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Developer Taking Coltsville Over Hurdles To National Park Designation

Josh Kovner

April 30, 2010

Lance Robbins, the developer working to get financial control of the Coltsville complex, wants to see the historic site become a national park.

But Robbins, the principal of Urban Smart Growth, said he has to take care of some fundamentals first.

"Providing space for a national park boils down to repairing a financially broken campus," Robbins said Thursday.

This morning, U.S. Rep. John Larson, whose office has been working with the developer, banks and an ad-hoc Coltsville committee, is set to announce legislation that would allow the former Colt factory complex to be named a national park if a series of local issues are addressed.

That includes nailing down how much space within the sprawling, 260-acre complex would be devoted to the public, and describing what the visitor experience would be.

"Now it's up to the developer, the city and the state to provide what the National Park Service needs to see happen at Coltsville," a Larson aide said Thursday.

Robbins said that turning Samuel Colt's once-thriving gun factory into a living, breathing exhibit "would be a major regional draw."

"It's a very high priority, but there's a business side," Robbins said. "All three of the lenders and the former developer basically went broke. That's been the difficulty getting all of those pieces put back together.

"The will is there," he said. "We need a business transaction that gives us the control to match the will."

A National Park Service study in November reaffirmed the historical significance of the Colt Fire Arms Co. factory and the surrounding industrial village developed by Colt, the 19th-century industrialist. Run for years after his death by Colt's widow, Elizabeth, the factory was one of the first to perfect the "American system of manufacture," in which machines produced standardized parts.

But the park-service study found that the complex wasn't ready to become a national park because the ownership issues weren't settled and it wasn't clear which areas would be devoted to the public.

Robbins said that Hartford city officials have been supportive and responsive and that there has been "unsolicited enthusiasm from people at street level" about the prospect of a national park.

He said Urban Smart Growth's historic projects in other states, including in Rhode Island, have been successful even in a down economy because people identify very strongly with history. He said he expects the same for Coltsville if he can get the 15 entities involved with the project, including city and state agencies and the bankers, all moving in the same direction.

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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