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Developer Emerges For Housing At Vacant Hartford Office Tower


April 02, 2012

A Fairfield developer who successfully built New Haven's tallest apartment building two years ago is looking seriously at one of downtown Hartford's most visable and vacant office towers for conversion into rental housing.

And the apartments would be mixed-income, with some moderately priced units, in contrast to many of the proposed and recently completed apartment projects in Greater Hartford.

Developer Bruce Becker envisions redeveloping the 26-story, former Bank of America building opposite the Old State House into 286 studio, one- and two bedroom apartment units and 35,000 square feet of retail space on street-level.

Becker, developer of the 360 State Street apartment tower in NewHaven, said Monday he is still in the "very early stages" of exploring the redevelopment of 777 Main St. But the idea is far enough along that he will bring plans before the city's planning and zoning commission for a public hearing April 10.

One potential issue is the parking in the attached garage. There are 249 parking spaces, short of the 357 spaces that would be normally be required by city zoning regulations, or 1.25 spaces for each residential unit.

Another obstacle is that the building, constructed in 1967, contains asbestos, which, by one estimate, could cost a million dollars a floor to remove. Becker said there are other alternatives, possibly combining removal and sealing up of the substance.

Building owner Michael Grunberg has been marketing the building for more than a year, and he has said apartments would be a good fit for the property. Soon after he bought the building in 2006, he was thwarted by Bank of America from converting the top floors into housing. The bank, which was occupying the space, was unwilling to move.

Grunberg couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

If Becker's firm, Becker + Becker, does move forward with his plans, he said he would apply for some of the funds being offered through Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's plan to add more housing for low- and moderate-income households.

City officials appear very supportive so far, noting the Hartford's "One City, One Plan" document in 2010 a vision for growth and development in the city targeted 777 Main for housing.

"It's a signature building as you come across the bridge into Hartford," Roger O'Brien, the city's planning director, said. "We think it's a homerun. The building that sits there is vacant. [The plan] would reduce the office vacancy rate and further the goal of putting more people on the street."

Becker declined to comment on what the redevelopment would cost or whether he was actively negotiating a purchase of the building. Grunberg has said he is open to a sale, but would like to recoup as much as possible of the $13 million he spent to buy the building. In the city's property revaluation last year, the fair market value was pegged at $7.3 million.

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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