With each passing year, the Capitol West building — a familiar sight to motorists passing through Hartford on I-84 west at the Asylum Street exit — looks more decrepit, plans for converting it to apartments going nowhere.
While city officials are pleased that the largest "Portrait of America" banner was unfurled over the eyesore last week, they know it's only a temporary fix.
"My preference would be to have a revitalized building," said Mark McGovern, the city's economic development director.
Capitol West and two other properties — the H.B. Davis building on Main Street and the former Clarion Hotel on Constitution Plaza — are targeted for redevelopment. All three are rundown, empty buildings at critical gateways to the city, leaving a poor first impression for visitors.
Capitol West's redevelopment could be far off, however, because the city is focusing first on the Davis Building at 1161 Main St., nicknamed the "Butt Ugly" building.
Including buildings in redevelopment zones gives the city the right to negotiate their purchase or take property by eminent domain. But the process can be costly and McGovern said the city's limited financial resources are only allowing it to concentrate on one property at a time.
"All three are not positive contributors to our downtown environment," McGovern said. "We can do better. That's why we set up the redevelopment plan."
The city chose the Davis building because it is the most visible to motorists passing on I-84 and stands in the way of plans to create a bridge between downtown and the North End. Future development could include mid-rise office, retail and residential, and possibly, educational uses.
McGovern said the city hopes to reach an agreement on a sale with owner Robert Danial soon. The city hopes the deal is closed by the end of the year and demolition following soon after. Even that, though, would be a year later than initially thought.
McGovern declined to comment on the negotiations. But one estimate four years ago put the cost of buying and demolishing the building at about $1.2 million — although that was when the commercial real estate market was far stronger.
According to city assessment records, the Davis building would be the least expensive to buy. The assessment is $172,000, compared with $448,000 for Capitol West and $1.9 million for the Clarion. Assessments represent 70 percent of a property's market value.
Danial couldn't be reached for comment Monday
The Capitol West building still has an active approval for conversion to apartments that was sought by owner Joshua Guttman. If the city gained control of the site, it would most likely demolish the building, McGovern said.
The site could then be tied to a redevelopment of the area around Union Station, he said.
Guttman could not be reached for comment Monday.
McGovern said the Clarion's owner — The Maharishi School of Vedic Sciences — is actively marketing the site. That has happened in the past, but negotiations have broken down, sometimes just as the deal is nearing completion.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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