A local development team will try to revive two derelict towers
Hartford Courant Editorial
November 05, 2012
For years, two vacant, adjacent, sad-looking 1960s-era office buildings on Pearl Street have been a drag on downtown Hartford, deadening a street that ought to be a vital part of the city's center.
There have been several efforts to revive the buildings in recent years, and now there's another. Here's hoping.
The two former office buildings are the 12-story structure at 95-101 Pearl St. and the seven-story building at 111 Pearl. The city owns the former and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority the latter. After failing for years to redevelop the buildings on their own, the city and CHFA wisely decided to market them together, along with an almost-new, fully occupied 100-unit residential building, Trumbull On The Park, which is just down Lewis Street from the two empty buildings and also is owned by CHFA.
Last week CHFA announced it has chosen Lewis and Pearl Street Ventures, a Hartford-based team, as the buyer of the buildings (price and other details are still being negotiated). The group says it will produce a $40 million development that will include new apartments and retail space in the buildings.
The team includes Sanford Cloud Jr., CEO of The Cloud Co.; Alan Lazowski, chairman and chief executive of LAZ Parking; Martin J. Kenny, the developer of Trumbull on the Park; and Timothy Henkel Sr., a Philadelphia-based developer.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said the announcement represents "a terrific step forward for downtown Hartford." We hope he's right, but there are serious questions about the project, issues that have scared off developers in the past. Mr. Cloud told the Hartford Business Journal that the buildings will require a face lift and significant remediation because they contain asbestos, an expensive obstacle. That's not all.
Developers who've looked at the buildings tell us the mechanical systems are shot, the floor plates do not match up with those in the adjacent parking garage and that views are blocked to varying degrees. Other projects are competing for subsidies.
Almost any building can be restored — and it's usually better to reuse than to demolish — but the question is cost. Financing for this project has not been lined up; Mr. Cloud said the plan is to pursue "all the available resources at the city, regional, state and federal level to make this project economically viable."
Everyone wants this to work. Something must be done with the buildings lest they deteriorate beyond redemption (if they haven't already). They are in a key location just a block from Bushnell Park. It's in the region's best interest to revitalize its downtown core, for social, economic and environmental reasons. If we want to stop burning climate-changing fossil fuels, we need more people living in walkable downtowns.
The newly formed Capital Region Development Authority is scheduled to review the Pearl Street project at its meeting tonight. Perhaps it can find a way to meld it into a broader development funding plan for downtown, or find another idea to make this happen. It would be worth the effort.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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