would build strictly retail anchored by a supermarket; the other
would build mostly affordable rental housing with some retail on
the side. The city will soon decide which route to follow - if either.
"I've seen 600 proposals for that site over the past 30 years," said
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who had yet to see these two. "I'm going to be very
careful about how that site is developed. We're not anxious to just take anything
if these proposals don't meet [our standard]."
The city-owned parcel's future is part
of the effort to revitalize this potential gateway, linking downtown
to the North End with such projects as the new shopping center at
Main and Pavilion streets, the proposed public safety complex, and
the renovation of housing on Belden Street.
"I'm trying to do everything I
can to get the central business [district] to cross I-84," Perez
said. "That's why the streetscape, and what you do with the
site, is more important than what the actual use is. It's got to
make you want to stop and to walk."
One development group is a partnership
between nonprofit Sheldon Oak Central Inc. and CEI Investment Corp.
- an enterprise of Joseph F. Carabetta's The Carabetta Organization.
Sheldon Oak, which has had its eye on this property for some time,
had worked on a previous proposal to build homeownership units on
the site, but that proposal died because it needed too much of a
city subsidy, officials said.
The developers are now considering 64
units of affordable rental housing and 11,000 square feet of retail.
"Good affordable housing is a good
thing for families of low income," said Daniel O. Merida, Sheldon
Oak's executive director. "We felt, after doing the market study
and the demographics of the area, that the city is right - there
is a need...to have mixed use development. So we went for it."
Sheldon Oak is the developer of the
neighboring SANA Apartments on Main Street, Rice Heights, the Sheldon
Oak II Cooperative, and more.
According to Merida's application, the
$5 million necessary to build retail will come in the form of private
equity from a retail developer the group has lined up. The $15 million
needed to build the housing will come almost entirely from state
and federal financing. There is no city subsidy proposed.
The second proposal was put forward
by Rony Shapiro, a Massachusetts-based developer who owns the site
of the former Firestone building and two other parcels in the neighborhood.
Shapiro wants to put 47,000 square feet of retail space at the site,
with a supermarket as its anchor.
"Our hope is to redevelop the North
End gateway to a retail hub," Shapiro said. "It certainly
has the traffic, it's got the people, and it's a totally under-serviced
community."Shapiro's firm, NES Group Investments, would develop
the roughly $8.4 million project without governmental assistance,
he said. In its proposal, NES lists the Northland Investment Corp.
- the developer of the Hartford 21 high rise at the Civic Center
- as an associate.
Northland's role in this project, if
any, is unclear. Asked to describe the relationship, Shapiro said
that NES and Northland have "mutual dealings on various projects" with "common
investors" and a "working relationship."
Shapiro said that the development of
a new public safety complex just blocks from the 1450 Main St. site
is attracting retail tenants who have previously been skeptical.
In the final analysis, though, the parcel's
future use may not be as important to the city as the net effect
it has on Main Street, Perez said.
"The question is, `Is it viable
and does it fit in?'" he said. "That's more important than,
`Is it housing or is it retail?'"
And if neither of these projects fit
the bill, then he'll rewrite it, he said.
"The good thing is, over the next
three years, that parcel is going to become more and more valuable
and there's going to be more and more ideas for it," Perez said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at