Front Street, the much-revised and oft-delayed building project that will link Adriaen's Landing to the rest of downtown Hartford, now looks like a go, we say with our fingers crossed. A tax abatement approved in the final days of the legislative session and a $2 million grant and $5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development clear the way to begin the first phase of the project in the fall, said developer Bradley Nitkin.
The Front Street project, named for the main stem of the old East Side neighborhood uprooted for urban renewal in the 1960s, has been on the drawing board for a decade. The first plan was for 200 housing units and 100,000 square feet of commercial space.
For a variety of reasons, primarily fiscal, the project has been scaled back to a first phase with 65,000 square feet of commercial space and, it's hoped, a second phase for residential construction. Nitkin said this may be a tower on Prospect Street that uses the facade of The Hartford Times building as an entrance.
He said most of the commercial space would be occupied by restaurants, augmented perhaps by a music venue and a comedy club.
Although we liked the initial mixed-use concept, especially the design by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, the new idea ó also being designed by Mr. Stern ó is a plausible fallback. As Mr. Nitkin said, most commercial districts around convention centers across the country are heavy with restaurants. With the Connecticut Convention Center, the new science center nearing completion and new downtown residences, along with office workers and the young people who flood downtown Hartford on weekends, there should be a customer base.
The frequently asked question is whether ESPN will locate a club there. Mr. Nitkin said talks are continuing.
A residential tower on the highest point of land also makes sense. It will be close to Main Street and the Wadsworth Atheneum and provide views of downtown and the Connecticut River.
This is an important project. It enhances the convention center, makes Adriaen's Landing part of downtown and should increase downtown's appeal to young adults. Let's hope this time Charlie Brown kicks the football.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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