Hartford's Redevelopment Efforts Begin To Draw People Back Downtown
February 26, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Almost eight years since Adriaen's
Landing began the now $2 billion worth of public and private investment
in downtown Hartford, there is at least one truism: Development
has begotten development.
The deal is by no means done. Public
subsidy is still a large part of many downtown building projects,
and private dollars in large quantities don't consistently find
Hartford a good enough bet on their own. Still, no longer is there
doubt about whether developers are going to be interested in Hartford.
Instead, the questions that 2006 and beyond will begin to answer
are whether real people with real money to spend on luxury rental
units and high-end condominiums will be interested in Hartford and
whether, as Mayor Eddie A. Perez likes to say, there will be feet
back on Hartford's streets.
Somewhere close to 1,000 new housing
units are either being built or planned for downtown Hartford. City
officials say that the area could support 3,000 or 4,000 more housing
units. As deals on condominiums begin to close and doors on apartments
continue to open, the new sign of progress won't be whether buildings
are up, but whether they are filled.
"The downtown Hartford market
is such a new market that there isn't any way to conduct market
research, because there's no rearview mirror," said John F.
Palmieri, the city's director of development services. "But
I would like to think that there's a pent-up demand that can continue
to be served by downtown for the next few years."
That's what local developer Joseph
Citino is hoping, too. He's the latest to come forward with a plan
for condominiums - this time to be built on the site of the boarded-up
building at Trumbull and Main Streets, known by city officials as
the Butt Ugly Building. Once he buys the property and tears the
building down, he wants to build "ultra luxury" condos.
He, like Palmieri, senses a market.
"People want to come back to the
city," Citino said. "People are bored in the suburbs.
I live in the suburbs myself and I'm bored myself. I was born and
raised in Hartford, and I clearly see why people want to come back."
"Especially when we see so many
new products coming to the market," he said.
Of those new products, there will be
many in 2006 - some of which have been completed later than originally
expected, pushed back by delays in financing or construction.
Perhaps the most significant development
project in 2006 is the one known as Front Street, the straggler
of Adriaen's Landing. Earlier this month, the state signed an agreement
that establishes the HB Nitkin Group of Greenwich as Front Street's
This 6-acre plot is the retail, residential
and entertainment portion of Adriaen's Landing that is supposed
to attract conventiongoers and suburbanites alike, linking the convention
center to the rest of downtown.
Developer Bradley Nitkin agreed on
Feb. 17 to build up to 200 residential units and roughly 100,000
square feet of retail space using private financing, about $17.5
million in state financing, $16 million in state improvements to
the site and a still-to-be negotiated amount of money from the city.
Nitkin and the city now have a maximum of 120 days to iron out the
details of their agreement.
Also on the not-opened-yet list are
the condominiums at the Metropolitan, a building on Pearl Street
owned and developed by David Nyberg. The project, which has roughly
20 of its 50 units on deposit with an average sales price of $275,000,
could be online by the spring, one of its real estate agents said.
Meanwhile, the 262 apartments in the
36-story tower at Hartford 21 could be complete by this fall, inviting
droves of people ready to spend from $1,500 to $6,000 a month in
rents to downtown's heart. Some apartments could open as early as
this summer, and the retail space is all but ready to go.
Whether the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum
next door can follow suit and bring more people downtown is another
question. Attendance numbers for the Wolf Pack hockey games are
down, and the city-owned, state-run facility loses about $4 million
a year for the state. The Connecticut Development Authority wants
someone to come and bail it out of the financial hole it faces through
the expiration of its lease with the city in 2013.
Meanwhile, outside developers - such
as Northland's chief Lawrence R. Gottesdiener - and hockey enthusiasts
- such as former Whalers owners Howard Baldwin - have already made
the case to the state that they can do better than the center's
current operator, Madison Square Garden. Just what happens to this
downtown regional draw at the heart of the city's renewal will define
much of 2006.
Blocks away, the Sage-Allen project
- next to the rehabilitated Richardson Building, home to the Marriott
Residence Inn, and two buildings down from Capital Community College's
home in the former G. Fox building - will bring student housing,
apartments, a parking garage and retail space to Main Street. The
University of Hartford expects an answer soon on whether those units
will be ready for students for the 2006-07 year.
Near the new Connecticut Convention
Center, cranes will soon be lifting the Connecticut Center for Science
and Exploration into place - another sign of building visible from
Farther south still is the intersection
of Park and Main streets, a two-parcel city-owned spot where a group
of Latino businessmen are teaming up with a developer in hopes of
building still more luxury condominiums in two tall towers - more
high-end, perhaps, than anything downtown could offer. The developers
haven't done a market study, they've said, because there is no real
comparable market to study. No one has built this type of project
in Hartford before.
So they want to build on faith and
anecdotal evidence that says people with money will come to Hartford.
The years to come will tell whether they're right. In 2006, that
plan might not break ground, but it will take shape.
Meanwhile, Gottesdiener at Northland
has plans to tear down the YMCA building on Bushnell Park and build
a $117 million building with 200 upscale condominiums and 100 apartments.
The sale of that building should happen within the next couple of
months, officials have said.
So there is building, and those building
the buildings believe that people will soon follow.
And as Hartford's skyline grows, some
political and corporate leaders are also putting their heads together
in 2006 to take a broader look at just where all of this development
is heading, and where development should reasonably go next.
To that end, the city, along with the
MetroHartford Alliance, has been working to bring back Ken Greenberg
- an urban planner whose 1998 recommendations on how to improve
downtown life created a great deal of discussion and debate. The
goal this time around would be for Greenberg to work with city officials
and corporate leaders to help create a vision for using the current
wave of development to build stronger ties between the city and
Then there are those, such as Citino,
who see opportunity not in downtown, but in downtown's immediate
He's now finishing 23 condominiums
on Alden Street in the South End. Of those, he's got firm, nonrefundable
deposits on 20, he said. They're selling for as low as $220,000
and as high as $279,900 - and the last two units are going for close
to $400,000, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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