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Perez Begins Action On Blight

'Butt Ugly Building' Among City Targets

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

October 12, 2007

Mayor Eddie A. Perez began a process Thursday that eventually could give the city the power of eminent domain over several of Hartford's most visible and least-loved blighted buildings.

The properties are familiar to those who live in Hartford and those who drive through it - an empty hotel on Constitution Plaza, an old office building off I-84, and a brick box unaffectionately known as the "Butt Ugly Building."

"Those are the hallmark blights," said John F. Palmieri, the city's outgoing director of development services. Perez wants a plan before the city council by June 2008.

The goal is "ridding the district of these deplorable properties," Palmieri said.

Perez has telegraphed his interest in solving the problems of the buildings for some time. Earlier this summer, his staff discussed putting together a proposal to include the buildings. On Thursday, Perez's staff delivered a letter to the Hartford Redevelopment Agency to start the process.

In that letter, Perez told the commissioners that now that the city's various planning studies are complete - one called Hartford 2010, another headed by the Urban Land Institute, and a city study of a neighborhood Perez calls Downtown West - it's a good time to act.

"I want to move in a deliberate and thoughtful way to address conditions that represent blight and deterioration in our downtown core," Perez wrote.

The redevelopment plan he proposed would allow the city to assemble key parcels and acquire blighted properties where necessary through eminent domain.

One property of interest is the old Sonesta Hotel at Constitution Plaza, but its owner, the Maharishi School of Vedic Sciences, has been difficult to negotiate with. The property is adjacent to the former home of television station WFSB, which is now unused. Together, they represent an opportunity, Perez says.

"The city has been more than patient with the owners of the Sonesta and must now take action to eliminate this blighting presence in the central business district," Perez wrote.

Another is the Capitol West building just off I-84 in Asylum Hill. The last plan by the building's owner, Joshua Guttman of Brooklyn, N.Y., was to create housing. That plan has been shelved.

Perez said the building's visibility, negative impact on Asylum Hill, and proximity to downtown make it a priority.

Then there is the building at 1161 Main St., the "Butt Ugly Building." Plans to raze it and build condos on the site and an adjacent city-owned parking lot collapsed earlier this year. That collapse turned controversial for Perez, as the dead deal included a $100,000 "lease termination fee" to the parking lot's operator, Perez political supporter Abraham L. Giles.

R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the region's MetroHartford Alliance, said that these properties have long been part of a discussion about the city's development future. He welcomed news that Perez had started the process that could result in their demolition.

"Those are all prime parcels, all offering different opportunities for building off what's gone on for the last six or seven years," Griebel 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.
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