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Two Buildings Could Become Apartments

$43 Million Proposal Would Transform Unsightly Pearl Street Properties

Gosselin, Kenneth R.

August 13, 2013

The two office buildings on Pearl Street in downtown Hartford couldn't look more different, right down to the color of their brick.

But a partnership, led by Pennrose Properties of Philadelphia, has a vision for joining the two structures -- one 12 stories, the other seven -- with a common lobby that would lead to 200 market-rate apartments, plus retail space on the ground floor.

The $43 million proposal joins a growing list of housing projects in and around the city's central business district being boosted by funding from the Capital Region Development Authority, part of a strategy to encourage more people to live downtown.

The partners are seeking about $14 million from CRDA for the conversion, at the corner of Pearl and Trumbull streets. The balance would come from $22 million in bank financing, a $500,000 brownfields remediation grant and $5.2 million in developer equity. The partnership must still secure bank financing, but it says at least three lenders -- Bank of America, PNC and TD Bank -- have shown interest.

Pennrose Properties of Philadelphia, which has converted office buildings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey into apartments, has joined with these local partners: Martin J. Kenny, who built the neighboring Trumbull on the Park apartments; Alan Lazowski, the chief executive of Hartford-based LAZ Parking; and Sanford Cloud, who redeveloped the old University Club on Lewis Street.

There have been calls to demolish the two 1960s-era structures. The buildings -- largely vacant for at least two decades and now deteriorating -- have little to see architecturally, officials say.

"People have asked, 'Why aren't we knocking down the two butt-ugly buildings and starting new?' " Kenny said at a meeting late last week with the CRDA's housing committee.

Kenny said demolition and reconstruction could push the cost to $65 million.

As now proposed, all the apartments would be market rate. All but about 10 percent would be studios and one-bedrooms. There is demonstrated demand for smaller-sized apartments in the downtown area, officials say, though the depth of demand has yet to be tested. None of the housing projects backed with CRDA financing has yet to break ground, though city officials said at least two could get underway this fall.

Among the largest of those projects is the conversion of the former Bank of America tower at 777 Main and the old Sonesta Hotel at Constitution Plaza.

The rents for the Pearl Street project would range, on average, from $900 to $1,040 for the studios and from $1,100 to $1,400 for the one-bedroom units. Parking would be provided in the neighboring Trumbull on the Park garage and be connected by a new pedestrian bridge. Parking fees are not included in the rents but would come at a discount, Kenny said.

Some of the units on lower floors in the taller, 12-story building at 95-101 Pearl, which once housed a police substation, would rent for less because the views of Bushnell Park and the rest of downtown would be limited, Kenny said.

The partners propose a main entrance through the seven-story building at 111 Pearl, closest to the corner. A penthouse level also would be added to 111 Pearl with a decorative tower serving as a focal point.

A sky deck with clubroom is planned for the top of 95-101 to capitalize on views of the park.

Kenny said the "struggle is to connect the two buildings" visually. The partners hope to accomplish that by replacing deteriorating windows with similarly styled windows for both buildings. They also are considering staining the brick to better blend the exteriors.

"Eventually, this will come down to the math, but the developer successfully showed the committee how the two buildings could work architecturally and practically, no small feat," Michael W. Freimuth, the CRDA's chief executive, said Monday.

The CRDA's housing committee also appears satisfied that redevelopment and not demolition is the best option, Freimuth said.

"Having crossed the design threshold, we can aggressively explore the financial underwriting and how we might be able to leverage CRDA funds to end the very long vacancy period for these buildings," Freimuth 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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