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The Voice of Reason

Urban renewal idea

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So I have been thinking.

And this is often a dangerous pursuit if you are accustomed to my posts around hereJ.

We are currently in a time of great financial uncertainty, and we are also in a time of immense change politically. Furthermore we are at a point where GRAND schemes are being floated to fix problems big and small, and we are at a time when all over this country there is a shift back to cities and back to mass transit and forward to sustainability and science and technology as well.

That being said, I am considering the future of Hartford, and the urban renew projects of the 1960s.

What can Hartford do to be what Hartford could and should be?

What are the resources available, and what relationships need to be forged? How much would the federal government help, the state help, the city help the private companies help, and the private citizens' help?

If there is a way to create a small volunteer organization that could negotiate co-operation, and nurture a future that would actually be bright, would you be part of it? What is your tolerance of sacrifice in the present for rewards in the future?

The concept makes sense but the implementation would be a beotch.

The resources:

Connecticut currently has AA bond rating. This is two levels below the highest rating. Not exceptional, but certainly strong enough to finance large sums of money if there was a proven long term gain.

The City of Hartford currently has A+

Using public bonding powers on the state and city level combined with federal support, the public sector can wield a massive amount of power and influence.

The City/State could also implement some kind of Tax Increment Financing to get things moving.

Many large Hartford based companies have investment arms. The companies based in Hartford routinely invest in commercial and residential development projects. With a little government tax break carrot dangling these companies can easily be encouraged to participate in a major redevelopment project like they used to be back in the 60s.

This is a hard post to write. And keep things organized.

What to do with this financial might?:

Redevelopment can not just be speculative like it was back in the 60's. It has to be sustainable in 2009, and there needs to be a demand for what is planned. Also, what is done now needs to be an improvement over what was there before.

Many large Hartford based companies have workforces spread all over the country. In addition there are many national companies that have a large Hartford presence, but have almost no back office and support jobs (TD BANK, JP Morgan Chase, Citizens, and COX. The city and state could use their powers to encourage companies to bring jobs back to the city and also have these companies supplement people moving back to the cities. If an insurance company were to invest in a residential project and move jobs into a near by office, the state/city would award tax benefits. Plans can be made with several companies with existing operations, as well as make deals to bring new companies in.

If an area of land, for example the area north of I-84 were combined into one large development, all of these forces could work together to create something that would change the city as we know it. Call it a critical mass; call it a new urbanist vision of 60's style redevelopment.

If say the State and the City were to both build new offices to consolidate their workforces, both entities could save money over the long run. The cities savings of course would be smaller than the state, but these long term savings would finance the debt load of the construction bonds. If the buildings vacated were put to new use in an intelligent manner the benefits would be compounded. If the City and State were to work together in planning and building their new structures it would have a larger combined effect on the city. The state alone uses an immense amount of energy inefficient buildings all over the City and State that ultimately make for inefficient work environments a lack of communication and lost efficiencies between departments.

Combining the consolidation of city and state offices into one area as well as including the corporate financed projects into the same master planned area would ultimately create a successful redevelopment.

I know Front Street was intended to use state land and grants to push development, but this concept is more based on having major tenant in order to anchor the entire complex. (The state of CT)

City/State hall

In the area of mostly state owned land north of and above I-84 I would have the state and the city design a new space. Think what Albany NY has, but more part of the city and more personable. Then nestle city hall into it. This would include every single city office (except the ones that need to be near septic lines etc), and every state office that makes sense (more on this later). The project would allow this huge area of the city to be rebuilt connecting it to the North End. The project would also include public plaza space to create a more enjoyable urban environment. The government offices would not need to be high rises on any extreme level since they are on the edge of downtown, so costs would be reasonable. The Land is already owned by the city or state as well, so this would not take land of off tax rolls. Construction and maintenance are the only costs that the state and city will face. The buildings should be at least 8 stories to maximize efficiency and to keep the area "urban". The plaza ideally would include public amenities like an outdoor ice skating rink for example (think Rockefeller center). The buildings would also have to fit into the urban fabric as well with ground floor retail on most of it. Also parts of the land could be designated for mid/high-rise housing development, and approvals could be put in place so that all was needed was a willing developer. The land area would be determined as is done in the Downtown North redevelopment plan, and would be mapped out for State, City, corporate offices as well as market rate housing and public spaces.

Plans would have to be complete for all aspects of this plan including some of the housing plans for this to get started. Other small spaces could be left empty, but pre approved for high-rise housing or maybe a corporate office building attached to parking garages ready to go. If a developer came along the land would be free as long as the project was started within 60 days or what have you. The strategic locations for apartments/condos would help secure the area as part of downtown. But this project would have to include some housing.

What about the space vacated?

The state offices that would be vacated would be the ones in the historic buildings along the park. The state offices out in the 'burbs that contribute little to their communities would be moved to the new state plaza creating synergies. The empty privately owned office buildings vacated by the state would be rezoned for residential. Agreements would be made with the owners of most buildings before anything happened to do as such and units would go on sale. The insurance companies with the assistance of TIF and State and City blessings would finance these projects. The current city hall would be given to the Wadsworth and they would have renovation and expansion plans backed by state and private bonds.

So at this point you have all of the older buildings along the park prepped to turn to residential, the current city hall planned for conversion to museum space, the city and state planned and approved offices north of I-84. Residential developments pre approved in and around the civic offices N of I-84. Before anything is done a group of citizens need to commit to the housing with corporate support and then civic support. The State City and fed can help support tax credits to these locations back stopping any losses by the developers. So that if things fell apart the developer would break even, and the state would take a minor loss. There are all ready programs like this for people looking to buy in Hartford. The City will cover 100,000 of the mortgage if you live at the location for at least 5 years. If the markets work out favorably the developer makes a profit and the states revenues are improved. The people who chose to move into the city have the most to gain and the cities revenues are improved by a successful project. Ultimately this would support retail in downtown and foster additional tax revenues.

Would the state, city and private enterprise take a financial risk? Yes, but if state/city act as developers in this case it could actually push down the costs through a large bonding initiative. The expected operational cost savings as well as the buildings added back onto tax roles, and the profits gained by the selling of the residential units, and increased economic activity brought about by the new downtown residents and additional downtown workers would finance this project. People would buy the bonds, as would the insurance companies' investment units.

Backup info:

According to this link I put in the state office complex thread

<A href="http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2993&q=383348"'>http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2993&q=383348" target=_blank>http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2993&q=383348

The state leases 3.59 Million square feet.

Looking at the breakdown I see that 2 million could EASILY be put into new buildings in Downtown. Based on the fact that those 3.59M SF costs the state $62.4M a year. Building 2 million SF of space would save the state about $35M a year in leases. Based on the most recent construction data, an 11-20 floor building cost $112/SF in Dallas (including land). Building a 2M SF Building on free land would be much cheaper. $200 Million should build an impressive mid rise office complex North of I-84. This would be as much space as 2.5 X City Place 1. The state also owns a holly crap load of office space.

State owned buildings

http://www.ct.gov/opm/cwp/view.asp?a=2993&q=383344

Sake away the state schools like UConn, and there is still over 30 million square feet of office.

If there are any appropriate buildings that the state could divest these moneys would counter the cost and further support this concept economically.

I will add some kind of map later

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