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Nonprofit Group To Renovate Former Factory In Hartford

Kenneth R. Gosselin

October 07, 2010

The abandoned Hartford factory where a once-renowned gold-leafing company operated for more than a century could once again become a workspace for artisans.

The M. Swift & Sons factory, closed since 2004, has been donated by the Swift family to Common Ground, which successfully renovated 410 Asylum St. in downtown Hartford for a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments.

Common Ground, a nonprofit group, plans to renovate the 61,000-square-foot, brick factory in the North End its earliest sections dating to 1868 for workspace for artists, craftspeople and other creative businesses. Some of the space could be used for job training and classroom space.

"Everything's still in pencil," said Sharon M. Gowen, director of Connecticut Community Partnerships for Common Ground.

Common Ground's mission is to create supportive housing and end homelessness, but Gowan said that the plan for creating workspace is a good fit. It represents an investment in a neighborhood that will hopefully foster job growth and become a catalyst for revitalizing the neighborhood, she said.

Adding more housing to the neighborhood also would not have been desirable because the vacancy rate for apartments and houses is high, Gowen said.

There is no timetable for construction or an estimate of costs, although it could easily run well into the millions of dollars.

Once the factory closed, the Swift family looked for a buyer for the property, which also includes a farmhouse and the original Swift homestead. Unable to find a buyer, the family considered demolition, but historic preservationists and neighborhood leaders sought the help of Common Ground to take on the project.

Tomas Nenortas, program director at the Hartford Preservation Alliance, said that the factory is typical of 19th-century industrial structures. More important is the gold-leafing business that once operated there and its prominence throughout the country. Gold leaf manufactured there still graces the state Capitol dome in Hartford.

The factory already is listed on the state's register of historic places. It is likely that federal recognition will be sought so that Common Ground may obtain tax credits to help finance the redevelopment work.

The alliance worked with Common Ground on the 410 Asylum project, known as The Hollander. Nenortas sees a similar collaboration for the Swift property that "will transform a derelict site, ripe for economic development, into a quality asset for the Northeast neighborhood."

Critical to the project is a $600,000 grant from the state's Brownfields Pilots program, which will pay for cleaning up contaminated soil on the industrial site.

Neighborhood leaders and city officials hailed what could result from the project.

"This investment is a down payment on Hartford's future and is a home run for our residents right now," Mayor Pedro E. Segarra 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.
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