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The View From the Top

Despite the failure on Front Street, the Convention Center says it is thriving

Daniel D'Ambrosio

April 03, 2008

Whether or not it's possible to take Hartford's one-time slogan seriously "New England's Rising Star" depends entirely on where you are in the city. And one of the best places to be if you want to repeat those four words without a cynical smirk forming on your lips is at the top of the Marriott tower next to the new Connecticut Convention Center.

Wow, what a view.

On the East Hartford side of the building, the Connecticut River flows majestically toward Long Island Sound, evoking that compelling sense of nature's power and mankind's wanderlust that all great rivers have conveyed since even before Huck Finn. In the distance, the green rooftops of Cabela's new flagship sporting goods store serve as a beacon of the regional synergy that Hartford's boosters, like Katie Blint, the Convention Center's communications director, like to talk about.

"What they're doing on the other side of the river is a great complement to what they're doing in West Hartford with Blue Back Square," Blint said.

Eventually there will be 1,000 new hotel rooms associated with more development surrounding Rentschler Field and "people will know about them when they come for conventions," said Blint.

Of course for now there are the 409 rooms and 22 stories of the Marriott, connected seamlessly to the Convention Center. The Marriott, owned and operated by the Waterford Group based in Waterford, Conn., is the first new hotel in Hartford in 20 years, according to Blint.

"To have an attached headquarters hotel is huge," says Blint of efforts to bring business to the Convention Center.

In its first year after opening in June 2005, the $271 million Convention Center hosted more than 350 events mostly one-day meetings and banquets far more than the 167 events that were the benchmark for success, according to Blint. That momentum has continued to build, she says, with an archery convention, a huge stamp show and PBS's Antiques Roadshow coming over the next several months.

From Marriott tower, you can also see the quickly emerging Connecticut Science Center, along with the spot where an elevated walkway over the entrance ramps to Interstate 84 and Interstate 91 will connect the Science Center to the Convention Center. It's all part of a master plan to connect the four elements of Adriaen's Landing, as the long-suffering rejuvenation of downtown Hartford is known. Front Street, a retail and entertainment center planned for six acres on Columbus, is the only one of the four cornerstones that remains a dirt lot, stalled since 2002.

Blint disagrees, however, with the notion expressed in the March 27 Advocate by Fred V. Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis that until Front Street gets built, Adriaen's Landing will remain crippled.

"[Front Street] is not critical to our success because we're already successful," Blint said. "We're capturing business that wasn't being captured previously. We're the largest hotel convention complex between Boston and New York at the moment."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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