UConn Backs $1 Million For Campus At Times Building
By JON LENDER and KENNETH R. GOSSELIN
August 08, 2013
As UConn trustees Wednesday approved $1 million to further study the site it has selected for a downtown Hartford branch, President Susan Herbst said she is confident tensions with the city over its selection of the former Hartford Times building will be worked out.
"We so want to move into the city of Hartford." Herbst said after the trustees meeting. "We want to bring thousands of students there — and faculty and staff. We really want to enliven the city" and be a "big part of its future." She added: "I'm sure we'll work out any tensions that are there and we'll move forward over the next few years and just be part of the city's renaissance."
UConn had already planned to meet with Hartford city officials later this month on the matter. Wednesday, UConn Trustee Thomas Ritter asked the university to hold off signing any development agreements for the Times site until that meeting takes place.
The long-vacant Times building on Prospect Street is part of the Front Street entertainment district and had originally been targeted for housing. It was one of 13 proposed locations in the city that were whittled down to three finalists. The university chose the Times building as its "preferred site" for relocating its regional campus in West Hartford to the city.
Even with Wednesday's allocation of $1 million, a deal to move to the Times building will still require an additional trustee approval of a final agreement. The campus could open in 2016 or 2017.
Two weeks ago, Hartford city leaders urged Herbst to reconsider the selection of the Times building as the location for the campus. The city argued the site would break "the connection" between the Connecticut Convention Center and downtown museums and restaurants. It also would cause traffic congestion in the Front Street area, they said.
In response to the city's letter, Herbst said the university would continue to consider the city's needs and "incorporate them as best we can."
On Wednesday, Herbst said she regretted if there was any miscommunication with the city over the matter.
"But I think our process is pretty clear," Herbst said, "and we've had a lot of building projects in the past and used this process, which is the state procurement process. ... It's very open."
The city has made it clear that it preferred one of the other finalists — One Talcott Plaza, next to the former G. Fox & Co. building — on the corner of Main and Talcott streets. The G. Fox building is now primarily occupied by Capital Community College.
City officials have said locating the campus on Main Street could help "jump start" development on tracts of land just north of downtown.
The property, controlled by LAZ Parking's Alan Lazowski, includes 900 existing parking spaces and 103,000 square feet of existing office space that would be incorporated into a campus. The centerpiece would be a newly constructed building, a rendering of which was obtained by The Courant Wednesday.
The city could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Until Monday, the university had not identified any of the sites it was considering. In June, sources familiar with the university's thinking told The Courant that the Times building was the preferred site, with One Talcott Plaza and two acres on Allyn Street being the two other finalists.
It's unclear whether renderings of either the Times site or the Allyn Street property exist; but, so far, they have not become public.
Herbst said Wednesday that the 1920s-era Times building with its soaring columns was attractive because of its proximity to the Wadsworth Atheneum and the science center.
"For us as, an educational institution, to be near world-class museums like the Wadsworth is incredibly important," Herbst said. "That's a real cultural gem for the state, and we would love our students to be part of their traffic, and part of the success as well."
Asked if the university branch would fit in with an entertainment district, Herbst said: "Absolutely. And I think if you look at colleges in other urban areas big and small, they are very much proximate to entertainment, to restaurants, to taverns, to movie theaters — all the things that we've got in the site that we've chosen."
Now that the trustees have approved spending $1 million, the next step will be to conduct further due diligence and planning for the move, according to Richard D. Gray, UConn's executive vice president. The funds will be used primarily for legal, architectural and engineering teams, he said.
Depending on the outcome of further study, UConn could change its mind. The university has said it is keeping all of its options open related to the move.
Greenwich-based HB Nitkin Group, Front Street's developer, proposed using the Times building for the campus. The property is owned by the state, but Nitkin retains development rights. Negotiations with Nitkin have been continuing.
Courant Staff Writer Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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