Over the protests of city leaders, the University of Connecticut is pushing ahead with plans to redevelop the former Hartford Times building as the site for relocating its West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford.
The university is seeking approval from its board of trustees to secure $1 million from the UConn 2000 program for further study and planning for the move, and, for the first time, UConn identified the long-vacant Times building as its "preferred site" for a downtown campus.
The funding proposal appears on the agenda for Wednesday's trustees meeting.
"The University has recently completed a request for information from potential developer teams, interested in working with the University to achieve this goal," Richard D. Gray, UConn executive vice president, wrote in a letter to the university's board of trustees. "Thirteen development teams responded, three were invited for the discussions and one team was identified as preferred."
Gray added: "The next step is to confirm the viability of the offer and to initiate the planning to develop a program which incorporates University program goals."
The $1 million will be used for "legal, architectural and engineering teams to assist with due diligence and planning," Gray wrote.
Two weeks ago, Hartford city leaders urged UConn president Susan Herbst to reconsider the selection of the Times building as the location for the campus. The city argued the site would break "the connection" between the Connecticut Convention Center and downtown museums and restaurants.
In response the city's letter, Herbst said the university would continue to consider the city's needs and "incorporate them as best we can."
On Monday, the city appeared to moderate its stance in a joint statement from Mayor Pedro E. Segarra and Council President Shawn Wooden: "Although it's not our preferred site, we are thrilled that UConn is relocating to downtown Hartford."
Until Monday, UConn had not identified the Times building as its preferred site. But in June, sources familiar with the university's thinking told The Courant the 1920s-era building was the location the university intended to pursue.
The city had made it clear that it preferred the new campus be located at One Talcott Plaza, next to the former G. Fox & Co. building -- now Capital Community College -- on Main Street. The site, controlled by LAZ Parking's Alan Lazowski, includes 900 existing parking spaces and 103,000 square feet of existing office space that would be incorporated into a campus that also would include the construction of a new building.
The city said locating the campus at One Talcott would encourage further development to the north of downtown.
Sources familiar with the university's thinking told The Courant One Talcott Plaza and 180 Allyn St., near Union Station, were the other two finalists.
Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman, said any final agreement to occupy and redevelop the Times building for a campus would still need final approval of the trustees.
But, she said, the location is now seen as the strongest location.
"This location is close to many important institutions and businesses, providing wonderful opportunities for students in internships, cultural pursuits and service learning," Reitz said. "We look forward to the possibility of bringing thousands of UConn students, faculty and staff to downtown Hartford and contributing with enthusiasm to its prosperity."
The Times building is part of the Front Street development and had originally been targeted for housing. HB Nitkin Group, Front Street's developer, still retains development rights.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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