July 18, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford's Colt factory complex is getting its first upscale apartment dwellers, the latest development in the city providing a way for people to live in and around downtown.
Fourteen tenants, many of them former residents of artists' housing at the old Colt, have signed leases and are now moving into the south armory, the first of three former factory buildings in the complex to be renovated for rental housing.
Although the new apartments mark a milestone for the $120 million Colt Gateway office, commercial and residential makeover, they are also coming on the market at a time when hundreds of new apartments are being offered for lease downtown.
But the Colt developers say they aren't worried about competition from the other new apartment complexes - Hartford 21, Trumbull on the Park or 55 on the Park - that are closer to the central business district.
"I don't look at it as that far away," said Rebekah A. MacFarlane, director of business development for Colt Gateway. "Once the Front Street area develops and the new science center, this is going to be a new stretch of downtown."
From the south armory, it is a 1-mile walk to the landmark Travelers Tower on Main Street between Central Row and Atheneum Square North.
Following a route along roads, the walk to the Travelers plaza took 23 minutes.
Although the apartments now available in the south armory boast new hardwood floors, state-of-the-art heating and air conditioning, and windows that mimic the ones on the original factory, you have to use your imagination outside.
The area where a reflecting pool and park are planned remain gravel parking lots for construction workers, surrounded by chain-link fences, some of it reinforced with barbed wire.
Doug Bennett, who is considering a move to the south armory with his wife, Sue, from their home in Glastonbury, said he is not bothered by the mile walk to downtown or that Colt is still in the midst of its transformation.
"Right now, we'd have to be a bit pioneer," Bennett, 53, said. "But that's fine with us."
Bennett said he and his wife, a teacher, are attracted by the historic nature of the Colt renovations. All exterior elements - facades, lighting, even street signs - will appear as they would have in 1905, a time of prosperity in Colt history. Sticking to that, Colt qualifies for historic-tax credits.
Most of the walking route downtown is well maintained and open. However, the corner of Huyshope and Charter Oak avenues is overgrown with weeds in spots, and littered with trash. On one side of Huyshope is a shelter for the homeless, and on the other is a distribution warehouse.
Bennett said that area is the only one that gives him pause.
"There's no question that early settlers are going to have to be more careful," said Bennett, an actuary.
But the Colt developer - Homes for America Holdings Inc. - hopes to acquire the warehouse, now for sale, and renovate it, MacFarlane said. The developer also is close to buying an old manufacturing plant nearby and demolishing it for parking, she said.
The rental prices at Colt, at least initially, will be lower than some of the apartments closer to the heart of downtown.
The Colt apartments average $1.77 a square foot, compared with an average of $2 a square foot for the competing apartments clustered near Bushnell Park.
The apartments in the south armory range from a 460-square-foot studio to 1,220-square-foot, two-bedroom units, with rents ranging from $769 to $2,050 a month, not including utilities. There is one 2,100-square-foot penthouse that goes for $3,439 a month, plus utilities.
There is no additional charge for parking, but the only option is an open lot.
MacFarlane, daughter of the president of the development company, said Colt has compiled a list of about 300 people who have made inquiries about the apartments since renovations began in 2004.
The south armory is the first of three major factory buildings in the Colt complex - all dating from the mid-19th century - that are slated for conversion into apartment, office and retail space. Construction will begin later this year on the north and east armories.
All told, there will eventually be 238 apartments, 129 of them in the south armory. The apartments in the south armory will be finished in groups of 30 or so, with the first block now ready.
MacFarlane said there has been considerable interest from employees of Insurity Inc., which has occupied the renovated Colt "sawtooth" building next to the south armory for nearly 18 months.
The south armory will have office and retail space on the first and second floors, hopefully with a coffee shop and cafe at street level, she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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