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Group Picked For City Gateway Project

$64 Million Proposal Receives Tentative Nod

October 14, 2005
By STEPHANIE REITZ, Courant Staff Writer

The challenge of creating an attractive gateway to Hartford's Hispanic commercial center was awarded Thursday to a partnership of local merchants and a seasoned downtown developer.

The Hartford Redevelopment Agency selected Plaza Mayor LLC, consisting of developer Theodore M. Amenta and a coalition of Hispanic business owners, as the tentative developer to revive the barren city-owned property at Park and Main streets.

Their proposal, which redevelopment officials praised as bold and ambitious, envisions a $64 million complex with two towers of roughly 20 stories each, a 40,000-square-foot public plaza, parking, a banquet hall, a boutique hotel and a chapel.

They say the plan could result in 40 to 80 new residential units, which would sell for about $380,000 to $400,000 each.

City officials estimate the project could generate about $958,000 in new taxes each year. Plaza Mayor must now meet several conditions set by the agency to secure the project.

The commissioners selected Plaza Mayor over a more modest proposal by Providian Builders of Hartford for a $26 million, five-story, antique-looking complex with apartments, retail and office space and parking.

Although they praised the Providian project for its offerings and the way it would blend easily with the neighborhood's architectural character, redevelopment officials said Thursday they had not received enough financial data to judge whether Providian could deliver.

Those officials also preferred Plaza Mayor's more ambitious scope, although they cautioned that Amenta and his partners would have to undertake "considerable effort" to make its size and complexity fit with the rest of the neighborhood.

The Plaza Mayor proposal would use $24 million in private equity, plus more than $17 million in government assistance and private borrowing.

Carlos M. Lopez, the group's managing member, who is owner of the Park Street furniture store Luis of Hartford, cited the partners' local roots and emotional commitment to the project among the reasons they want to redevelop the corner.

"We have all of our hearts in this project. It is not all about our money," Lopez said. "The commitment is there, and not only financially."

About half the site at Park and Main - the land at the southwest corner of the intersection - is in the South Green Historic District, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

For a decade, four buildings on the site had been targeted for demolition, which had been blocked by a court order obtained by the Connecticut Historical Commission. The city was forced to demolish the buildings after a fire in 2002, however.

The Hartford Redevelopment Agency commissioners took their vote Thursday night to select the tentative developer despite objections from several neighborhood groups, whose leaders said they had not learned of the proposals early enough to adequately inform local residents and gather feedback. The approval carried by a vote of 5-0 with one abstention

"We want to make sure that whatever is built in the city of Hartford lives, and continues to live and be used, and not become a glass mausoleum like some of the projects in Hartford from the 1970s," said Bernadine Silvers, president of the Coalition to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood.

Their request for a delay in the decision was rejected.

However, John F. Palmieri, the redevelopment agency's executive director, said that under terms of being selected as the tentative developer, Plaza Mayor is required to meet with those local groups for their feedback over the next 120 days.

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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