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Coltsville So Close To Becoming National Historic Park

Sam Colt's historic factory a hair away

Hartford Courant Editorial

September 29, 2011

One thing to remember about the revival of Coltsville, said developer Larry Dooley, is that it is already a success. At present, 420 people work in the brick buildings that made up the renowned 19th-century factory village in South Hartford, 80 children go to school there and 44 apartments are occupied, with six more coming on line this month.

The trick is to get it the rest of the way, to the stage where 262 apartments are built and occupied, more businesses and a restaurant are there, and tourists are visiting the National Historical Park's Colt museum. Then the site that brought prosperity to Hartford in the 19th century will repeat the performance in the 21st.

This long-sought goal got one step closer last weekend when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the site and gave his support to its redevelopment as a national park. As U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said, "It's so close we can taste it." He's right, as long as city and state officials and members of the congressional delegation keep the pressure on.

The Gun That Won The West

Samuel Colt's mid-19th-century industrial village, once the world's largest private armory, is a landmark. It made Hartford the capital of precision metalworking and manufacturing.

As gunmaking operations were shifted elsewhere in the late-20th century, the armory became a kind of one-building SoHo District, where artists, artisans and others moved into cheap loft space. Many felt the complex, with its history and visibility, had vastly more potential.

Efforts toward a major reuse began in the mid-1990s, but complex issues involving ownership, financing, environmental cleanup and politics combined to make it dauntingly difficult and time-consuming.

Yet it has moved ahead, haltingly and incrementally. It's now a going concern, with scores of residents, two Capitol Region Education Council schools and a major private employer, LexisNexis.

Could This Be The Year?

There are still other issues to iron out, but two major steps, both related, will get the remainder of the project over the hump.

The first will be passage of the bill in Congress that would designate Coltsville as a National Historic Park. Congressman John Larson and the state's two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that is part of the public lands bill that usually is passed every two years, and has not passed since 2009. Supporters are hopeful that it will pass this year or early next.

The National Park Service will need space on the site for a museum and visitors center, tentatively planned for the East Armory the building under the signature blue onion dome. For this to happen, the building needs to be renovated. Efforts thus far have focused on the Sawtooth building, the South Armory and a couple of others. The East Armory will be the key that unlocks the rest of the project.

The restoration, which will include apartments, offices and a restaurant as well as a museum in the four-story building, is expected to cost about $24 million. Mr. Dooley said it will have to be borne by a public-private partnership. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a supporter of the project, said he believes strongly "that the state will benefit from a continued, significant investment in the Colt project."

We agree. The Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts, built in some of the city's old textile mills, drew 565,000 visitors in 2009 and supports 432 jobs in the community. Coltsville has nearly that many jobs on campus now.

The project would be a godsend for Hartford. It would bring jobs and tourists, preserve a unique and priceless historic legacy, spur development south of downtown, enhance the riverfront and create one of the coolest places to live in New England.

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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