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Islam Pitches $53M Hartford Apartment Plan

By Greg Bordonaro

October 22, 2012

This list of proposed downtown Hartford housing projects seeking state assistance is getting a bit longer.

Middletown engineer and developer Abul Islam, who pitched erecting a 12-story retail-office tower on the former site of WFSB Channel 3's television studio in Constitution Plaza, has formally scrapped those plans and presented a new vision a $53 million primarily residential tower that would add 195 affordable and market rate rental units in the heart of downtown.

Representatives from Islam's Middletown firm AI Engineers recently presented an outline of the project to members of the Capital Regional Development Authority.

In an interview with the Hartford Business Journal, Islam said he is seeking $12 million in gap funding from CRDA to construct a 15-story residential tower that would include about 20,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.

Plans for the project have already been submitted to the city's planning and zoning commission and a project team has been assembled, Islam said.

The developer and owner of the project is TAROB LLC, a company formed by Islam in 1999, state records show.

Boston's CBT Architects, the firm that designed the Hartford 21 apartment tower, is doing the design work, while Massachusetts-based Erland Construction is the construction manager. Erland is also the lead builder of the Storrs Center development at the University of Connecticut.

And Farmington's Konover Development Corp. will be the property manager.

"We have a team that is ready to go," Islam said. "I'm very optimistic that a residential tower will be built."

The tower to be called The Residences At River View would include a mix of one-and-two bedroom apartments as well as studios.

Islam said the scale of the L-shaped structure will be similar to his original office tower plan, and serve as an addition to the downtown skyline and a connector from Constitution Plaza to the Convention Center and Front Street.

The goal will be to attract young professionals and empty nesters, a long sought after demographic in the city.

Rents will range from $826 to $1,300 for a studio; $870 to $1,800 for a one-bedroom apartment; and $1,040 to $1,975 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The financing plan calls for a mix of city, state, and federal incentive and tax credit programs to assist in the development.

The key, Islam said, will be getting the $12 million in gap funding from CRDA because that would put the project on solid footing. Islam said he is also applying for up to $5 million in financing from the state's Competitive Housing Assistance for Multifamily Properties program, also known as CHAMP. Earlier this year, the state allocated millions of dollars in CHAMP funding to 10 housing projects across Connecticut, including the conversion of two downtown Hartford buildings the old Sonesta Hotel and 777 Main St. into apartments.

Islam said he applied for the first wave of funding but did not get any money. Another $25 million in CHAMP II funds, however, is now up for grabs and Islam said he is applying to get a piece of those funds.

The rest of the financing would include federal low-income housing tax credits, owner equity, and potentially tax exempt bonding from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Islam said.

"We have put in a lot of work in the last year to put this project together," Islam said. "If everything goes well, we think we can start construction work in the spring."

Islam's apartment development represents a departure from his original vision of erecting a 12-story metal-and-glass-sheathed office tower. That plan came forward during the thick of the recession in 2008, after Islam purchased and subsequently knocked down the WFSB-Channel 3 Broadcast House in Constitution Plaza.

Those plans included moving his Middletown company, AI Engineers Inc., into two floors of the new building. St. Francis Hospital also had plans to occupy space there.

But obtaining financing to build the office tower proved difficult, especially with a lack of tenants lined up to occupy space there.

Downtown Hartford's high vacancy rates in the wake of the 2008 recession, which peaked at around 30 percent, also didn't help the prospects of adding new office space in the central business district.

As a result, the former Broadcast House space on Constitution Plaza has remained empty for the past few years.

Islam said market conditions were different at the time he originally pitched his office tower plan and that he switched gears to a residential development about a year ago.

He's already invested $2.5 million of his own money in trying to redevelop the Broadcast House site, he said.

The shift, realty observers say, could make sense with strong demand for housing in the central business district.

Islam now joins a handful of developers seeking to cash in on the state's efforts to help subsidize the construction of another 2,000 apartment units for downtown Hartford.

The Malloy Administration has made it a priority to spur more residential development in Hartford as a way to revitalize the Capital City. Malloy established CRDA to help coordinate economic development for the region and the quasi public agency has an initial $60 million allotment to aid downtown housing projects.

So far, CRDA has set aside $17.7 million for the conversion of the vacant Bank of America office tower at 777 Main St. into apartments. But there are other projects also in the works.

Front Street developer HB Nitkin Group is preparing to move forward on the second phase of their entertainment district that would include 115 apartment units.

The owners of the old, vacant Sonesta Hotel on Constitution Plaza have already received some state funding to assist in the conversion of that property into apartments.

Meanwhile, officials from CHFA are still weighing options for redevelopment proposals of the eye sore office buildings at 101-111 Pearl St. CHFA, which along with the city of Hartford, owns those buildings put out an RFP last summer looking for developers interested in redeveloping the properties and also buying the Trumbull on the Park apartment complex.

Sources familiar with the situation say CHFA has narrowed its list to two development companies including Boston-based Trinity Financial.

The other group being considered is a consortium of local investors including Martin Kenny, whose company owns a minority stake in Trumbull on the Park; Sandy Cloud, who owns the Hartford-based real estate firm the The Cloud Co.; and parking tycoon Alan Lazowski.

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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