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City Hopes to Ignite a Neighborhood Renaissance

Investment in school, public safety center could spark North End development

By Gregory Seay

August 01, 2011

It’s as steamy inside Hartford’s unfinished $77 million showpiece police-fire-emergency dispatch headquarters as out.

But that isn’t slowing civil engineer Dwight Bolton’s steps through the labyrinth of exposed cinder-block walls, steel studs, piping and duct work.

The front desk and records room will be here, Bolton says pointing. He is the city’s eyes, ears and mouth on the project. The 15 holding cells and spacious police locker room are over there. Out back is the high-security sallyport, where cops will load and unload detainees.

City officials are certain of the positive impact the public safety complex will have when it opens in just 11 months. The building, at 253 High St., on downtown’s northern fringe, they say, will aid police response times as well as lend an extra air of security to nearby residents and people who work in the city.

Authorities also claim that Hartford’s combined investment of $118 million in its next-generation public-safety complex and the nearby Capital Preparatory Magnet School on Main Street can ignite redevelopment along a nearby forlorn stretch of the Main Street/Albany Avenue corridor.

“You plant your public buildings where you want to have an impact,’’ said Dave Panagore, the city’s operations chief.

Panagore says that once the safety facility’s doors open, the city will begin pitching several nearby parcels to potential developers. One of the tracts, right across High Street from the safety complex, currently houses construction trailers. The other is off North Main Street, next door to Capital Prep.

Panagore declined to estimate how much leverage the city could expect from its investment in the gateway neighborhood.

“In general, I can say you want to see a one-to-four, or one-to-five ratio’’ of public vs. private dollars, he said. Using that formula, the neighborhood would have to attract $400 million to $500 million in private investment.

Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry says there is plenty of potential for downtown’s northern gateway.

“It’s a proud neighborhood, what’s left of it,’’ said Perry, adding “there’s absolutely no reason to stop unless you need some sneakers or alcohol.’’

The Middletown native, who oversaw the magnet school’s $41 million renovation to teach 600 pupils, says he envisions a “village square’’ bustling with shops, offices and updated housing to replace the surface lots, including the site of the former “Butt Ugly’’ building, and blighted tenements.

He said he also would “love to have’’ dormitories across Main Street from the school, enough to house some 150 to 200 students.

“Our goal is to run a world-class school and we’d like to do it in a neighborhood that bespeaks that goal,’’ said Perry.

Perry said he’d like to see the city “get creative’’ in turning the neighborhood around economically, including taking an active hand in choosing which businesses should populate the gateway corridor.

“Do we really need a liquor store across the street from a school?” he asked, hinting the city should intervene.

Panagore’s response: “You really can’t do that. It’s called America.’’

However, Panagore said the city is eager to provide incentives to encourage certain kinds of development or attract tenants to the corridor.

One tool already in use in other Connecticut cities and towns, Panagore said, is to offer developers access to “fast-track’’ permitting to shorten the lag between project conception, construction and move in.

Another plan, part of the city’s overall “livability, sustainability’’ initiative, and specific to the Upper Albany Avenue corridor that begins at High Street, is to size up its businesses and their needs, Panagore said.

The city also will continue with street improvements on Albany Avenue, he said.

For now, Hartford has its eye on its biggest public works project since completion of the $107 million renovation of Hartford Public High School less than five miles away.

Nearly everything in the complex, designed by Hartford’s JCJ Architects, is being built or will be installed to get the most of the building’s estimated 50-year lifespan. Providence-based Gilbane Building Co. is the project manager.

The 5-acre site will comprise two administrative buildings totaling 204,000 square feet and a two-level parking garage with spaces for 350 vehicles. The buildings will replace the 33-year-old police and emergency dispatch headquarters at 50 Jennings Road, next to a former dump in the city’s North Meadows, as well as the aging fire command at 275 Pearl St. downtown.

For the first time ever, all three security agencies will share the same roof.

“Combining the operations is efficiency that the city gets,’’ said Andrew T. Jaffee, director of the city’s emergency services and dispatch.

Among the new building’s many state-of-the-art features will be a 400-kilowatt fuel cell from UTC Power to augment the facility’s daily power demands. The city will lease the unit for an unspecified sum.

The nearby landmark Isham-Terry House also will benefit from the city’s new fuel cell. The unit’s waste heat will warm the 157-year-old dwelling now used as nonprofit office space. Appreciative owner, CT Landmarks, says the plan will result in “significant heating cost savings.’’

Bolton, who officially took over as a replacement for the city’s previous project liaison, said some 90 construction workers — many of them Hartford residents — are at the site daily. There have been 29 subcontractors — 17 percent of whom meet the city’s guidelines for minority involvement in the project.

The High Street portion of the public-safety site started out more than a century ago as a school and later housed the city’s board of education. It sat vacant, deteriorating for years until its new use was formulated.

Original designs called for gutting the structure and incorporating its brick façade and belltower into the new structure. However, their poor condition scuttled that plan, adding about $2 million to the project price tag, Panagore said.

The project also qualified for about $4 million in federal matching grants and through President Obama’s stimulus funding for such “shovel-ready’’ projects.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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