October 2, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The first plans for building on vacant land at Park and Main streets in Hartford just seemed out of place, with two luxury condominium towers that left residents concerned about everything from the way they fit into the community to the way they blocked out the sun.
This time, though, the scaled-back plans for Plaza Mayor are getting a more favorable response.
"The new plan is wonderful, it's just absolutely wonderful," said Laura Knott-Twine, executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance. "It has a very inviting entrance, drawing people from both ends of Main Street to the site, and the plaza - the plaza is grand, has a beautiful Spanish flavor to it, and is respectful of the neighborhoods."
Almost two months after announcing that the original plans for Plaza Mayor had been resized, the developers had their first meeting with the public Thursday night.
The new $32 million plan - which rises no higher than five stories - includes 30,000 square feet of retail, 42 units of housing, and a sprawling main square that crosses Park Street. The townhouses would range in size from 600 square feet to 2,200 square feet and sell for between $200,000 and $325,000. A "gateway" would bridge the street.
"I thought it was exceedingly well-received," said Theodore M. Amenta, one of the project's developers.
The city chose Amenta's development partnership, Plaza Mayor LLC, last fall. It includes Amenta and his team; and Solaris, a group of several Hispanic city businessmen, including Carlos M. Lopez, Angel Sierra, Carlos Valinho and Cesar Mejia. Alexander Aponte, the city's former top lawyer, was once a partner but has since left the project.
Funding for the plan has turned out to be a major issue. The original $64 million plan called for $17 million in public investment, a figure the city has said it was never prepared to produce. The new plan is likely to call for a $6 million contribution from the city, Amenta said.
The original $64 million plan for the Plaza Mayor project called for two towers of roughly 12 and 16 stories containing between 50 and 80 luxury residential units selling for as high as $400,000. The project was also to have included between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet of retail space.
It met with opposition from neighborhood groups and state preservationists who thought its towers out of place. With the new plans, the response has improved.
"It's a positive development in the project," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff to Mayor Eddie A. Perez. "It fits with the historic nature of that area, but it's also representative of the culture of the Park Street community."
The plans must still get city planning and design approvals. Developers also must provide the city's redevelopment agency with final drawings, financial analyses, and construction budgets leading to a development agreement later this fall. Once that agreement is in place, the developers hope to secure private financing by January, Amenta said. In a best-case scenario, work could begin in June, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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