By LAURA SCHREIER, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
January 21, 2008
The owner of a property valued at about $55,000 is holding up Hartford’s efforts to build a new $77 million public safety complex on North Street.
The property owner, James Downey, isn’t holding out because of a sentimental attachment to his building; he’s angry with the city’s police department for arresting him in October.
Although the city and property owner were all set to close on the deal in October, a heated argument with city officials at the site led to the owner’s arrest.
Now the city may take the property by eminent domain if it can’t come to an agreement with Downey, who owns 31-37 Atlantic St., the last property needed for the project.
Downey isn’t angry with the city’s corporation counsel, whom he had been in discussions with over the sale of his property. But he does hold a grudge against the Hartford Police Department and various other city officials.
He’s using the land as leverage to “get justice” for wrongs he said were committed against him during an October incident, when he was arrested for disturbing the peace, making threats and other charges.
Although close to signing on the dotted line, Downey said that police officers and a state Department of Environmental Protection inspector “blew up the deal” when he was arrested for disturbing the peace.
Just before he was put in the back of the police cruiser, Downey contacted city deputy corporation counsel Carl Nasto’s office to say that the sale was off.
The day of Downey’s arrest, he and other workers were clearing out his Atlantic Street warehouse, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk and dead-end street. An inspector from the state Department of Environmental Protection came to the scene and started questioning the workers, Downey said. That DEP inspector called city officials to the scene. When conversations with Downey escalated, the police were called and arrested Downey.
Downey, who acknowledges having been arrested by city police previously, also acknowledges that he has something that the city wants and needs.
“I know they really want to get [the property] and I also know that this is the last building that they need to get.”
Based on Downey’s position, the city is facing a tough battle with him. “When I fight, I fight to the death,” he said.
A Glastonbury resident, Downey says he was born in Hartford and continues to be angry about the arrest: “I know this city. I know how they set people up.”
Although Downey and Nasto agree that they had a good working relationship, Downey was not aware that the city was exploring eminent domain as a means to take title to his property because he had cut off communications with the city.
While Nasto hopes to come to an agreement with Downey and avoid taking the property by eminent domain, the approach of the spring construction season prompted him ask for the Hartford City Council’s approval to use its eminent domain powers to take the land.
Eminent domain is always a last resort, Nasto said. He’s received such approval to use it before, but never — in his more than 50 property acquisitions — has he had to actually use it, he said.
The city council is expected to vote on the matter at an upcoming meeting.
Nasto emphasized that Downey’s issues with other city departments have nothing to do with corporation counsel . “His arrest and our agreement are separate matters,” he said.
Nasto said the city’s purchase price of Downey’s property — assessed at $55,000 — is still undetermined at this point, but he hopes the two can work out a deal.
“I’m still talking to [Downey], I’m still working to come to an amicable conclusion,” Nasto said.
The city has planned to construct a state-of-the-art facility to house police, fire administration, fire marshals, central dispatch and other emergency personnel on that strip of land. The city broke ground on the first phase of construction this summer.