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Downtown Hartford Housing Projects Win State Funding

By Kenneth R. Gosselin

August 02, 2012

Plans to convert two major downtown Hartford buildings into apartments — the former Bank of America tower on Main Street and the old hotel on Constitution Plaza — got a big boost today, winning state approval for funding intended to promote affordable housing.

The redevelopments could add nearly 500 apartments — at least 80 with rents affordable to low- and moderate-income households — to the downtown area, many of them sorely-needed studio and one-bedroom apartments. The hope has long been that with more people living downtown, more shops and businesses would follow, leading to greater vibrancy in the evenings and on weekends.

“The city desperately needs this type of product,” Jeffrey D. Ravetz, president of New York-based Girona Ventures, a partner in the conversion of the former Sonesta hotel on Constitution Plaza, told me today. “More people don’t live downtown because there aren’t the options.”

The two, high-profile projects in downtown Hartford were among 10 announced today by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in one component of a sweeping, 10-year, $500 million commitment to create and renovate workforce, supportive and congregate housing statewide.

Both the redevelopment of the former bank tower at 777 Main St. and the hotel qualified for up to $4 million from the Competitive Housing Assistance for Multifamily Properties (CHAMP).

The state subsidy will make it possible, Ravetz said, to convert the old, 12-story hotel — a costly venture in itself — and still keep rents down.

The late 1990s saw a push for more downtown housing, with more than 1,000 apartments added over the next decade, most notably the soaring Hartford 21 tower.

City officials have said the downtown area could absorb as many as another 3,000 residential units in the coming years, including smaller, one-bedroom and studio apartments – for which there are now strong demand and waiting lists.

Thomas Deller, Hartford’s new development director, praised the funding today, telling me he himself was thwarted in his attempt to find an apartment downtown when he recently accepted the post with the city.

The $26 million hotel project calls for 199 units, at least 40 of them affordable, with construction beginning early in 2013 and lasting about a year.

The majority of the units will be studios and one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedrooms. Sizes will range from 450 square feet for studios to 1,050 square feet for one-bedrooms.

Rents are expected to begin at $700 a month for studios and $1,000 for one-bedroom units, Ravetz said.

The state funding is contingent on the projects putting together complex financing packages, with both expected to include historic tax credits, federal housing funds and support from the city, including property tax abatements.

The $80 million conversion of the 26-story, Main Street tower — vacant for more than a year — calls for 286 studio, one- and two-bedroom units with 35,000 square feet of retail space on street-level.

Fairfield developer Bruce Becker did not immediately return a call and an e-mail today seeking comment on a construction timetable. The former bank tower is owned by Michael Grunberg, who has been open to selling the building.

In addition to the downtown Hartford projects, state funds also were approved for the elderly housing at the M.D. Fox School in Hartford and seven other projects in Bridgeport, Norwalk, Norwich, Guilford and New Haven.

Nick Lundgren, director of housing and community development at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, told me the approvals are consistent with the governor’s vision for creating housing needed to support the state’s job growth.

“It is doing so in a way that catalyzes further development, and creates community in and around these developments,” Lundgren said.

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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