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City's Downtown Rebound

February 27, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer

Battling jaw-clenching cold, squads of workers spent this winter cleaning out the inside of the historic Hartford Electric Light Co. building, preparing the 90-year-old structure for its new life as an upscale condominium christened The Metropolitan.

The conversion of the long-vacant building at Pearl and Ann streets represents two downtown firsts:

When it opens later this year, The Metropolitan will be the first new owner-occupied condominiums in the central business district in more than 20 years.

And the project represents the first one being built purely with private financing among a new generation of housing under construction throughout the downtown.

By late January, workers were already framing the interior walls of 40 condominium units, and model units are expected to be ready to view this spring. The developer, New Haven-based College Street LLC, plans to seek city approval to add another 10 units on what is now the roof, including several with a commanding perspective across Bushnell Park and past the Capitol.

"I'm just filling in the broken teeth, one step at a time," said David Nyberg, president of College Street, which last year retrofitted the long-vacant SNET building at Trumbull and Jewel streets into 132 apartments, virtually all of which are now leased.

College Street expects to offer one- or two-bedroom units for sale within a range of $175,000 to $400,000. Although that's cheap compared with comparable downtown condos in cities such as Boston or Philadelphia (don't even mention New York), the new units will represent a high level of luxury for Hartford. They will feature 12- to 15-foot ceilings, Berber rugs, flat-screen televisions mounted on living room walls and perhaps even in bathrooms, and hardwood floors.

The Metropolitan is just part of a flurry of upscale housing construction scattered throughout downtown Hartford. Seven years after the state first proposed to set aside $35 million to subsidize the construction of new market-rate housing in the city, 2005 is setting up to be the year when downtown begins to make the transition into a residential neighborhood.

"There's a pent-up demand for city living," said John Palmieri, Hartford's director of development services, who predicts that the housing will be successful. "It's happening everywhere."

Planners have long said that more people need to live downtown to recapture any of the retail life that the city's core lost to the suburbs in the 1980s and 1990s, and the new housing under construction could double downtown's existing residential population. Construction is underway at Hartford 21, which will replace the Hartford Civic Center Mall with 262 luxury high-rise apartments and retail shops; and at Temple Street, the conversion of the old Sage-Allen department store building on Main Street into 78 loft-style apartments and student housing.

A third major housing venture, the $25 million condominium conversion of the old Capewell Horse Nail Co. near Adriaen's Landing, is trying to get a change through the legislature that would allow it to use historic preservation tax credits. If that happens, construction would begin this year. "Putting together the financing is essentially where we are," said John Reveruzzi, the developer.

None of those projects will open before 2006. But two major housing ventures - The Metropolitan and Trumbull on the Park - should bring several hundred new residents downtown before the end of this year.

The 100-apartment Trumbull on the Park complex is scheduled to open this summer, and it will be the first of a wave of state-subsidized projects. The building's Trumbull Street parking garage is open, and developer Martin J. Kenny said that market interest is strong.

"We're up to 30 commitments on the residential, on rents that exceeded what we projected," Kenny said. Rents will range from $850 for a studio to $3,000 a month for the best two-bedroom unit, which is already reserved.

The Trumbull on the Park project lost some sizzle when the developer and basketball coach Geno Auriemma could not strike a deal to locate Auriemma's restaurant there.

But Kenny said he is confident that he will book another restaurant. "I have no doubt that we're going to fill it with a quality operation," he said.

The steel framework of the 36-floor Hartford 21 skyscraper will emerge this spring at Trumbull and Asylum streets. Developer Lawrence R. Gottesdiener says that the level of luxury in the tower will be unmatched among rental apartments north of New York City.

"I think it's unprecedented for all of New England, including Boston," said Gottesdiener, chairman and chief executive officer of Massachusetts-based Northland Investment Corp.

Northland has much riding on the $160 million Hartford 21 venture (the name is meant to invoke the new century; not a game of blackjack); the company owns real estate immediately adjacent on three of the four sides of the project, including the CityPlace II tower directly across Asylum Street. But Gottesdiener said that Northland has strong interest from retailers and restaurants considering leasing space. Northland's market studies, he said, show that there is plenty of wealth in metro Hartford to make the luxury apartments viable.

Consider, he said, that each high-rise floor will have only eight units, meaning that 50 percent of the apartments will have corner views, and with those units above the 10th floor the views will range for miles. Each apartment will have 9-foot ceilings, granite counters, a washer and dryer, and access to parking, a health club and a private library.

"There's nothing like it. And you know what? There won't be anything like it. What made it possible was, fundamentally, the public subsidy," Gottesdiener said. From a developer's point of view, "this lobby is a complete waste of space, the height of just blowing your money."

Hartford 21's retail space is expected to open before the end of the year, after workers peel off the backing from the exterior stainless steel panels that Gottesdiener predicted would evoke architect Frank Gehry's designs on Trumbull Street.

On Main Street, meanwhile, demolition workers are preparing the 1898 Sage-Allen building to become a block of loft apartments, including 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Rather than high-rise luxury, the Temple Street developers are emphasizing loft living in a building with a historic feel.

The project will reopen Temple Street to traffic, but developer Marc Levine said that the project also would boost two other key streets - Market and Pratt.

"Between the [Hartford 21 project] and us, Pratt Street will be re-energized," he said. "The negative anchors at each end of Pratt Street will become positive anchors, and I suspect that will have a strong positive effect."

And on Market Street, Levine said, the $50 million Temple Street project will add student housing and community space, building on the activity that the University of Connecticut's business school, with its giant outdoor stock ticker, has already brought to the street.

"Market Street, which has always been a bit of a rear-door street, will, I think, be greatly enhanced, and have a life to it," he said.

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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