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Hartford 21 Complex Gets St. Joseph College Pharmacy School

KENNETH R. GOSSELIN

December 04, 2009

After two years without a single retail or office lease, Hartford 21 in downtown Hartford has signed on a major new tenant the St. Joseph College pharmacy school.

Northland Investment Corp., owner of the Hartford 21 complex, and St. Joseph will announce today that the college in West Hartford has leased the floor of office space above the YMCA in the luxury apartment building.

The college will invest $5 million to outfit the space in time for its first class of students next fall, with a separate entrance on Trumbull Street. The pharmacy school initially is expected to bring 65 students into the city's central business district but that could swell to 300 in five years, according to the college.

And it could lead to other leases for Northland, the region's largest commercial landlord.

The announcement comes as Northland faces foreclosure on Metro Center, the first office building it purchased in downtown Hartford.

"In a time when most business news is bleak, this is really exciting," Northland Chairman Larry Gottesdiener said. "We couldn't be more happy with the partnership."

St. Joseph had said in February that it would locate the new pharmacy school in downtown Hartford, not far from hospitals where pharmacy school students will train. The college also wanted to raise its profile in a city where it has long been active its students volunteering time, its nurses working in the city's hospitals, despite the college's campus being in West Hartford.

"We want to be seen as more of a contributor to the Hartford community," said Pamela Trotman Reid, the college's president. "We really saw an opportunity to build on what the city is trying to accomplish."

City officials said they were thrilled by the lease, ending a long drought of commercial leasing at Hartford 21, which has harbored much of the capital city's hopes for new vibrancy.

"I'm ecstatic," said David E. Panagore, the city's chief operating officer. "This is just the kind of activity you want to see downtown."

Filling Jobs

The school is pointedly aiming to boost downtown businesses, Reid said. It won't have a cafeteria, so St. Joseph plans to talk to downtown restaurants about possible meal arrangements for students. The college also will seek student rates at the YMCA because it won't have an exercise facility.

Reid said students enrolling in the pharmacy school the first doctoral program for St. Joseph could live in student housing in the Temple Street Townhouses and other downtown complexes.

St. Joseph looked at seven sites in and around the downtown area, but was attracted to Hartford 21 because of its central location, parking and easy access to highways.

"And it's a brand new building," Reid said. "It will be easy to put in the labs that we need."

The pharmacy school would become the second in the state; the other is at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The program was a logical next step for St. Joseph, a predominantly women's college with a heavy concentration in health care, including nursing and nutrition, Reid said.

The three-year program will be co-educational and will be open to candidates with a bachelor's degree backed by the right mix of courses.

Health and education are among the only sectors adding jobs in 2009, so it's not surprising that the 12-year lease for 35,000 square feet of office space is for a college health program.

The school would address a growing need for pharmacists in Connecticut, which has an aging population. Health care reform also is expected to expand insurance coverage to more people.

According to the state Department of Labor, pharmacy jobs are expected to grow by 18.8 percent by 2016, more than twice the overall growth rate for all occupations.

Gottesdiener said the lease could eventually spark a new use for the now-vacant Goodwin Hotel as student housing. But, he said, enrollment at the school would have to grow first.

A Food Market?

St. Joseph's lease soon could be followed by a lease for 4,000 square feet of retail space facing Trumbull Street. Northland has a letter of intent to lease the step before a lease is signed but Gottesdiener declined to identify the tenant.

Long-stalled efforts to open a grocery market in Hartford 21, including a soured lease with Bliss Market, also could get a boost. Gottesdiener said he has an operator, whom he characterized as an "entrepreneur with food and beverage experience," who wants to run the market. He declined to identify the operator.

But to make the market work, another $1 million investment is needed for start-up. Gottesdiener said he is willing to put in another $500,000 and would seek the rest from the city or the MetroHartford Alliance.

Panagore said the city hasn't seen "the numbers" on the market, but the city does have $150,000 in economic development money earmarked for the property owner that can bring a market downtown first.

The market is seen as a key amenity for helping to attract more people to live downtown.

Taken together, the St. Joseph lease, the retail lease and the potential opening of the market could serve to jump-start other leasing downtown, Gottesdiener said.

Gottesdiener said Northland remains financially strong even through Metro Center has sunk into foreclosure a function of Northland's not being able to secure refinancing in a tough market for commercial real estate lending.

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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