The historic brick building at 36 Lewis St. in downtown Hartford -- site of an upscale restaurant in the 1980s and a controversial after-hours dance club in the 1990s -- has been purchased by a partnership of investors from Hartford and Newport, R.I.
David Elwell, one of the Hartford investors who will head the redevelopment, said Thursday that the partnership is considering all uses for the property -- apartments, mixed-use and restaurant -- but plans to preserve and restore the Italianate-style exterior, dominated by a wide front porch supported by Doric-style columns. The property was built around 1840 but the porch was a later addition.
The two-story building has been vacant for at least eight years, possibly longer, after the dance club Vibe closed down.
Elwell, who lives in Hartford but comes from Greenwich, said he has been looking for an opportunity to participate in the revitalization of the city. He was attracted by the historic nature of the 10,000-square-foot building and the price the partnership paid -- $318,000 -- was attractive. City records show a proposed fair market value of $372,500 under the 2011 revaluation, down from $413,420 in 2010.
"Going in there, it was scratching an itch on how we could fold that property back into the city," Elwell said.
The building was originally a residence, as were other structures from the mid-1800s that stand on the street today. The building at 36 Lewis was occupied as a home into the late 1950s, the last to retain its original use.
Lewis Street provides one of the last glimpses of how the city's downtown appeared in the mid-1800s before skyscrapers came to dominate the skyline. It has been altered considerably over the years, most notably shouldering one side of the Gold Building's parking garage, but many key elements from that earlier era remain, including the narrow, pedestrian-friendly street.
"It's one of the best preserved streets from the heyday of Hartford's gilded age," Tomas Nenortas, program director for the Hartford Preservation Alliance, said.
When the Trumbull on the Park apartments were built, developer Marty Kenny restored two similar buildings on the opposite side of the street.
Elwell said the partnership does not have an estimate on renovation costs, but he noted that the structure is strong and recent work on windows and the roof have prevented water damage. However, it appears much of the interior will have to be "gutted down to the studs." It is likely the investors will seek historic tax credits to help pay for the cost of renovations, Elwell said.
The previous owners, 36 Lewis Street Partners LLC, a partnership of businessmen Boyd Morgan and Robert "Boz" Coffin, purchased the property in 1994. Coffin declined to comment Thursday and Morgan couldn't be reached.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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