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City Construction Increasingly Bad For Businesses

With Lack Of Parking, Closed Streets And Fewer Patrons, Restaurant Owner, Others Having Financial Hardship

January 17, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer

Business was good when Wahid Ahmed opened Spice Indian Cuisine about three years ago in space he rented at 89 Arch St., on the edge of Hartford's downtown.

He was pleased as the lunch and dinner crowds continued to grow. But his good fortune changed with the building of Adriaen's Landing.

"Now there is construction - it is really bad for my business," said Ahmed, a native of Bangladesh who moved to Hartford from New York City in 2002. "I am almost going out of business."

Ahmed, who has a wife and two small children, is also paying for two homes in Manchester. If he had more money, he would open a business in another location, he said. Otherwise, he will have to close Spice and find another job or give up everything and move from the state.

With construction equipment constantly parked nearby and a big hole where the restaurant's paved property once was, Ahmed's customers no longer have a convenient place to park, he said. Metered parking is available on the street, but because of all the work being done on nearby Columbus Boulevard and to the Whitehead Highway, foot traffic is down to nothing, he said. Portions of Columbus Boulevard are closed to traffic.

Adriaen's Landing, a $600 million state project, is being developed on 33 acres along the Connecticut River. It will feature a 500,000-square-foot Connecticut Convention Center, a hotel, entertainment, retail and residential venues, and a cultural attraction.

"There are big trucks always coming in and I think that people are just afraid to come," he said. "Most sales are coming from deliveries; nobody is coming in any more. If things don't change I'm going to have to close my business."

Ahmed said he needs money to pay the rent he has missed over the past five months, or to help him get a new start somewhere else. He asked for help from the city but was told he is not eligible for assistance because he rents the space, he said.

"They are not helping me, but will only help my landlord, and I am getting pressure from my landlord to pay rent," he said.

The city referred Ahmed to the state Capital City Economic Development Authority, which oversees the Adriaen's Landing project.

The authority's spokesman, Dean Pagani, said the group has been talking with Ahmed about his predicament since September. Because Ahmed is a renter, the authority cannot help him because state law allows for assistance only to property owners, Pagani said. The authority has tried to work with the property's owner, Mark C. Yellin, to ease the strain on Ahmed.

"But Yellin rejected the offers we made," Pagani said. "I think the bottom line is, the only way we could offer some real assistance is if we could have some control over the property, and he was unwilling to give up any control."

Pagani said the Capital City Economic Development Authority offered Yellin money in return for easements on his property, which is rented to Ahmed and to Joe and Dianne Butler, who own Capitol Caterers.

"We offered a negative easement, cash to the landlord so he wouldn't do certain things, like expand the property or interfere with the project that is underway," Pagani said. "But he said no."

Yellin could have used the money from the authority to help cover the back rent that is owed to him and, depending on the amount he received, future rent payments until the construction eases in June.

"The money would have gone to Yellin, and what he would have done with it would have been up to him," Pagani said. "But there would be an understanding that it would go to help his tenants."

From his Florida home, Yellin, who owns Mark C. Yellin & Associates, a real estate investment firm in Farmington, called the offer ridiculous and blamed the authority for ruining Ahmed's business.

"They didn't offer any specific amounts, just two documents, and I thought they were making a mistake, that they had sent me something meant for someone else," Yellin said.

If he had accepted the negative easement offers, Yellin would not have been allowed to lease the property for anything other than a restaurant, he said. The other document, he said, would have prevented expansion. Yellin said he plans to add a rooftop patio.

"It's zoned for a bar, a restaurant, fast food, coffee shop. ... Why would I limit the next 100 years' leases to just a restaurant?" Yellin said. "If it's zoned for something you should be able to do it, that's the law."

The Butlers said the construction has hurt their business too. No foot traffic means no more walk-ins, said Joe Butler, and the construction trucks on Arch Street make it difficult for them to park and load their delivery van with catering orders.

"In general most of the guys that work construction are very helpful," Dianne Butler said Thursday. "But today a truck wouldn't let us out. ... These guys in the trucks say the road is closed and don't realize that there are businesses down here."

Yellin doesn't seem to care, the Butlers said. They said they hope Yellin will accept an offer they have made regarding their rental payments.

"He thinks this place is going to be booming this next year and he has all these big people wanting to rent this place," Dianne Butler said. "So he doesn't care if we are out of here."

Business also has decreased at the Arch Street Tavern, at 85 Arch St. next to Ahmed's and the Butlers' businesses. Collins Brothers LLC owns this separate brick structure, and the tavern, which has been in business on Arch Street for about 27 years, is owned by Arch Street Enterprises.

"It's definitely been slower since the construction started, especially in July," said Scott Tedford, the tavern's night bar manager. "Our business did drop down more than we expected, but it's a little bit better now that there is more parking available."

Tedford said parking is available next to the building once the construction trucks clear out and at a small parking area up the street. Traffic is often congested because of the construction, he said, but it is possible to get through.

"We definitely have a lot of regular customers that have really helped us out," he said. "It's a struggle. We have no plans to close. We are just trying to get by."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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