feel very comfortable and I feel at home here. These are my roots and this is where I love to work," Joseph Citino said. "For a good three or four years I've had my eye on that corner and have actually made many inquiries about it."

The second proposal was presented by a partnership that includes Theodore M. Amenta of A&Co., LLC, and Solaris Group, LLC. Amenta said he was part of the team that redesigned the Goodwin Hotel and office complex. Solaris is made up of Hispanic businessmen, some of whom are politically active locally.

They include: Carlos M. Lopez, the group's managing member, the owner of the Park Street furniture store Luis of Hartford, the head of Connecticut Parking Services, and, as such, the operator of the downtown MAT garage; Angel Sierra, president of the Spanish American Merchants Association and the owner of Hispana Vision optometry on Park Street; Carlos Valinho, a Park Street property owner with land adjacent to the site in question; and Cesar Mejia, who company officials said owns a construction company.

Sierra said the group has also sought consulting advice from Miguel Matos, a board member at the Capital City Economic Development Authority, and Alexander Aponte, the city's former top lawyer.

"We are business people in the neighborhood who have been here for a long time...We're all stakeholders in the community," Sierra said. "This is something that for us is going to be a statement."

Said Amenta: "I think it's a sign of respect to the community. The community has arrived, they want to celebrate it."

With two cover letters - one in English, another in Spanish - the partnership presented a $63.6 million plan that would bring almost $24 million in private equity but that would need more than $17 million in government assistance. The group would purchase the land from the city for $250,000.

Amenta, who designed the space, said the plaza at the heart of the proposed development is an idea taken from Spanish and European roots, one that could be the new center of outdoor gathering in the city.

"What is missing all over the state, and here in Hartford, is what is commonly called in Spanish countries the plaza mayor," he said.

The condominiums would be "pricey," Amenta said. "And there are very few of them," he said. "The notion is that we would intend to pre-sell them...and I have reason to believe that one could sell 25 of these units now."

The buildings' height - which exceeds the city's request for a maximum of five stories - would be a dominant presence on the skyline, visible from the new convention center and Adriaen's Landing, he said. But they would also provide those living in the condominiums a luxury view worth the luxury price, he said.

"I wanted to do what I thought was right, even if we lose," Amenta said.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez said he has not met with either developer, but looked forward to seeing the process move forward. "We hoped for six or seven proposals, because it's always good to get as much competition [as you can]," he said. "But we've been looking forward to having that land get back on the tax roll and be a real gateway to the community."

The city's review provides for staff to make a recommendation to the city's redevelopment agency. If that agency approves a plan, it moves to the city council for approval. The city has reserved the right to reject all proposals.

"There was considerable demand and we thought we'd receive more proposals, but I'm not surprised there were two," said Mark K. McGovern, acting executive director of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency. "Because it's a complicated site on the periphery of downtown, we knew it would be a costly proposal."

A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Jeffrey Cohen is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.


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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