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Rentschler Field Developer Seeking Wetlands Permit

KENNETH R. GOSSELIN and ALAINE GRIFFIN

July 07, 2009

Large commercial real estate developments are in the doldrums, victims of the recession and tight lending policies.But a little puff of wind has appeared at the 650-acre Rentschler Field development in East Hartford.

The Army Corps of Engineers will announce today that the developer of Rentschler Field is seeking a federal wetlands permit for the site a seemingly small step, but one that shows the proposed $2 billion development is not dead and is, in fact, moving forward.

"This is a vital moment for the project," said Dan Matos, who is developing the site for the landowner, Hartford-based United Technologies Corp. "It helps us get into place what's needed for the project."

It may not be as sexy as the opening of Cabela's two years ago, but a permit approval would clear the way for construction of a major road on the site that would link it to the south end of East Hartford and less-congested access to Route 2 and the interstates.

The permit is necessary to fill some wetlands and delineate where buildings can be erected. State and local wetlands permits would also be required.

The road, to be built with $7 million in state bond money, is key to attracting tenants to a development that envisions a mixture of technology companies, hotels, offices, homes and stores. A prime consideration for tenants is how easily a site could be reached by workers or shoppers.

The approval would also make it possible to make improvements to parking at the University of Connecticut football stadium at the Rentschler site.

Developers often use slow economic times to lay the groundwork for future development.

Matos said the economy will dictate when tenants begin showing interest in Rentschler Field.

Some economists see the negative effects of the recession slowing now and forecast a bottoming-out this year. Any recovery, however, is likely to be slow as companies limit hiring and expansion plans, they say.

When the Rentschler Field development plan was unveiled in 2005, an 18-year construction timetable was predicted. Developers now expect the full development to be completed 15 to 20 years from now.

Mark Pilotte, Matos' director of development, said the Rentschler project could add between 8,000 and 10,000 jobs in the region when fully developed.

The development could have 7.8 million square feet of space among several buildings a total six times the size of Westfarms mall and could become larger than that if UTC's Pratt & Whitney downsizes its space needs in its nearby headquarters facility and plant, which are part of the master plan, Pilotte said.

Pratt referred questions on the project to UTC's corporate headquarters, which referred them to Matos.

Timothy Dugan, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England District, said a decision on whether to grant the permit could come in about four months. Construction on the road could begin this winter, Matos said.

The decision comes after a comment period for the public and state agencies. That comment period ends Aug. 7.

East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey said approval by the Army Corps would give the green light to a project that she said will have a significant impact on the Greater Hartford economy.

"When the economy is ready, they are ready to build," Currey said. "I think the economy is turning around so that's possibly just around the corner."

Courant staff writer Eric Gershon contributed to this story

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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