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After Capitol West: A New View Of Hartford’s Asylum Hill

By Kenneth R. Gosselin

April 05, 2012

No one at Wednesday’s ceremony marking the end of Hartford’s Capitol West was at all sorry to see that the notorious eyesore would be knocked into rubble in the coming weeks.

Not the least of which was Bernie Michel.

Michel, the chairman of the neighborhood revitalization zone in Asylum Hill, said the razing of the building would do two things: open up a pleasing vista for motorists on I-84 west and convey that the city cares about what perception it projects.

“When people drive by on I-84, people are going to get a different impression of Hartford and Asylum Hill,” Michel said. “Right now, it doesn’t look like people care. Seeing this down, it will show that people do care.”

Tearing down the building and restoring the property into “green space” will take about four months, beginning with the removal of asbestos. The building then will be dismantled beginning in early May.

No demolition took place Wednesday, except the symbolic removal of the building’s name over the main entrance.

It is likely the area will remain park-like for at least a couple of years. There is a push to consider lowering the highway viaduct that cuts through the area. If that did happen, a portion of the Capitol West property would probably be needed for the relocation of rail lines.

Capitol West was one of four rundown properties at crucial gateways to Hartford that the city identified for redevelopment or demolition. Two — the H.B. Davis Building on Main Street, known as the “Butt Ugly Building,” and Broadcast House on Constitution Plaza have been demolished. The fourth, the former Clarion, also on Constitution Plaza, is being converted into apartments.

Capitol West is located at the Asylum Street exit off I-84 west is a popular way to reach the headquarters of The Hartford Financial Services Group and Aetna. City officials and business executives said the bunker-like Capitol West increasingly pocked by broken windows and grafitti projected a poor — and unsafe — image of the city.

The Hartford, which has its headquarters campus just to the west, donated $2 million to help buy and knock-down Capitol West. When Liam McGee, chairman and CEO of The Hartford, took over the top executive post at the insurer in 2009, he lived downtown and had to drive by Capitol West every morning on his way to work, quickly seizing on the removal of the eyesore as a priority.

“I was like a dog with a bone,” Liam McGee, chairman and CEO of The Hartford, told those assembled on a street that is usually all but deserted. “I wanted this building down.”

After an eminent domain fight, the city paid the previous owner Joshua Guttman $1.7 million for the 180,000-square-foot structure. Guttman paid $1 million in cash for the property in 2004. It will cost another $1.2 million to tear down.

The demolition will cap a 64-year history for the building, which was built in the late 1940s as a two-story automobile dealership showroom and service center. In 1966, five more stories were added to create what is now known as “Capitol West,” so named for its location west of the state’s seat of government.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra said the project is a model for how the city can work with the private sector to get a critical job done.

“It’s going to transform this area,” Segarra 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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