The city's first plan was to develop the 12-story former office building near Bushnell Park into luxury condos, but that didn't happen.
On Wednesday, city officials announced a second plan involving a new developer who now wants to convert 101 Pearl St. into retail, office space and apartments — and possibly condos later if the market improves.
"I wanted to do condos, but there's just no money out there," developer Carlos Mouta said Wednesday. "As soon as the market allows it, I can convert them into condos."
The partnership of Mouta, Capasso Mason Enterprises Inc. and Sheldon Oak Central Inc. — a nonprofit housing development corporation run by Daniel Merida — wants to have final approvals to move ahead on the $17 million project by the end of June.
"The previous preferred developer [proposed] luxury condos," said Mark McGovern, the city's acting director of development services. "These are not luxury condos. They are market-rate apartments that will be of high quality, but not of luxury, given the building and the rental market."
Mouta, who has been an active developer in the city's Parkville section, was the runner-up in July 2005 to develop the property. He lost out to New York developer Full Spectrum LLC, which sought to develop a few dozen luxury condos in the 42-year-old building.
That project fell through in August 2006, a victim of rising construction and remediation costs. The building was found to have an unexpectedly large amount of asbestos, which will require about a $2 million cleanup. Even though the city dropped its asking price from $1.2 million to $400,000, the original deal collapsed.
This fall, the city sought other interest bidders, not just condo developers, but those interested in all permitted uses — from offices to retail to housing.
Mouta's new development plans 36 apartments that will offer "workforce housing opportunities affordable to a mix of incomes," according to a city press release. He also plans 18,000 square feet of retail and office space in the lower floors. He will also redesign the exterior facade.
Mouta's partnership competed against proposals from Martin Kenny, owner of Trumbull on the Park; David Nyberg, owner of the apartments in the old SNET building called 55 on the Park; and a partnership involving the family of Sanford Cloud.
Adam Cloud, Sanford's son, was disappointed by Wednesday's announcement.
"I'm shocked and surprised," said Cloud, who said he didn't expect Mouta to be the last developer standing. "I really didn't."
Kenny, whose Trumbull on the Park apartments are doing well at 93-percent occupancy, said he thought his plan for 120 inexpensive rental units to cater to the young professional was responsive to the market.
The reason, Kenny said, is that the downtown rental market serves the high-end apartment renter well with supply but it lacks less inexpensive units for single young professionals who don't want to share space with a roommate.
His experience plays that out, he said. Of his 100 units at Trumbull on the Park, six of the seven units that are vacant are two-bedrooms. Conversely, he said, there's a waiting list for studios. "We have very fierce competitions when a studio comes available."
Mouta said that Capasso brings building experience and that Merida's company brings the ability to attract public funds to the project. Merida has developed a number of apartments in the city and this summer broke ground on another development on Main Street. A partnership he heads with Meriden developer Salvatore Carabetta surfaced in corruption allegations made over a year ago by the now former head of the Hartford Housing Authority.
In a press release, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said Mouta's plan would "invigorate Pearl Street between Main and Trumbull and help to continue to increase the energy and vibrancy that we are experiencing."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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