Developer of American Airlines building looking for tenants
By LAURA SCHREIER, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
February 18, 2008
After years of vacancy, Hartford’s former American Airlines building is on the verge of opening its doors to tenants.
With only a few construction touch-ups on its 101 apartments and the completion of some paperwork, developer David Nyberg said 917 Main St. should be ready for move-ins by the end of the month. The opening will be the end of a long and winding road for the project, which started as a commercial building development, then switched to condominiums, and finally to apartment units.
But as with all new downtown housing, the end of construction is just the beginning of a another challenge — how to get people to move in.
Nyberg is upbeat about his prospects, saying he already has between 10 and 15 tenants lined up to move in when the building opens.
Units start at $900 for a one-bedroom apartment and can go as high as $1,800, he said, adding that the spacious apartments give tenants a lot of extra space for their dollar. A construction manager with Nyberg’s College Street company said the units range from roughly 1,200 to 1,600 square feet.
Curtiss Clemens Sr. of Clemens and Sons Realty, which handles downtown rentals and sales, said Nyberg’s chosen price range might give him an edge. One-bedroom apartments for $900 rent, for example, are inexpensive compared with other downtown options. Even so, many apartment owners face a tough battle for tenants.
Clemens believes the downtown rental market is slow despite nationwide reports claiming that renting is heating up. Other regions may be seeing more rental activity because of high foreclosure rates, but Connecticut’s foreclosures aren’t high enough to make much of a difference here, he said.
Besides, downtown luxury apartments are not supported by the kind of retail services residents want — the oft-cited but elusive grocery store would help tremendously to get people interested in living downtown, Clemens said.
Although representatives from Hartford 21’s Northland Investment Corp. and Nyberg’s College Street have consistently said they’re on track for filling up vacancies at their apartments, Clemens said developers are likely disappointed at the slow progress.
“They’re all behind where they hoped they would be,” he said. “The market is not quite as strong as people want it to be.”
Mei-wu Cheng, who owns office space in Hartford at addresses such as 30 Lewis St. and 1 Congress St., said apartment buildings like the former American Airlines building have a tough time getting tenants when there is not enough business downtown.
“Housing has to go hand-in-hand with business,” she said: Few people will choose to pay higher prices to live downtown if their jobs are in the suburbs.
Commercial property owners all have too much space on their hands already — if the city doesn’t come up with a better plan to attract businesses, housing is bound to lag, Chen said.
Nicolas Morizio, president of Colliers, Dow & Condon in Hartford, said any new development activity is bound to attract attention and likely bring more people downtown for both business and housing. It won’t happen automatically, he said, “Everything helps.”