Time´s almost up for Front Street subsidies, but nobody seems to care. Meanwhile, still no details on the retail and residential extravaganza
July 6, 2006
By MEIR RINDE, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
It´s been more than 120 days since Brad Nitkin officially signed on as the developer of Front Street, the long-proposed residential and retail component of Adriaen´s Landing. In mid-February he inked an agreement with the Capital City Economic Development Agency which gave him 120 days to arrange $16 million in cash and tax abatements from the city.
However, CCEDA apparently has a different way of counting days than other people do.
Michael Cicchetti, a spokesman for the state agency, said the deadline for Nitkin to make an agreement with the city hasn´t passed yet, though he didn´t know what that date is. Nitkin, of the Greenwich firm HB Nitkin, said the deadline is approaching, though he didn´t have the date handy either.
¨Everything´s fine with our project,¨ he said. ¨We´re deeply engaged with CCEDA and with the governor´s Office of Policy and Management, and the mayor´s office. Everybody´s totally on board. The four months doesn´t expire until some time in July. I don´t think anybody´s concerned about not making deadlines.¨
Mayor Eddie Perez has not yet endorsed subsidies because Nitkin has only promised to build part of the project, said Matt Hennessy, Perez´s chief of staff. The CCEDA agreement calls for 100,000 square feet of retail and 200 residential units, but the project´s first phase would have just 60 units and 40,000 square feet.
¨He asked for all the benefits up front, with no real commitment to do any second phase,¨ Hennessy said. ¨We sent him a letter saying, if you´re doing a project with significant retail and significant housing, and it´s along the lines of what´s always been proposed for the site, you can get the full package of benefits. If that´s not what you intend to do, you´ll get a lesser package.
¨We haven´t heard anything back,¨ Hennessy said.
Nitkin has a good track record as a developer, but so did his predecessor, developer Richard Cohen, who went back and forth with CCEDA for three years without building anything before the agency gave him the boot in 2004.
CCEDA named Nitkin its new ¨preferred developer¨ in April 2005, but he´s yet to give a firm idea what the $150 million Front Street project might look like or who the commercial tenants might be. In February, he told a business group the site would have ¨lots of restaurants, lots of streetscapes, lots of outdoor seating,¨ the Hartford Courant reported. He also floated ideas such as a comedy club, live music and a movie theater.
In a recent interview, Nitkin was careful not to offer any new details or to say when the public might hear what it will get for the state´s $70 million investment.
¨I can´t control the time things take,¨ he said. ¨ There´s just a lot of moving pieces in a project this sophisticated, and it takes a lot of time to put these pieces together.¨
The amount that CCEDA will spend on parking has been an issue lately. ¨That´s what takes the greatest amount of time, the parking studies,¨ Nitkin said. ¨These are the things that are unglamorous. You can´t build a project and not have enough parking,¨ or bust your budget by building too much. ¨A parking consulting firm is working with us on how much there needs to be, either underground or in parking structures adjacent to the project.¨
The discussions of parking are not affected by the negotiations with the city because enough parking for both phases would be built all at once as part of phase one, Nitkin said.
By allowing Nitkin to build in two phases, CCEDA has allowed for the possibility of a much smaller project than previously envisioned. Hennessy said the agency doesn´t seem to know whether it wants to hold out for the full 100,000 square feet and 200 units, or is willing to accept less. ¨At the size he suggested, he could have been well under construction by now, without any support from the city, because the subsidy from the state was so large,¨ Hennessy said.
Then again, the idea behind former Gov. John Rowland´s ¨six pillars,¨ which included Adriaen´s Landing, was to make a big impact on Hartford, and the mayor would still like to see those aspirations come to full fruition, Hennessy said.
¨If this project is going to be important, it has to have substantial retail in it, and a sizable housing component,¨ he said. ¨The effort shouldn´t be just to build something to say you built it, just to check off the box.¨