October 19, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Even with hundreds of luxury apartments under construction in Hartford, a Massachusetts
developer is planning an 18-story tower overlooking Bushnell Park that would
be the largest downtown residential development in years.
The skyline-altering project by
Northland Investment Corp. would cost an estimated $117 million
and calls for 200 upscale condominiums and 100 apartments. It
would be built at the corner of Jewell and Pearl streets, where
the Hartford YMCA now sits.
YMCA officials, who decided more
than two years ago that the agency's central mission could be
better realized if its prime downtown real estate were sold,
voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a plan to sell the 1.3 acre
parcel to Northland.
Northland, the Newton, Mass. firm
behind the luxury Hartford 21 project already underway downtown,
plans to raze the YMCA headquarters to make way for the new building.
"There is really a demand downtown
for luxury living," said Chuck Coursey, spokesman for Northland. "We've
done extensive market research."
The YMCA plans to move its health
facilities and headquarters to the Hartford 21 building at the
Civic Center, while many of its programs and services will move
to new facilities in the city's North and South ends. The Y's
145-room residential tower will close permanently.
"This deal was about mission,
never real estate," said Kevin Washington, chief executive
of the Greater Hartford YMCA.
Coursey, who declined to say how
much Northland agreed to pay for the site, said the company still
has not determined how much the apartments and condominiums will
cost. According to city records, the building has an assessed
value of $6.5 million, and the land has an assessed value of
Coursey also declined to say how
the project will be financed, or whether Northland will be asking
for assistance from the city or the state.
Groundbreaking would not begin until
after Hartford 21 is complete in 2006. The new project is slated
for completion in 2009, Coursey said.
The new tower, which would require
the approval of city officials, would join several other residential
projects already built or near completion in the immediate vicinity.
They include "Hartford 21," Northland's 262-unit apartment
tower; the 100-unit Trumbull on the Park; 55 on the Park, with
132 units; and The Metropolitan, a development of 50 condominiums
on Pearl Street.
Despite this explosion, real estate
analysts say they are optimistic about the sudden spate of high-end
development in the city. Even though the Greater Hartford region
does not have the growing job or population base typically needed
to support such projects, they say the region does have an unfulfilled
demand for upscale urban living.
"People have wanted to be downtown,
but have had no options," said Michael Stone, a vice president
at CB Richard Ellis in Hartford. "The existing inventory
of multi-housing units downtown is old, and there hasn't been
any new downtown housing in two decades."
The housing that is available, experts
say, lacks the amenities that would entice those with means to
pull up stakes in the suburbs and relocate downtown.
Northland's plan for the YMCA site
includes parking , an exercise facility, guest suites, a library,
a recreation room and a doorman. The plan also calls for 20,000
square feet of street-level retail, including a "white tablecloth" restaurant,
The market for all this new housing
will come less from those new to Hartford than from suburban
transplants, said Steve Witten, senior director at Marcus & Millichap
Investment Real Estate Services in New Haven.
"Hartford downtown housing
is just being born right now, it's a baby, just coming out of
the womb," Stone said. "It's taken its first baby steps
successfully. Now let's see if, soon enough, it will start speaking."
While it is leaving its longtime
downtown perch along Bushnell Park, the YMCA of Greater Hartford
will retain a downtown presence by leasing about 40,000 square
feet on the second floor of Northland's Hartford 21 tower. As
early as mid-2006, the YMCA will relocate its fitness club there,
as well as its executive offices and its adult literacy program,
said Tom Reynolds, the Y's vice president for development services.
The new location downtown will not
have a swimming pool or basketball court.
The rest of the programs currently
run from the YMCA's downtown location - including a shelter for
teenage girls and a day-care program - will move to temporary
locations. They will eventually find a permanent home in a new
YMCA facility to be built on an old supermarket lot near Albany
Avenue in the North End. The agency is looking to build a new
location in the South End as well.
With its departure from Jewell Street,
the YMCA will discontinue what it calls its hotel business: 145
units of low-cost temporary housing. YMCA officials will meet
tonight with 14 of the hotel's longest-staying guests - some
of whom have lived there for years - to discuss relocation and
assistance, Reynolds said. The residents will have at least six
months to find new locations.
The YMCA had plans to do away with
its residential tower well before officials decided to sell the
spot to Northland. In 2003, officials announced that temporary
housing - once key to assisting young men coming to town in search
of manufacturing jobs - is no longer part of the agency's core
"We now work primarily with
children and families," Reynolds said.
"Most of the people in this
neighborhood," he said referring to downtown, "are
people who do not have children. They're either empty nesters
or single adults."
Initially, when the YMCA decided
to spread into the neighborhoods, it planned to simply renovate
its Jewell Street location into a more compact site.
"But new opportunities came
around," Reynolds said, referring to the spate of residential
development downtown in the last two years.
An adviser told YMCA officials that "with
everything that's happening in Hartford, you'd be wiser to look
at developing the property with someone else."
In other words: sell.
The YMCA sought proposals for the
site and eventually selected Northland as its preferred buyer,
because officials were impressed by the developer's history in
the city and its work on the Hartford 21 project, Reynolds said.
"We wanted this prime piece
of property, if we were going to leave, to be developed properly," Reynolds
said. "One of the things we didn't want was a vacant lot
on our watch."
The money generated from the sale
of the YMCA to Northland will cover the cost of moving the downtown
branch of the greater Hartford YMCA into the Hartford 21 building,
and get a start on fundraising for its new neighborhood sites.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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