In 2003, when Homes for America Holdings Inc. rode into Hartford like a white knight to save one of the city's most significant historic landmarks, hopes were high.
This page had been advocating for just such a savior. The domed factory where Colt made firearms for nearly 150 years was in deplorable condition, headed straight for demolition by neglect. The Yonkers-based developers pledged to transform the former armory and its surroundings into a vibrant commercial, retail and residential complex. Estimated time of resurrection: 18 months.
The Courant and others hope that one day this important building will be the centerpiece of a national park featuring the Coltsville neighborhood, a place where visitors from all over could learn the story of Sam Colt, one of America's foremost entrepreneurs in Hartford's gilded age, his extraordinary wife, Elizabeth, and the industrial innovation they inspired.
The initial construction deadline turned out to be optimistic. Rapid progress was made developing a regional school, headquarters for a software business, remediation of pollutants, demolition of hazardous structures and a state-of-the-art cooling and heating plant on the Colt site. But complicated financing and the red tape involved in meeting federal historic construction standards have meant delays in residential renovation now underway.
Cash flow problems have also put off the restoration of the most visible and historic wing, the east armory.
The outlook is not as grim as it sounds. There have been similar delays in the past and work has eventually resumed. Rebekah MacFarlane, spokeswoman for the $120 million Colt Gateway project, is reassuring when she says the money is all there to complete the project, it's just been difficult to access for several reasons. She said her family has too great an investment in the Colt project to give up now.
So far, completed residential units in the south armory are leasing well. A commercial tenant is in the wings. Construction on the remaining floors will resume once the company secures a bridge loan to keep the hammers banging until other promised funding, some of it from the city in the form of bonds, comes through.
This project goes beyond a private enterprise. Many people, from historians to preservationists to the business-minded, have pinned their hopes on Coltsville becoming a destination spot.
The National Park Service committee in charge of designating national landmarks will likely approve the Colt application in the fall.
All involved in helping save this landmark and developing its economic potential - the banks, the governor, state and city agencies, neighbors, and the offices of U.S. Rep. John Larson and the state's two U.S. senators - must step up to do whatever they can to see that any bureaucratic roadblocks to its progress are removed.
Colt Gateway is an asset with an exciting future that is nearly at the finish line. Giddyap.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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