Downtown Hartford’s newest residential building appears to have tapped an underserved sliver of the urban housing market.
The Hollander Foundation Center, 410 Asylum St., opposite Bushnell Park, has signed takers for its 56 apartments priced at below market monthly rents of $600 to $900 for residents whose incomes qualify, leasing officials say.
Meanwhile, all but three of the 14 two-bedroom units priced at market at $1,350 to $1,650 a month are under deposit, said Sharon McLaughlin Gowen, director of Connecticut Community Partnerships for Common Ground, the New York nonprofit housing developer that owns the building.
Seven households will be in the building by month’s end, with the rest of the move-ins staggered out for weeks after to avoid gridlock, Gowen said.
The Hollander brings to 1,269 the number of residential units in the central business district, making it Hartford’s fastest-growing neighborhood, according to the city’s Department of Development Services. (The central district is bounded by Interstate 84 to the north; City Hall and Arch Street to the south; High Street to the west; and Columbus Boulevard to the east.)
Barely two decades ago, downtown counted more than 300 apartments and condominiums, the city agency said. Of the latest total, 715 luxury units were added in the last five years with the opening of high-rise Hartford 21, Trumbull On the Park, 55 On The Park, and The Lofts At Main and Temple.
But a test of The Hollander’s commercial viability will come after Memorial Day, when marketing begins in earnest on its 13,000 square feet of streetside commercial space.
Common Ground acknowledges competing in a sluggish downtown retail-lease market. An exhaustive survey last August by the city found four of every 10 square feet of retail space was vacant.
It is a vacancy level that Gowen sees “as an opportunity’’ for visionary entrepreneurs because, she says, “rents will never be lower than they are now.’’ Talks are underway, she says, with a potential tenant about opening a café-bookstore on the ground floor.
Gowen, who has spent 45 years living and working in Hartford, describes Common Ground’s vision of The Hollander “as a community within a community.’’
Common Ground’s optimism for The Hollander commercially also is reflected in its assignment of Kathryn Frankel, a Quinnipiac law grad from Chappaqua, N.Y., as an economic development coordinator to the property.
Common Ground spent nearly two years and $22 million renovating the historic six-story building that once housed a bank, among other businesses and offices. Funding came from a number of public sources, including low-income housing tax credits, federal and state historic tax credits, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and the city.
The 84-year-old edifice, formerly known as the Capitol Building, was donated to Common Ground by the foundation of Stamford technology entrepreneur Milton B. Hollander and his wife Betty Ruth.
Aside from its renovation to one- and two-bedroom apartments brimming with amenities — including granite countertops, wall-to-wall carpet and wash-dryer hookup — the building also offers the latest in energy-saving features. Heat and hot water are included in the rent.
Each apartment has its own rooftop high-efficiency air conditioning unit; insulating double-pane glass windows that also open and close to allow in cool breezes; and low-flow bathroom fixtures. Even the materials in the walls and flooring are from sustainable sources and don’t emit noxious fumes.
On its uppermost rooftop, The Hollander has a 4,000-square-foot herb and plant garden, featuring flats of sage, chives and native Eastern prickly pear cactus. The garden absorbs rainwater to minimize runoff, and serves as a heat sink to lower the volume of daytime heat reradiated into the nighttime air, said Frankel.
The building’s proximity to downtown’s core is a major draw for Hollander residents like 23-year-old Jared Weber, who moved Dec. 1 into a $685-a-month reduced-rent studio unit after four years sharing a two-family dwelling in West Hartford.
“My favorite part of living downtown is my five-minute walk to work,’’ said Weber, an executive assistant to the managing director of Hartford Stage on Church Street.
He says he uses his car mainly on weekends to travel back to West Hartford to stock up on grocery items Weber can’t get at one of several downtown convenience stores and CVS.
Public transportation is a snap for residents, since the building is along major bus routes and across the street from Union Station. School buses serve the building’s children.
The Hollander also aims to fit in with the larger community. Its community room, for instance, doubles as a gathering place for residents and the public.
In keeping with Common Ground’s sustainability model for residential properties it owns and manages, The Hollander’s staff is seeking a limited-service grocery store that will occupy one of its 700- to 5,000-square-foot retail spaces.
So far, Common Ground has had little interest from the major grocery chains it has approached. They don’t see enough customers or parking to make it worth their while, Gowen said. The handful of small, mom-and-pop grocers in Hartford who might be suitable don’t want to expand beyond their neighborhood stores, she said.
Meantime, The Hollander has arranged for a community-supported agriculture cooperative to regularly deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to Weber and other subscribers who live there. The staff also is working with United Natural Foods, an organic foods distributor, to supply a limited grocery assortment, including dairy products, to residents.
“A lot of the community has been focused on traditional brick and mortar,’’ Gowen said. “What we’re going to do now is to get us where people want us to be.’’