A towering, mechanized claw reached up Wednesday and took its first bite out of the "Butt Ugly Building," a once-flourishing department store that became a symbol of the city's decline.
Demolition of the dilapidated former H.B. Davis Building at 1161 Main St., close to I-84, is expected to be completed by mid-November.
"The building did serve its purpose, but I think we're willing to part with it," Mayor Pedro Segarra said just before the claw hit the building.
"Just picture yourself driving by," he said. "I think it's going to have a big impact."
Segarra said in July that the city would move to acquire the five-story building and knock it down. The Hartford Redevelopment Agency later purchased the property for $625,000. Demolition will cost an additional $312,000. The entire project was paid for with city bond money.
City council members said it would have cost more to acquire the property through eminent domain.
"It's a total facelift," said Sean Arena, chairman of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency. "This will be a major catalyst for future redevelopment."
The city is looking at tearing down a second building, too. Officials are negotiating with the owners of the deteriorating Capitol West Building on Myrtle Street, near the Asylum Street exit of I-84 west, about purchasing the property, Segarra said. No deal has been reached.
The "Butt Ugly Building" is widely known for its role in the corruption case against former Mayor Eddie A. Perez. Prosecutors said Perez held up a city project involving the building to help former state Rep. Abraham Giles solicit a $100,000 payment from a developer, Joseph Citino, in return for Giles vacating a parking lot he was operating. The payment was never made and the development — which would have replaced the building with a commercial and residential project — was never completed.
Perez was convicted in June of five felony corruption charges and later sentenced to three years in prison. He resigned and was replaced by Segarra, the city council president.
Giles was charged with first-degree attempted larceny and first-degree conspiracy to commit larceny. His case is pending in Superior Court in Hartford.
Though regarded as an eyesore for years, the "Butt Ugly Building" has a long history with the city. Built in the 1920s, it was once home to a thriving department and catalog store and later turned into offices. It had adjoining buildings, a row of them on the west side of Main Street that stretched north to the intersection with Albany Avenue — an area known as "the tunnel."
While there are no specific plans yet for the Main Street property, Segarra said he hopes a mixed-use development eventually will be built there.
The city's redevelopment agency has reached out to developers as far away as Atlanta and Los Angeles to let them know about the property. Arena said he has received some phone calls from interested developers.
A portion of a $4.2 million federal planning grant will be used to research how the site can best be used, Segarra said. Demolition of the former H.B. Davis Building is part of a larger redevelopment plan for the city's downtown.
"The economy limits us, but that doesn't mean we can't move forward and do the things that are preparatory for the better days to come," Segarra said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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