More inclusive, comprehensive agency will guide Hartford area's development
By Brad Kane and Greg Bordonaro
June 01, 2012
Hartford's push for more housing and state employees got a boost last week when lawmakers passed legislation creating a new regional authority to revitalize the Capital City.
In the waning days of the legislative session, the General Assembly created the Capital Region Development Authority, giving it broad power and state financial backing to plan and implement major regional development projects, including housing.
CRDA will replace the Capital City Economic Development Authority, expanding on its powers to make important decisions including determining the XL Center's future and helping oversee the purchase of Hartford office space to move state workers into downtown.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy backed the new authority's creation as his central tool for revitalizing Hartford, a major goal for his administration.
"A cohesive strategy that links state resources with our development goals is critical to maximizing the potential of our Capitol region," Malloy said. "CRDA will be the central authority in charge of overseeing a comprehensive strategy that will ensure our residents are getting the best possible return on their investment."
CRDA is a bigger and more powerful CCEDA, which was established in 1998 by Gov. John Rowland, a Republican, to make state investments to energize the Hartford economy.
CCEDA partnered with the Office of Policy and Management on major projects including Rentschler Field, Hartford 21, Trumbull on the Park and the Connecticut Convention Center. But many officials agreed that the quasi-public agency had run its course.
Malloy said CRDA's overall mission is establishing a more comprehensive economic development strategy for a larger Capital City region that will now include Bloomfield, East Hartford, Newington, South Windsor, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor. CRDA's authority to plan and implement development projects extends to all those towns.
"We have a governor who seems fully committed to using whatever resources he has available to him to help Hartford and its downtown, in particular," said State Sen. John Fonfara (D-Hartford).
CRDA will move the management of Rentschler Field, the Connecticut Convention Center and the XL Center under one umbrella to better coordinate marketing and venue development to attract new business.
"That will make for a more cohesive marketing effort in the entire region," said Michael Van Parys, president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitor Bureau.
By combining efforts, the venues will save money but have a larger marketing presence, attracting a larger and greater variety of visitors, Van Parys said.
CRDA is tasked with driving tourism to the region and with offering state funding to cultural and entertainment venues. The authority will collaborate with venues — like the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Bushnell and the iQuilt project — and engage in strategic planning with Hartford and surrounding communities.
The downtown focus has been expanded beyond CCEDA's geography to include more diverse Hartford neighborhoods, such as Park Street.
"That's the heart of the Latino community culturally and economically," Fonfara said. "We are a diverse city and our government structures will embrace that."
This geographic expansion will help bring more resident and visitor attention to all of Hartford, Fonfara said, using some of the city's non-traditional strengths.
"When people come to Hartford, I want them to visit downtown locations, but they should also go places that are off the beaten path," Fonfara said.
The legislation replaces CCEDA's seven-member board with a 13-member board including the Hartford and East Hartford mayors as well as commissioners from key state agencies such as transportation and economic development.
With this board, CRDA will be more inclusive than CCEDA, which will help the entire region reach economic development goals, Fonfara said. "The work will be done in a collaborative way," he added.
The legislation also shifts key administrative duties from OPM to the Department of Economic and Community Development, making DECD the lead overseer.
David Panagore, the chief operating officer for the city of Hartford, said DECD's role aligns with a main priority for Hartford: supporting housing projects.
Several residential projects are in the pipeline in or near downtown Hartford, many requiring government support to come to fruition. The new law allows CRDA to invest in 3,000 housing units — up from 1,000 under CCEDA — and authorizes the construction of new buildings and redevelopment of occupied ones anywhere in Hartford.
Just as important, CRDA has bonding and borrowing authority to help finance projects, although it's not yet clear how much. CCEDA had used almost all of its allocated $115 million. Besides housing, projects can include include XL Center reconstruction, riverfront infrastructure development, parking, demolition and redevelopment.
CRDA will also work with OPM to facilitate relocation of state workers into downtown. The state is considering purchasing one or more major downtown Hartford office towers, possibly including Connecticut River Plaza.
As important as its finance and development role, Panagore said, CRDA creates a meaningful platform for all the major principals involved in regional development.
"CRDA can become a catalyzing development agency," Panagore said. "From the city's point of view having active participation from the state is critical. This region is going to survive on collaboration."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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