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IN PROGRESS: Front Street @ Adriaen's Landing

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State Seeks Fast Track For Front Street

By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer | August 19, 2004

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other state officials were upbeat Wednesday about Hartford's Front Street housing and entertainment district, saying that they plan to pick the finalists to replace ousted developer Richard Cohen by Nov. 2 and get the project on a fast track for completion.

"People are excited about this," said Rell, referring to the 20 or so inquiries that the state's downtown development authority has received already. "Hopefully, all those people who made the phone calls and expressed interest will be able to step up to the plate."

But real estate experts said this week that despite the extraordinary public commitment to the project - including more than $70 million in subsidies -Front Street remains a complicated and difficult project.

"Even in the best of circumstances, an urban project, particularly one that is a mixed or multi-use development, is very complex. It's very difficult to wrap up the financing on this kind of project, even with a public contribution," said Michael Beyard, senior resident fellow for retail and entertainment at the Urban Land Institute in Washington. "This is not an easy task, especially when you're talking about a city like Hartford, which is distressed, and that has basically lost its downtown retail. ... The challenge is even greater."

If anything, the state has higher expectations for the new developer than it had for Cohen: Instead of building the Front Street district's 200 apartments and 209,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and entertainment attractions in phases, as Cohen's Capital Properties had planned to do, the state is now hoping that the entire $150 million project will be built over the next two years. The state already has begun construction of one of the large parking garages on the site.

With the convention center and its attached Marriott hotel well into construction at Adriaen's Landing, and planning well along for a $165 million science center, "the risk associated with this project has essentially melted away," said Chuck Sheehan, executive director of the Capital City Economic Development Authority.

But some development experts said that prospective tenants and lenders might not agree.

John E. Akridge III is the co-developer of Gallery Place, a mixed-use development opening this summer in downtown Washington. Located in what once was a neglected section of the nation's capital, Gallery Place has some striking similarities to Front Street.

Financed by public subsidies and private sources, the Washington project is a combination of 193 condominiums, shops and restaurants, movie theaters and office space, a complex located near the new Washington convention center.

But even with all those attributes, a location above one of the city's largest Metro stations and across from the MCI Center sports arena, and the tailwind of a booming real estate market in recent years, it took nearly two decades - and a succession of failed developers - to get Gallery Place completed.

Perhaps the biggest problem, Akridge said, was getting retailers to commit.

"Retailers don't have a great vision," Akridge said. "They want to see the space standing; they want to see how the neighborhoods are now; they want to count the people walking down the sidewalk now - not projected two years from now."

When Gallery Place was having difficulty signing up retailers, "our financing folks took the position, if the retailers don't think this is going to work, we don't," the developer said.

Even with Michael Jordan playing across the street and the new convention center, it took nearly seven years for Akridge and his partner, Western Development, to complete Gallery Place.

Akridge said he would expect developers to review the Front Street opportunity, but he's not going to be one of them.

"I think there will plenty of people out there that will be interested and take a look at it," he said. "But knowing what I know, unless you have a list of retailers signed up, it's too much brain damage and the probability of success is not high."

Mixed-use urban projects like Front Street have been successful in many U.S. cities, and more developers are tackling them, experts said. They reflect a resurgence of urban life "that really is the hottest new trend that is really starting to take effect across the country," Beyard said.

But because a mixed-use project like Front Street requires so much entrepreneurial flair, publicly traded real estate investment trusts are less likely to develop them. Their shareholders demand a return in less time and with lower risk, experts said. That narrows the list of candidates for a Front Street.

The public subsidy for Front Street would total more than $70 million, or nearly half the project's total cost, with most of the money coming from the state. That, experts said, requires a developer who has experience using public subsidies and who is comfortable in a partnership with the public sector - something Cohen clearly had problems with.

"When I hear how much subsidy is in there, I would take that as a red flag," said John McIlwain, another real estate expert with the Urban Land Institute, an information clearinghouse for the development industry. "Because it means everybody recognizes there is no market, and they are trying to pioneer. And most of these developers are not interested in pioneering; it's a much smaller subset [who are]. It doesn't mean you can't find somebody, but it's going to be somebody who is used to working with subsidies."

Despite Hartford's liabilities, Front Street also has some one-of-a-kind draws, including the fact that ESPN has committed to build an entertainment attraction there, and that the nation's oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, wants to convert the old Hartford Times building at Front Street for educational facilities and other museum uses.

And the fact that Front Street is exempt from local zoning regulations, building permit fees and other bureaucratic hurdles that developers must usually conquer is another big plus.

"That's huge, because that's time," said one developer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of her company's business ventures in Connecticut. "Time is serious money to developers, and if you can see a clear path to get your concept in the ground, without having to go through a permitting process," it's a big advantage.

The state isn't necessarily looking for a single developer; it could engage a consortium of developers to build specific pieces of the project, such as the housing and retail, said Sheehan and Marc S. Ryan, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.

The state plans to send out a request for proposals from developers by Sept. 3, and wants to choose the finalists for the new developer, or developers, by Nov. 2.

Following news reports this week that the state had scuttled its contract with Cohen, the reaction from interested developers has been "very, very encouraging," Sheehan said.

It's unclear how a legal battle with the ousted developer, should one develop, might affect the selection of a new developer or the new developer's progress. Capital Properties had not filed a legal challenge to the state's termination of its development rights by the close of business Wednesday.

One thing that won't change, state officials said, is the level of subsidy. Cohen said it wasn't enough. The state hopes to prove him wrong.

From The Hartford Courant

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Front Street Vision Shifts

Entertainment, Food Seen As Best Bets

By JEFFREY B. COHEN And MIKE SWIFT Courant Staff Writers | March 14 2005

When Front Street's planners listened to what developer Richard Cohen had in mind for the Adriaen's Landing site as recently as a year ago, they heard national retail names like Brooks Brothers, Borders, Starbucks Coffee, and Trader Joe's.

Now that Cohen is gone, those charged with making Front Street a reality are again listening to developers, and they're hearing something a little different: National fashion retailers aren't going to be interested in being at the site when it opens, and that's OK.

"At this stage in the game at least, selling a fashion store ... to national retailers is going to be an uphill climb," said one of the interested developers, Mark J. Rivers of Maryland-based BRIX & Co., who quickly added that the business reality is in no way an indictment of downtown Hartford. "But downtown Hartford is not a national retail environment today. It may be in the future."

Instead, Hartford is a largely weekday, 9-to-5 type place with a high concentration of office workers who have a lot of retail to choose from in the suburbs where they live, Rivers said. So Front Street might find its beginnings in regional New England entertainers and restaurateurs who know the area, know Hartford, and know its potential, he said.

"It would be harder for a national retailer from California to come into Hartford and zone in on downtown Hartford and understand the story of the good things happening there," Rivers said.

...

"Almost all [the developers] seem to agree that the retail should be more locally based. Nobody is thinking about re-creating Blue Back Square or Evergreen Walk" in South Windsor, said Dean Pagani, spokesman for the Capital City Economic Development Authority.

The state, through CCEDA, is bringing roughly $70 million to the table to help develop the roughly $150 million site. Last August, CCEDA dumped Cohen, the developer, and Capital Properties from the project two years after he had signed a contract with the state. Cohen had failed to begin building at the site.

Then, because CCEDA and other state officials believed a pack of developers would jump at the public subsidies attached to Front Street, the state plunged into a fast-forward process to pick Capital Properties' replacement. Capital Properties sued the state seeking damages, saying the state had failed to uphold its end of the development agreement.

The jump never happened, though, and the state received just four development proposals in September. None fulfilled the state's overall requirements for Front Street, which would include at least 150,000 square feet of retail space and at least 200 housing units.

So the state began anew, seeking out interested developers. Two major aspects of the site are still in play.

ESPN is still interested in spending up to $5 million to develop what a spokesman said would be a unique facility in the station's home state - an interactive, retail-type establishment. The company will soon announce a designer for the facility, the spokesman said.

And the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is in the final stages of signing a lease to use The Hartford Times building, Pagani and Gray said.

CCEDA would like to have the developer picked by June, but the agency does not plan to rush to make a decision now that it's impossible to finish before the convention center opens this summer, Pagani said.

In their discussions, developers also agreed that getting the financing to build in Hartford won't be a problem, Gray said. In fact, Gray is in regular contact with investors such as Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, a Beverly Hills, Calif., investment and development group that is interested in investing in the city.

"There was a time when it was very difficult to get anybody interested in investing in downtown Hartford," he said. "But I don't think financing is going to be a problem."

...

"Moms are just not going to drive downtown to go to the Gap," said Timm H. Judson, the group's chief investment officer. "People are going to want to go to that area to dine and to be entertained, and if there's some relatively cool retail that works in with that, that's great."

One idea state officials have discussed is "to almost make this development a Connecticut fair," a concept that would offer a flavor of Connecticut to people attending conventions or staying in the nearby Marriott hotel, Pagani said.

"If you're looking to serve a visiting audience, this is a place to give them a taste of Connecticut, so to speak," he said.

...

Continue reading at: The Hartford Courant.

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Article on Front Street's new developer:

http://www.courant.com/hc-nitkin0717.artju...0,3700842.story

Just this past weekend a new developer was made public. The front page of Sunday's Hartford Courant showed that the HB Nitkin Group of Greewnwich had been chosen to replace ousted developer Richard Cohen of Capital Properties.

The groups president Bradley Nitkin was featured in this article. The Nitkin group's portfolio includes

Cromwell Square in Cromwell, CT which is a 215,000 square foot shopping facility off I-91 and Rt. 9

Shops at Somerset Square in Glastonbury, CT which is a 105,000 square foot lifestyle shopping center off Rt.2

Greenwich Financial Center which is an 80,000 square foot Class A office building with retail space

116 and 150 Boston Post Road in Orange

Playhouse Square in Westport which is a 40,000 square foot retail space facility

330-360 Tarrytown Road in White Plains, NY

Lockworks Square in Brandford, CT which is a 35,000 square foot historically renovated retail space facility

100 Newton Road in Danbury, CT which is a 50,000 square foot retail space facility

The developer is expressing a desire to build 200 owner-occupied condos instead of apartments as previous developer Richard Cohen wanted to do. ESPN is still planning to build an entertainment attraction

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I took a walk at lunch down to Front Street and was a little disappionted in two things I noticed.

1. The "Grand Staircase" that was supposedly influenced by the Spanish Steps in Rome looks like it was left in the final design. This was the grand staircase that would be a public gathering space that would lead from St Paul's Travelers Plaza down to the Front St. neighborhood. The problem is that they are anything but "grand." Very small, very ordinary and very unimpressive.

2. The whole south side of Arch St next to The Arch St Tavern is now a surface parking lot. Last I knew, this was supoosed to be some kind of "restaurant row." At least it seems Adrian's Landing has been successful in building surface parking lots so far...

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It's a shame about the steps, they really could have been something unique. :(

The south side of Arch street is no surprise to me. Last I heard, it was going to be a surface lot, and that it would be developed into "restaurant row" in Phase II. As bad as it looks to have a surface lot there, I wouldnt worry too much about it. If Front Street is a success, that area will be built up soon after.

I can't wait for the new Front Street plan to be released to the public. Maybe Robert M. Stern can make us all feel a little better with some spectacular designs.

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Everything at Adrieans Landing can be expanded. The Marriott was supposed to have 700 rooms but a before the hotel was built a market analysis showed that the market could only support around 400 rooms so 409 rooms were built and so ifneccessary there is room in the back of the center for 300 extra rooms and posssibly a ballroom. The green grass and open space in front of the Convention Center and parking lot is in case the Convention Center needs to be expanded as it is easier to build over that then knocking somehting down.

Front Street can also be expanded over the Conlan Whitehead Memorial Highway if neccessary whci is why that lot is surface parking so when the first phase is up and running and the state and the developer are ready to pursue phase 11 they can build right on the surface lot.

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The plans for the development haven't been released. They probably are not finalized. Until Nitkin has a press conference, no one will know the final design.

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Within the coming weeks, the final design for the Front Street district at Adriaen's Landing will be released. The developer is the Nitkin Group of Greenwich, with famed architect Robert M. Stern billed as the master designer of the site.

Front Street will include over 200 luxury condominiums, restaurants, clubs, shopping, pedestrian-scale streets, as well as an ESPN themed "attraction."

I figured this would be a great time to look back on all the different proposals for the Front Street district, dating all the way back to 1997. Here we can discuss what we did and didn't like about each proposal, and what we hope will be incorporated into the final plan.

first off some perspective on the area:

Hartfordaerial1990sredline.jpg

FrontStreet2005.jpg

FrontStreetland.jpg

1997/1998 - Originally, Front Street was going to be the location of the Convention Center while the current site of the CC was slated to a 35,000 seat domed stadium for UConn football and other various sports events.

AdriaensLanding1998small.jpg

1998 - When the Patriots signed a deal to relocate to Hartford, the domed stadium was replaced with a 50,000+ open air football stadium that was to be the home of the Patriots.

Hartfordpatriotsstadium.jpg

2000 - The design drastically changes, with the major change being the location of the Convention Center moved across Columbus Blvd, adjacent to I-91. Talks are underway with ESPN to build an attraction at the site.

Adriaens_Landingaerialrendering.bmp

AdriaensLandingHotelrendering.bmp

AdrieansLanding20042.bmp

AdrieansLanding2004.bmp

2001 - The Front Street district goes vertical, with two planned 30+ story residential towers anchoring the site.

MeetingHouseSquareOriginalConcept.jpg

2002 - Less than a year after the the tower concept was proposed, the site is scaled down to a more "human scale".

MeetingHouseSqaureaerialrenderingOctober2002.jpg

MeetingHouseSquareOctober2002StreetView.jpg

2002 - A couple months later, this rendering surfaces on the net:

FrontStreet.jpg

2003 - The first detailed plans come out for Front Street, and we are told this is the final design...construction to begin by years end:

FrontStreetmasterPlan.jpg

FrontStreet3.jpg

FrontStreet2.jpg

FrontStreet4.jpg

FrontStreet5.jpg

2004 - After multiple promises by the developer to start construction, nothing has been done. The city relieves the developer of his duties and decides to send out RFP's to other developers.

2005 - The Nitkin Group is chosen as the developer, Robert M. Stern signs on as the chief architect, and final designs are due out by the last quarter of 2005. Construction is slated to begin in the 2nd quarter of 2006 with a completion date a year later.

So that's where we stand as of now. It's been 8 years, we'vbe shuffled through a host of developers and design teams, seen the site go from a disney-esque entertainment area to a highrise district, back to a lowrise district, and now we wait for the final plans...

Edited by SOCOM

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One thing I really liked about the original plans back in 1997/1998 were the buildings that lined Columbus Blvd. I was eating dinner at Vivo last weekend and I looked across the street and couldn't help but think how unfortunate it is that the west side of Columbus Blvd is lined with loading docks for the Travelers and Phoenix.

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I really liked the density of the original plans with the high rise hotels and residential lining Columbus Blvd. I also like the 30+ condo towers in the third or 4th phase. What I hated was the "we are bringing it down to a human scale" BS which is just another way of saying we are not prepared to spend the money necessary to fulfill the original vision. I also dislike the surface lot that fronts the CC on Columbus. I know it's for "planned future expansion, " but I'm not holding my breath. Fiondella's original concepts were by far the most hospitable to an active streetscape.

SOCOM - I agree wholeheartedly... that view out of Vivo is very disappointing. If anyone was thinking, they would have shifted Columbus Blvd 20 ft or so east so there would have been room for new construction between St Paul's Travelers and Phoenix and the new realigned Columbus. It would be perfect for street level retail and or office/residential one floor above. It wouldn't interfere with the plaza level and its views and would have created a much better streetscape along Columbus.

Edited by Luca Brasi

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I'll state the obvious first. I liked the first design first and foremost because it involved bringing the NFL to Hartford. I ate a Vivo and the view is not the greatest from that vantage point. I think the best change is the planned condo aspect as opposed to the original rental concept. I can't wait to see the new design though, I know it's going to be great as work already completed can add to the overall planning of the yet to be constucted portions. The key is going to be actually having shops and attractions that will continually draw area residents so that what we end up with actually looks like the renderings as far as the foot traffic is concerned. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a spectacular finished product.

Edited by HartfordTycoon

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The original concept did not include the Patriot Stadium.

The original concept included a 35,000 seat dome that was connected to the convention center and could also be used as a home for UConn football. If that 35,000 seat dome was built for UConn football it would already be obsolete because of the popularity of UConn football.

When Rowland brokered a deal with the Patriots the plan was changed to include the NFL stadium.

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Another thing I don't like is the fact that the streets, sidewalks and even streetlamps are all in place BEFORE there is a final design for the entire project. Its backwards and limits the creativity of the designers.

Edited by Luca Brasi

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The original concept did not include the Patriot Stadium.

The original concept included a 35,000 seat dome that was connected to the convention center and could also be used as a home for UConn football.  If that 35,000 seat dome was built for UConn football it would already be obsolete because of the popularity of UConn football.

When Rowland brokered a deal with the Patriots the plan was changed to include the NFL stadium.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You're right, I got the first two proposals mixed up. I made the necessary corrections.

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I really liked the density of the original plans with the high rise hotels and residential lining Columbus Blvd. I also like the 30+ condo towers in the third or 4th phase. What I hated was the "we are bringing it down to a human scale" BS which is just another way of saying we are not prepared to spend the money necessary to fulfill the original vision. I also dislike the surface lot that fronts the CC on Columbus. I know it's for "planned future expansion, " but I'm not holding my breath. Fiondella's original concepts were by far the most hospitable to an active streetscape.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Agree with everything stated above...and the human scale claim is, as you said, BS. It's no coincidence that they started using that term just as they started scaling back the development on the south side of Arch Street.

Even with all the stebacks and delays over the past 8 years, I'm really excited because I don't think Stern is going to get himself involved in a half-assed project.

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I'm still partial to the 2 30-floor towers idea, but I'm partial to verticality...

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The only reason I don't like the highrise plan is because in that particular rendering, there doesn't seem to be much other than the two towers, and some sort of an outdoor market. Hartford has a history of building highrises and neglecting the streets below them, so I'm a little bit cautious I guess. However, my worries are probably all unfounded as that rendering is nothing more than a conceptual drawing, which in its nature, doesn't pay much attention to detail.

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Thanks for the rundown. It feels like I've heard about plans for this area forever. Regarding the "ESPN themed" attraction, I've wondered for a long time why CT hasn't tried to play up more the fact that ESPN is HQ'ed in CT. They're one of the hottest, hippest brands going, in everything from cable, to magazines, to video games... I've long wondered why there wasn't a mega ESPN world attraction in the home state but you could find an ESPNZone in, say, Baltimore...

- Garris

Providence, RI

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Yeah, apparently we don't even warrant a "Zone", just an attraction....

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Yeah, apparently we don't even warrant a "Zone", just an attraction....

I don't think you can really blame ESPN for not having a zone in Hartford. The reality is, Hartford is still a risk at this point, and no large company (or small for that matter) is in the business of of taking huge financial risks. I think just the fact that ESPN is interested in putting an "attraction" downtown shows us how much they care about Hartford. They could just as easily have said no, or opted to put this attraction in West Hartfod, Bristol, or Stamford. So that's my take on it. :)

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The convention center makes downtown Hartford much more attractive to ESPN I'm sure.

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The ESPN Zones are rip offs. High prices, bad service, they live off tourists and not regular customers. The attraction will be unique. The only of its kind. If that is successful and tourists start to show up, then ESPN can rip them off by adding a "Zone."

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OK, no real news yet. But I saw an update on channel 3 saying that Nitkin will unveil the plans in January. He also assured them that there are big name entertainment and retail tenents signing on. We already know that ESPN will develop a destination and that Robert A.F. Stern is the architect, now we have to wait and see who will be joining them in the Front Street District.

Edited by HartfordTycoon

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Maybe 2006 is going to be our year! Utopia, BDL - Europe, CT Science Center, Front Street...

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