August 8, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
For years, the building at the Asylum Street exit off I-84 west has been one of the city's worst blights, its eye socket-like cutout a curiosity for passing motorists.
But that odd-looking space could become home to a fitness center if the building is converted to apartments or condominiums, as a developer has proposed.
Developer Joshua Guttman of Brooklyn, N.Y., has submitted plans to convert the decaying office building into 97 mostly one-bedroom residential units.
Sounds encouraging, but is this for real?
Guttman is sending mixed signals about the project. For weeks, there has been a banner hanging from the building reading "Available" and a telephone number. But on craigslist.com, there's an ad listing the Myrtle Street building for sale. The ad states: "Residential/Ready plans/Interior demolition complete/framing has begun."
A call to the number posted on the building drew a response from the developer's son, Jack, who declined to comment. An e-mail inquiry to craigslist didn't draw a response over the course of the past week.
Joshua Guttman's attorney in Hartford, Coleman Levy, said he was well aware of the banner, but not the ad on craigslist.
Even so, Levy said, Guttman is serious about converting the building - known as "Capitol West" because of its location to the west of the state Capitol building - into housing.
And, Levy said, it has not been unusual for Guttman to market projects that he has been involved with in his 30-year career as a developer, mostly in New York.
Real estate professionals also confirmed that the practice is not "uncommon." And securing approvals adds to a property's value, they said.
"If someone came along and would buy it at the right price, then he might sell it," Levy said. "But this is not a bait-and-switch. He has never said to me that he wants to sell it and not develop it."
Residential units are the latest proposed reuse for the building, which was built in the 1940s as a car dealership, with more stories added later on.
Former owners also have floated the idea of renovating the building for offices, and even high-tech incubator space.
If apartments are built, they would be market-rate, Levy said. He could not estimate the potential selling price if condos are built.
"Regardless of what is built, the project is going forward," Levy said Monday.
Levy said Guttman intends to invest between $10 million and $12 million in the renovations.
Two years ago, Guttman paid $1 million in cash for Capitol West, roughly about $6 a square foot - a bargain, compared with $20 a square foot paid for the old Hartford Office Supply building about a mile away on Capitol Avenue, which is slated for condos.
The building was in tough shape when Guttman bought it, to be sure. Often a target of vandalism, it had further decayed under the previous owner, a partnership that included New York developer Robert Danial, a major landowner in the Asylum Hill area, where Capitol West is located. Guttman bought the building when it fell into bankruptcy.
So far, according to Levy, Guttman has invested another half-million dollars in demolition and architectural designs. There has been no work on the building since October, when asbestos was found after workers started removing windows.
But Levy said Guttman intends to resume work once all city approvals are secured. No public subsidies from the state will be sought, although Guttman would likely seek tax credits or grants for renovating blighted buildings.
Levy said Guttman remains focused on Capitol West, even though another Guttman property in Brooklyn - a waterfront warehouse complex slated for redevelopment - was involved in a spectacular fire in May.
And Guttman faces misdemeanor fines that could total $2.8 million for not maintaining piers on the property.
Plans for Capitol West call for the addition of windows and balconies to soften the building's fortress-like appearance. On the side facing I-84, windows will be soundproofed to cut down on noise from the highway. The windows of a fitness room would be tinted so motorists wouldn't get distracted.
The one-bedroom units would range from 730 to 1,400 square feet, with most ranging from 900 to 1,200 square feet. The two-bedroom units would range from 1,260 to 1,330 square feet.
One drawback is that there is not enough parking on the property for each unit, which means that some owners would have to seek parking elsewhere. The parking plan has been granted a variance by the city.
There would be covered parking for 55 cars on one level of the building - former car dealership showroom space. Another dozen spaces would be outside.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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