The long-abandoned Capitol West building on Myrtle Street next to I-84 West in downtown Hartford - the one with the hole cut out of it - is a world-class eyesore. It shows Hartford very poorly to the occupants of the 80,000-plus cars that pass it each day.
The Hartford Redevelopment Agency is about to vote on taking the building by eminent domain. That should be the agency's recommendation to the city council.
The building was purchased for $1 million in 2004 by Joshua Guttman, a controversial Brooklyn, N.Y., developer who planned to convert it to apartments or condominiums. He was unable, for whatever reason, to do so. The building has continued to deteriorate. It was one of several prominent gateway eyesores targeted for removal by Mayor Pedro Segarra and, with the demolition of the former H. B Davis building last fall, is next on the list.
City officials have been negotiating with Mr. Guttman since the summer to acquire the building, thus far to no avail. The city has put the building's value at $448,000. Though terms have not been made public, Mr. Guttman is said to want a considerably higher amount.
With renovation seemingly out of the question, one option for the city would be to cite the building under its anti-blight ordinance and fine Mr. Guttman until he sells it or walks away.
We have a certain sympathy for this option; landlords shouldn't be able to hang onto blighted properties forever, especially ones that hurt the city's image. But such a such a step would doubtless be challenged in court, and if it prevails could still leave the building in place for a number of years.
The better option is to acquire it by eminent domain. Officials say recent eminent domain judgments have been favorable to the city.
In November, the Hartford Financial Services Group, whose campus is just up the hill, announced it would contribute $2 million toward the city's efforts to buy and tear down Capitol West, as part of a larger commitment to the Asylum Hill neighborhood. The demolition alone could cost $2 million.
This is still real money and the kind of partnership the city desperately needs. The removal of Capitol West will open a view to historic buildings on the crest of Asylum Hill, a major aesthetic improvement.
Finally, the city may need at least some of the parcel for the proposed Hub of Hartford project, which would relocate the railroad tracks and lower the I-84 viaduct, which has walled the city in half.
In sum, take the building. Hartford has put up with it long enough.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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