This is the sixth and final in a series on what the state should do in 2012.
Since taking office in mid-2010, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra has taken action to remove the city's two leading eyesores -- the former H.B. Davis building, which didn't earn its "butt ugly" nickname until it was neglected, and the Capitol West building, which was never an architectural gem.
There are another half-dozen buildings that could become eyesores if not attended to -- or could become major assets if properly redeveloped. Mr. Segarra's challenge this year is to discourage the former by promoting the latter.
The first order of business in restoring Hartford's architectural beauty should be Coltsville, the former 19th-century industrial village in the city's South Meadows. After more than a decade of work, the complex is poised to become a National Historic Park. The vibes were all positive after a congressional hearing in early December at which Mr. Segarra testified, and officials are hopeful that a bill granting park status will be approved in 2012.
A national park will spur the redevelopment of all the Coltsville property, adding new businesses and residents as well as attracting tourists. This in turn should spur development between Coltsville and downtown, adding essential fabric to the center of the region. It will offer the chance for more events in Colt Park and Dillon Stadium, more riverfront activity and even, at some point, transit-oriented development.
If park status is granted, city and state officials know they must pick up the pace of such things as road improvements, parking and park improvements. How about vintage and college baseball in Dillon Stadium?
In addition to Coltsville, the city has a number of other major buildings that require attention. The two aging Modernist structures on Pearl Street, at 101 and 111, look forlorn. The former YMCA tower overlooking Bushnell Park is beginning to show the signs of abandonment. The city owns one of the Pearl Street buildings and Connecticut Housing Finance the other, and they are looking for ways to work together to develop them. The Y tower is owned by Northland Investment Corp., which is holding it for a turn in the market.
Can these properties be developed in conjunction with the iQuilt plan, led by the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and The Greater Hartford Arts Council? The iQuilt plan reimagines Bushnell Park as the nexus of downtown's arts and cultural institutions, and extends the park to Constitution Plaza. If the plan turns out to be new lights, signs and kiosks, that will be good but not earthshaking. If it spurs development around the park, then we've got something.
One way to make that happen would be to renovate the two Pearl Street buildings into modern office space, then fill them with the state workers now in the historic buildings along the park on Elm Street. That would make those handsome old buildings available to be redeveloped as housing. As that is done, it might be possible to bring Northland in to redo its building on the park. Don't people in most cities like to live on the park?
Another structure that needs immediate attention is the former Hartford Office Supply building on Capitol Avenue. This was one of the factory buildings that once lined the avenue. It's close to the Capitol and to a number of major employers, and should be developed for housing and commercial use. Tax credits have been approved for it. The owner, listed as Paradigm East Haven and Paradigm Hartford, needs to develop it or get it to someone who will.
The city must also begin looking to infill the empty lots that break up the center city and some neighborhoods. Obviously this isn't the only challenge facing Hartford. But there aren't many prosperous cities that don't look prosperous, that aren't dense, walkable, full of people and commerce. In trying to get there, some other issues might solve themselves.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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