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Partnership Chosen For Project

Parcel Seen As Key Piece In City's Planned `Gateway' To North End

November 1, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The city has chosen a developer to turn a 4-acre lot on Hartford's Main Street into another piece of the "gateway" to the city's North End, but it is pushing the developer to increase the retail and decrease the residential portions of its plan, officials said.

The city chose a partnership between nonprofit Sheldon Oak Central Inc. and CEI Investment Corp., part of the Meriden-based Carabetta Organization. Sheldon Oak had previously proposed building owner-occupied housing on the site, but that proposal died because it needed too much public assistance, officials said.

This time around, the city hopes the developer can get the numbers right.

"I am comfortable that Danny is able to put deals together because he's done that in the past and has a track record for doing that," said Mayor Eddie A. Perez of Daniel O. Merida, Sheldon Oak's executive director. "But we will re-bid this if it's not the right deal at the right time. This is a critical parcel, and we'll get it right."

The city-owned parcel's future is part of the effort to revitalize this potential gateway, linking downtown to the North End with such projects as the new shopping center at Main and Pavilion streets, the proposed public safety complex and the renovation of housing on Belden Street.

In his proposal, Merida proposed 64 affordable rental units and 11,000 square feet of retail. Now, after talks with the city, he plans to propose roughly 50 rental units and 20,000 square feet of retail, he said. The tenants will likely include a Dunkin' Donuts, a Subway sandwich shop, a bank and maybe one other retail establishment, Merida said. The original cost estimates were $5 million in private equity needed to build retail and $15 million in state and federal financing.

"I'm very happy that we were selected," Merida said. Merida plans to start the retail construction in the next three or four months, he said. The housing will follow.

"Our preference has always been to do more retail on this site than not," Perez said. "But the staff was more comfortable about the feasibility of the SOC proposal than the [other] proposal in terms of, can it go to the next stage?"

The second proposal was put forward by Rony Shapiro, a Massachusetts-based developer who owns the site of the former Firestone building and two other parcels in the neighborhood. Shapiro wanted to put 47,000 square feet of retail space at the site, with a supermarket as its anchor. He would have needed no public financing, he said.

"This has to be one of the biggest surprises of my life," Shapiro said. "If they wanted more detail, I would have been happy to give it to them."

Shapiro insisted that a "major supermarket chain" was interested in the site, but he had not revealed the name of the tenant to the city.

"I didn't feel comfortable enough that I could go out and tell them everything because I didn't know what was confidential and what wasn't," Shapiro said.

But John F. Palmieri, the city's director of development services, said that specificity was key in his department's deliberations.

"The other team was more specific and Rony was less specific when it came to identifying the tenants that were going to occupy the premises," he said.

Shapiro's company is obligated, by contract with the city, to turn a property he owns nearby on Albany Avenue into retail. But he said he's soured on Hartford after losing the Main Street lot to a developer who had already tried and failed to come up with a plan for the parcel.

"My colleagues look at me like I lost to a lame duck," Shapiro said.

"It would be very difficult for me to think about investing anymore in the city, personally," he said. "I don't know how involved I want to get with Hartford."

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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