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Project Still Makes Sense

Courant Editorial

April 02, 2008

Front Street, the development project envisioned years ago as the linchpin between Adriaen's Landing and downtown Hartford, has lamentably dwindled once again.

What started out as a plan to build 200 housing units and 100,000 square feet of commercial space on six acres of land has now been scaled down, according to the latest revision by developer Bradley Nitkin, to 65,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space and, for the moment at least, no housing units.

Mr. Nitkin, moreover, has no confirmed tenants and is still short $7 million in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that he needs to begin construction on his reduced concept.

All is not lost, if the principals will think differently about the project. Mayor Eddie Perez has wanted the entire project built at once. That made sense in a better economy. At present, it may make more sense to build the project in incremental stages. That's not necessarily bad.

If the parties were to engage a consultant to create general design guidelines for each proposed building and encourage Mr. Nitkin ó and possibly other developers ó to build creatively to these standards, Front Street can still be a quality project. It is possible to build individual retail and entertainment outlets in such a way that allows for housing to be added at a later date. The project doesn't require a mammoth scale; the highly popular Arch Street Tavern on the fringe of the site is a historic one-story brick structure.

HUD should cooperate by speeding up approval of the funding. Allowing the property to remain an empty lot for an indefinite period of time is simply unacceptable.

The project's original price tag was $46 million. But rising costs for labor and construction materials have delayed the project and driven costs up. By May 2006, the price tag jumped to $60 million and the scale was reduced to 115 apartments and 65,000 square feet of commercial space. Now the housing is gone.

Front Street is essential to making Adriaen's Landing a part of downtown Hartford. The state's Capital City Economic Development Authority, which sanctioned Front Street, has committed $21 million to it and another $13.5 million to build a state-owned parking garage on the site.

There is still an opportunity to turn Front Street into something sensible that fulfills its original purpose, if the funders and developer move ahead smartly.

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.
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