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City, Developers Bicker Over Building

May 31, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Two downtown developers are questioning the city's effort to sell its building at 101 Pearl St. and develop it into condominiums, but Hartford officials say they are confident that the legalese is on their side.

Sam Fingold - a developer who was part of the Richardson building, the Sage-Allen project and other downtown work - says the city has no business selling the office building for $1.2 million because he has a right to it for $350,000 under a deal conceived, but never executed, when Michael P. Peters was mayor.

Martin J. Kenny - the man behind the nearby nine-story Trumbull on the Park apartment and retail complex and its parking garage - says the city is wrongfully marketing 170 parking spaces with the 101 Pearl development. Those spaces were supposed to be tied to a building with offices, not condos, he said. If the use changes, so should the number of parking spaces, he said.

In both cases, the men say they will challenge the city if their concerns are not addressed.

"If we don't get it, it's not going to go unchallenged," Fingold said of the building. He is one of seven developers who expressed interest to the city in the property after a recent request for proposals. "I promise it will not go unchallenged, and I promise it will not have a free and clear title."

But in both cases, the city's response is simple: There is no legal paperwork to back up either of the claims. In Kenny's case, his agreement with the city to buy the space for the garage doesn't tie the spaces for the building's use; in Fingold's case, the sale documents were never signed, city officials said.

"The city's position, and we've thoroughly researched it, is that the city alone holds full and clear title to the property at 101 Pearl St.," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff for Mayor Eddie A. Perez, regarding Fingold's claim.

If redone as the city hopes, the Pearl Street building - part of what has been known as the Cutter site - would be among downtown's first condominium opportunities for people interested in buying.

Fingold agrees that the deal was never executed, but that's because city politicians and staff always told him they were waiting to close a related deal with Kenny, he said. Fingold was also holding out for the parking spaces in Kenny's garage that he needed to make what he calls his building work.

"Our building is useless without the parking spaces," he said, adding that the city council approved several resolutions endorsing the deal.

But once Kenny's deal closed and the garage was finished, there was no movement, Fingold said. Then the city's political scene changed, he said, and nobody ever approached him to close the deal.

So although he recognizes he may not have a legal right to the building, Fingold said he may have a "moral" right to it.

"When the city of Hartford was the biggest [dump] and nobody wanted to do anything, I sunk a ton of money into the Richardson, and it's now a very successful hotel," he said. "No one has gone and done as much for the city of Hartford as I have."

"The question is, `Why don't you come to terms with somebody who's always done something for the city of Hartford?'" he said. "If they choose another developer, this is not going to go away."

Kenny says that the building negotiations all assumed that 101 Pearl St. would be developed as office space, even if the legal documentation doesn't support it. "In the deal and the history of the deal, the use that was contemplated was an office use," he said. "But if they change the use to residential space, that's a different deal."

Kenny argues that the change in use means the parking spaces would have a different use, too, and therefore a different value. Under the existing agreement, the owners of 101 Pearl are entitled to up to 180 spaces. In Kenny's view, the number should be reduced if the building is used for condominiums and not office space.

"I think that the city has been promoting the parking right as a boondoggle," Kenny said. The city's request for proposals says that the city has rights to 170 parking spaces in the garage. "We won't honor that. If it's residential, it's a different use."

"Perhaps the documentation is not crystal clear," he said, adding that, at the time of the contract's negotiation, everyone assumed the building would be offices. "There's a history to those documents, you know?"

The city "should have checked with us before they went out to bid just to make sure we were on the same page, and they would have found out that we weren't," he said.

But, again, the city says the paperwork is on its side.

"It's very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very clear," Hennessy said. "That garage has to provide 180 spaces at the lowest market rate for 101 Pearl St. regardless of use. That's what [Kenny] signed."

The city received seven responses from developers interested in the building earlier this month, it said. They include bids from: College Street LLC, with 55 on the Park building developer David Nyberg as a principal; Cloud/Samuels Assoc. LLC, which includes Sanford Cloud Jr., former head of the National Conference for Community and Justice; a team that includes Parkville developer Carlos Mouta; and four others, including Fingold.

"We're very happy with the process, and we look forward to moving this ahead very quickly," Hennessy 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.
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