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For Some, City Condos Beckon

July 5, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The old Hartford Electric Light Co. building that once housed Bruce MacDermid's law office is now called The Metropolitan Condominiums, and it houses his new home.

Or it will, just as soon as he and his wife pack up their 3,600-square-foot West Hartford house and move into their 1,200-square-foot condominium at 266 Pearl St. in Hartford - one of the first newly minted condos to go on sale downtown in years.

The MacDermids are part of the downtown residential developer's target market: suburban Hartford fifty-somethings looking for a change. Like the young professionals the developers are also counting on, the MacDermids are on the first wave of what boosters hope will be a flood of folks flocking downtown.

The MacDermids both work in Hartford: He has a downtown law office, she has a Parkville painter's studio. But the family home in West Hartford they've had for 28 years is just too much space, and they have some undeveloped land in Guilford they want to do something with.

They decided they wanted a Hartford anchor, an urban yin to the Guilford yang. So they put their home on Bainbridge Road up for sale for $825,000. Their downtown two-bedroom condo, which they expect to close on for $358,000 later this month, was an instant fit.

"When we walked in here, something happened," Betsy MacDermid said. "This was just the kind of thing I was looking for."

The Metropolitan's 50 condos caused a stir when they first went on the market a year ago, listing at an average sales price of $275,000 for units between 660 and 1,200 square feet, and with 60-year leases on parking spots going for $20,000 each.

This summer, the units are selling at prices set by the developer - from $229,000 to $407,000. Three are already sold, and 10 or so are waiting for closings to be scheduled. Construction on the building's top-floor units - rooftop additions to the pre-existing structure - could be complete within a few months.

"We're seeing velocity, we're excited, and you can actually move in - so that tends to be a great motivator," said developer David Nyberg, the Metropolitan's owner. "They're selling at the numbers that we're asking. We're very, very excited."

If the MacDermids fit one half of what downtown developers are banking on, David Nielsen and Jennifer Pardus fit the other half - the 30-something professionals looking for an affordable place to call home in an urban, pedestrian-friendly environment.

"When it comes to affordability, I can't touch Glastonbury or West Hartford, but, hey, I can afford Hartford, and everything's there for me," said Nielsen, a first-time home buyer who is already living in his $307,000, one-bedroom unit at the Metropolitan. For Nielsen, who rides his bike to work as an engineer at Pratt and Whitney, it's not just that he doesn't want suburban house prices. He doesn't want suburban house sizes, either.

"One thousand square feet is plenty for me. I won't be collecting a bunch of junk, I won't be mowing a lawn, and everything's at my fingertips in the city," he said, even as he noted that supermarkets, movie theaters and flower shops have yet to come downtown. "I think I'm putting myself in a great position for this great event to happen in the next five years."

The MacDermids' new home opens into a main living room with a kitchen area on the right and windows on the left that overlook Pearl Street, Theaterworks, the fire station, and the not-long-for-this-world YMCA tower. That space is slated for new high-end apartments and condos.

A walk straight back from the front door passes a bedroom on the left, a bathroom, and a master bedroom at the very end - exactly one floor above the conference room of MacDermid's old law firm. With views of Bushnell Park, this room won't be for sleeping (except when their sons are in town), but for entertaining.

"It's too nice a view, a western view, to turn it over to a bedroom," Betsy MacDermid said.

Friends have been both encouraging and interested in their move. "Good for you for going to Hartford," recalled Betsy MacDermid. "A lot of people are realizing that until it's residential, it won't be a city."

But there's also a sense that they're doing something untested. "You're doing something that's not tried and true, that you haven't gotten confirmation, you don't have friends down there saying, `Come on, the water's fine,'" she said.

Not that it bothers them. They have confidence in the city, they said. They have confidence in city life. And for Bruce MacDermid, walking up the marble stairs in his former office building is like coming home.

"Where you see the indentations in the stairs," he said, speaking of the worn spots where the feet once fell, "I contributed to some of those. It's a good feeling."

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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