Hartford Taking Over Care Of Pratt Street From Aetna
Connecticut Property Line
JEFFREY B. COHEN
October 21, 2008
Nearly 20 years ago, when Aetna had employees at two downtown Hartford buildings and owned the Civic Center mall, it agreed to take care of Pratt Street — the narrow brick passage between Main and Trumbull streets — and it agreed to do so for 50 years, part of being a good corporate citizen.
But times changed. Aetna has consolidated its presence in the city at its Asylum Hill campus and out of downtown. As it invests more than $200 million to improve that campus, the idea of spending $20,000 a year to plow, repair and otherwise maintain the street of small retail stores and restaurants stopped making sense.
So, with 30 years left in the agreement, the city and Aetna decided last week to end the relationship. For that, Aetna will pay the city $475,000.
"It came about at a very different time in the company's history," Aetna spokesman Fred Laberge said of the agreement. "There were plans in the works to try to improve the accessibility and get people downtown, and we were trying to be a good corporate citizen. And still are. It's just that our focus is in a different area right now."
Pratt Street is a small stretch between Main and Trumbull streets that is used by cars and pedestrians alike. Its restaurants and shops have met mixed fates, but with its proximity to the XL Center, the street has long had potential for growth. A good deal of it is owned by downtown's largest developer, Larry Gottesdiener, whose building at 242 Trumbull extends down much of Pratt Street.
Some of the street's businesses, such as Vaughan's Public House, do well. Others, like Joe Black's, which transformed the 1893 Society for Savings bank headquarters into a bar and restaurant in 2006, have not. Joe Black's closed earlier this year.
Meanwhile, flagging retail has left some storefronts vacant; for the retail that is there, business is OK, but not great, one merchant said.
What's on the table now, though, won't have much effect on Pratt Street visitors, officials say. As the city prepares to maintain the street, it plans no major changes. Someday it may replace the brick with something more durable, but not soon, officials say.
The plan to give responsibility for the street back to the city has the support of commercial property owners who contribute to the upkeep of downtown through taxes.
City Councilman Matt Ritter, chairman of the council's planning and economic development committee, said he was stunned to learn of the agreement. It spoke to another time, he said.
"It was fascinating to me that they ever agreed to that," Ritter said. "I think it shows they've always been really committed to the city of Hartford, and that was just another example of it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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