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Middletown Developer Buys Broadcast House In Downtown Hartford

By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer

July 22, 2008

The owner of a Middletown-based company has bought the WFSB-Channel 3 Broadcast House at the heart of Hartford's Constitution Plaza and says he plans to demolish the now-vacant structure and erect a 100,000-square-foot "tech building."

"I have benefited from Hartford. My first job as a young engineer was in a Hartford firm," said Abul Islam, owner of AI Engineers Inc. "Now I want to come back to Hartford to help revitalize the city through technical and engineering education."

In an all-cash deal filed with the city Monday, WFSB's owner, Meredith Corp., sold the property to Islam for $700,000 $1 million below its earlier list price. Islam's Middletown company is a planning, engineering, and construction firm.

"It's a buyer's market," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez Monday. "That's when you're supposed to buy real estate, so these guys are smart to buy low."

The hallmark building was built in 1961 and was hailed as a marvel of modern architecture and technology, the first structure to be completed on Constitution Plaza after the razing of the Front Street neighborhood.

But WFSB eventually outgrew the facility, and moved last year to a new, $25 million home in Rocky Hill. Left behind was an outdated, run-down facility, which, configured as a broadcast center, threatened to make it hard to convert for a different use.

That's one reason the initial asking price came down, said Klarn DePalma , WFSB's general manager. The 80,000-square-foot building's assessed value has gone from $3.3 million in 2005 to $2.8 million in 2006 to $2.3 million in 2007, city records show.

Other factors for the lower price include the cost of construction, DePalma said.

That said, he's glad the sale is done.

"It's exciting, but it's disappointing," DePalma said. "It was a building we lived in and operated in for so long. It served us well for a long time."

Perez said he plans to meet with the building's new owners soon. Mark McGovern, the city's acting director of development services, said the city is in the early stages of a redevelopment plan that would include the Broadcast House and the long-vacant, adjacent Clarion Hotel a plan that would call for the city to use eminent domain to seize the hotel property. Its current owner, the Maharishi Global Development Fund, has been difficult to negotiate with, city officials and developers have said.

Such a plan won't be ready until the fall, at the earliest, McGovern said.

"We're going to still try and purchase or condemn the hotel building," McGovern said. "But now it appears as though there's not a need for the city to buy the Broadcast House."

Islam said he plans to bring his company from Middletown to Hartford in 2010 and occupy 30,000 square feet of the planned new building. He'll lease the rest as office space, and said he'll try to open the building to Hartford students interested in engineering.

"I want to connect [my engineering] experience and bring it over to the city of Hartford school system, and help a little bit towards workforce development," Islam said. "To create more tech-oriented people right out of high school."

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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