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A $7 Million Jump Start For Hartford's Front Street

Jeffrey B.Cohen

May 09, 2009

The federal government has approved $7 million in funding that developers say will allow them to begin construction of retail space at Front Street this fall.

"This is good news," said Peter Christian, who works with the developer HB Nitkin Group. "We're in pretty good shape right now. This is the last piece of public financing we were waiting on."

Good news, though, is a relative thing when it comes to Front Street an empty lot across from the Connecticut Convention Center that long ago was supposed to be turned into a destination spot for apartment dwellers, shoppers and fun seekers.

Developer Bradley Nitkin's original plans for the site called for using the entire swath of now-vacant land between Columbus Boulevard and Prospect Street. But that plan was downsized into two phases. For the first phase, the state and Nitkin agreed to develop roughly half of that site into 115 apartments and 65,000 square feet of retail. Architectural plans that showed apartments atop large, glassy shop fronts were completed late last year to a good bit of fanfare.

In March, crunched by rising construction costs and a slumping economy, the state and Nitkin changed course, jettisoned the apartments, and decided to move forward with roughly 68,000 square feet of retail space. The housing will have to wait until market conditions improve.

The city had federal approval to use $7 million for Front Street, a key component of the Adriaen's Landing project that also includes the convention center and the still-to-be completed Connecticut Science Center. After the initial approval expired in 2006, the city reapplied for the money. On Thursday, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., announced that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development had approved the money a $2 million grant and a $5 million loan.

"We're delighted," Nitkin said in an interview. "This will not look like an average shopping center. It's an architecturally attractive, Robert Stern-designed project that will be very much in keeping with the surrounding architecture in Hartford."

Stern's architectural firm, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, is the project's designer.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez applauded Thursday's announcement, even though he'd rather see a bigger project.

"My preference was that we would do everything at once," Perez said. "But I understand Mr. Nitkin has a motive to make sure this is a market-driven deal. The fact that he wants to stage it and take a little time to make sure the housing is built is a good thing."

Perez said he hoped, though, that planning for the housing would start in the next few months.

"If we need to change the size of the units and make them more worker housing instead of empty nesters," that would be OK, Perez said. But the development can't stop with retail alone, he said.

"I want the home run," Perez said. "But getting to second base is OK"

Contact Jeffrey B. Cohen at jcohen@courant.com.

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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