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Developer Wants Building Returned

By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

January 09, 2008

When developer Jose Reategui bought a city-owned building on Wethersfield Avenue two years ago, he said he was going to knock down the existing structure and put in elderly housing.

But financial pressures and opposition from historic preservationists seeking to save the building stalled those plans, Reategui says, and, in November, he defaulted on his contract and the city took the property back.

Now Reategui says he has revised his plans. He will retain the building, gut it, and build two-dozen market rate apartments inside. First, though, he'll have to negotiate a way to re-acquire the property.

"He was going to demolish the building," said Mark McGovern, the city's acting director of development services. "We are now evaluating his proposals for a renovated building and far fewer units of housing."

The city bought the two-story, 27,000-square-foot brick building at 990 Wethersfield Ave. in 1999 for $350,000. Reategui, a supporter of and donor to Mayor Eddie A. Perez, bought it from the city in 2004 for $150,000. Reategui also owned the adjacent 1000 Wethersfield Ave. the former Marc Anthony's restaurant.

Reategui's latest plans call for 24 market-rate apartments inside 10 of which would be reserved for senior citizens. The studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments would be roughly 500, 640, and 940 square feet, respectively. The building's exterior would remain as it is, and Reategui says that construction could take 14 to 16 months. The project will cost $1.9 million.

The problem he faces is that he defaulted on his 2005 contract with the city because the project was taking so long to materialize. In November, the city took the property back, and kept Reategui's $150,000.

Reategui and his attorney, former city corporation counsel Alexander Aponte, are working to negotiate a new deal.

At one point, Aponte made a claim that the city was responsible for mortgage payments related to the property and for reimbursing Reategui for the cost of remediation and planning work at the site. City attorney Ben Bare flatly rejected those claims in a November letter.

Now the two sides are negotiating the property's future.

"It's almost as if we were starting from scratch," McGovern said.

That's a good thing, if you ask the folks at the Hartford Preservation Alliance. They never did like the idea of knocking the building down, and Tomas Nenortas, the alliance's historic resources adviser, said it's a good example of colonial revival architecture.

"Our whole effort from a few years back was to preserve that building and have it as a sort of entranceway to the city of Hartford coming from the south," Nenortas said.

The plan also has the support of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, which, in a letter to the city, said its only hope "was that this new project move along quickly."

Calls to Reategui and to Aponte were not returned.

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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