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YMCA Site Drawing Nibbles

Developers Show Interest In Downtown Hartford Parcel

August 25, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

In a bid to better serve its customers, expand its role in the neighborhoods and change its downtown face, the YMCA of Greater Hartford announced a plan two years ago to redeploy its assets. The Y has since found a site in the North End, and is in the process of choosing a site in the South End.

But perhaps the most talked-about piece of the plan is what the Y plans to do with its prime downtown property on Bushnell Park, a two-building complex that includes an 11-story residential tower and a fitness center.

Officials at the organization say that they want to get out of the housing business, and that they have had conversations with developers about the property. But they will publicly say little else about who, or what, they have in mind.

"You don't want to talk about a deal, or deals, when you're halfway through," said Laura R. Estes, who heads the YMCA board. "That's not fair to the other parties."

In downtown circles, one name that keeps popping up as a potential suitor is Northland Investment Corp. The Massachusetts-based company owns several major downtown properties and is building Hartford 21 - a 36-story tower of 262 luxury apartments and retail space on the site of the old Civic Center mall.

Officials at Northland would not confirm or deny having had any talks with the YMCA. "Northland is continually looking for new business opportunities," the company said through a spokesman. "However, it is not our policy to comment on such opportunities before they materialize."

Officials at the YMCA emphasize that their long-term plan as an organization is driving the matter. "We feel that we need to be closer to where the families are," Estes said. "It's not about real estate, it's really about our mission."

But there is no overlooking the obvious: While the programs the YMCA offers are valuable, so is the land on which the YMCA sits. It is across the street from Bushnell Park, blocks from new condominium and apartment sites, with parking nearby.

According to city records, the building has an assessed value of $6.5 million, and the land has an assessed value of $1.6 million.

"There's no question that every owner of property in downtown Hartford knows that the values have climbed and that there are new opportunities to consider that would have been too speculative two years ago," said John F. Palmieri, the city's director of development services.

The YMCA first announced in April 2003 that it was planning to knock down its residential tower and eliminate 150 units of low-cost housing, while simultaneously focusing on its core mission programs and expanding them into the city.

But the Y decided to consider other options late last year, said Tom Reynolds, the Y's vice president for development services. "The world then and the world now are two different worlds in Hartford," he said.

"We had the plan [to knock down the tower and rebuild on that site], but then we started looking at it," Reynolds said. "We found that there were some opportunities we needed to explore."

Reynolds stressed that a deal that might turn a nice price for the Y but leave a blight on Bushnell Park and downtown is not something the Y will pursue.

"We don't want a vacant lot on our watch," he said. "It's important that, ethically, we do the right thing."

The Y issued a request for qualifications to numerous potential developers in December 2004, officials said. Then, the Y selected a group of developers to move forward with, and issued a request for proposals on the site.

"Those responses came back and they moved forward on a couple of different fronts in the early summer of this year, and now we're moving forward," Reynolds 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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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