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Downtown Upswing

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Downtown Upswing

Housing Construction Offers Hope For A Vibrant Neighborhood

By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer | July 16, 2004

CivicCtr.jpg

THE SHOPPING AREA OF THE HARTFORD CIVIC CENTER is being gutted and refaced and a residential high-rise is going up on the corner of Asylum and Trumbull streets. Nearly 700 new apartments are under construction downtown, giving planners and business owners hope for a residential boom. (JOHN LONG)

Last Saturday, suburbanites Greg and Donna Faulkner decided to do something different: have lunch downtown.

They tried Agave Grill, the stylish new Mexican restaurant at Ann and Allyn. It was closed. Pastis, across the street? Shuttered. Black-Eyed Sally's on Asylum Street? That restaurant was closed, too.

"It was very disheartening," said Greg Faulkner, a lawyer who lives in Rocky Hill. Downtown "was just desolate." He and his wife ended up eating lunch on the Berlin Turnpike.

Outside of business hours, downtown often has the vitality of a baseball diamond in January. But with construction crews starting to rip the face off the Hartford Civic Center mall to make way for "Hartford 21," a 36-floor residential high-rise, downtown will start to become a different place over the next two years, many observers say.

Nearly 700 new apartments are under construction, soon to be under construction or are newly opened along the path of an eight-minute walk along Trumbull and Pratt streets through the city's core.

Fully leased, those new apartments alone will double downtown's residential population. And the number of new units is likely to grow. New Haven developer David Nyberg, sources say, is close to buying the old Hartford Electric Light Co. building on Pearl Street to build condominiums.

Trumbull Street's new ribbon of housing represents a quantum shift from the 1980s, the last time real estate development was reshaping downtown Hartford. Then, new office towers lined Trumbull and Asylum streets. Those buildings added to Hartford's tax base, but they generally were deserted after 5 p.m. and on weekends, leaving a downtown that can feel menacingly empty outside of business hours.

Remaking downtown into a residential as well as a business community may be the most important thing the city can do, planners say.

"If Hartford has a good future," said Douglas Rae, a Yale University professor and urban expert, "I think it depends on getting market-rate housing up and running in the downtown."

The fact that a developer of Nyberg's caliber - he completed successful housing developments in New Haven and converted the old telephone company building at 55 Trumbull St. into apartments - is investing in downtown Hartford "indicates there is a pretty fair prospect of success," Rae said.

But will those new downtown residents be enough to create a downtown that feels vibrant on Saturday afternoons as well as on Monday mornings? Probably not, planners and developers say.

"I don't think it's enough, but it's a very important beginning," said Ken Greenberg, the Toronto planner who authored downtown Hartford's development plan in 1998.

The main significance of Trumbull Street's housing boom, Greenberg said, is that it should stimulate other investment. Nyberg may only be the first.

"Now that the ice is broken, I think you'll see others follow. This first group will be the pioneers," Greenberg said.

The optimum population density to create a downtown neighborhood with active streets on nights and weekends is 10,000 to 15,000 people within a 15- to 20-minute walk, Greenberg said - roughly the footprint of all of downtown Hartford.

Downtown had just 1,118 residents living in 753 housing units between Union Station and the river at the time of the 2000 Census. The new apartments in downtown's core, fully occupied, would add about 1,200 residents within a few city blocks.

Add the projects still in the planning stages - 500 apartments at Adriaen's Landing and the Colt Gateway, 92 condominiums at the Capewell building and the 40 to 50 condominium units Nyberg is expected to develop in the old electric company building at 266 Pearl St. - and downtown's residential population could nearly triple in the next few years.

And if those 3,000 people are fewer than Greenberg's ideal urban density, they are enough to drive significant changes, experts said.

"What we're really talking about is not the construction of a city, but of a neighborhood, and it just happens to be the central neighborhood of Hartford," said Patrick Pinnell, an architect and town planner who is active in Hartford.

"I think it's a start, not a finish," said Martin Kenny, developer of the 100-unit Trumbull on the Park complex that is under construction on Trumbull Street. "I think it's going to dramatically change Hartford as we know it, but to say it's enough [people] is not the case. I think that we will be able to set the trend that downtown living is something that's cool to be a part of."

With apartments named for Hartford historical figures - some studios will be called "The Sinclair Lewis Residence," while the largest two-bedroom units will be christened "The Jonathan Trumbull Residence" - Trumbull on the Park is aiming for an upscale population.

When Trumbull on the Park is complete, Kenny hopes to immediately start more housing. The developer paid $800,000 in February to buy 111 Pearl St. adjacent to Trumbull on the Park, and he hopes to begin converting that building into 60 apartments next year.

More residential property is crucial to any hope of bringing significant retail property back to downtown Hartford. Experts say downtown will never again be a center of shopping the way it was before suburban malls, but that a larger residential population is crucial to attracting specialty retailers and more restaurants.

"I talk with restaurants constantly. We're going to see a lot more restaurant development in downtown Hartford because of the coming residential" growth, said Maggie Gallagher, director of marketing and leasing for 960 Main, the private section of the G. Fox building.

"I think what we have on the books to date [in residential development] will be enough of a neighborhood to support weekend urban business," Gallagher said. "But that business, again, is really food and entertainment. It's not retail shopping."

The Holy Grail for the downtown would be a grocery store. But while specialty food markets are opening on Pratt and Asylum streets this summer, Gallagher said the demographics just aren't there yet for a larger food market.

The promise of a downtown residential boom was a big reason why Agave opened in downtown earlier this year, said Al Ferranti, a managing partner for the restaurant.

So far, there's just not enough people around to make Saturday lunch a viable proposition, Ferranti said. But he expects that to change when Hartford 21 and other large housing projects open in coming years.

That may mean fewer suburbanites lunching on the Berlin Turnpike.

"Our plan, as soon as those apartments come up, is to be open for Saturday lunches," Ferranti said.

From The Hartford Courant

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Its great to see Hartford on the upswing. Downtown residential projects seem to be sweeping the nation. Thanks for posting the article.

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I was in downtown Hartford again today and my boyfriend and I took a walk around. I do like many aspects of Hartford. I think it's got a few great old buildings and it is walkable like Providence. However, it is completely devoid of people. It was actually depressing. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the only people in downtown were waiting for buses on that one street between the Wadsworth and G. Fox (now Capital C.C.) near the Old State House and Traveler's and even they were waiting to get out of the area. But as my boyfriend pointed out, Providence used to be that way before my arrival to the city 9 years ago. So I'm going to wait and see where Hartford goes from here. It's the trends you need to look for, right? It's not like the city will go from ghost town to bustling overnight. Heck, downcity Providence has gotten noticably busier since I moved here so I'm sure Hartford can do the same. I think that will be a bit difficult in Hartford though because there are very few pleasant streetscapes and pedestrian ways in the city center.

Also, I'm sorry, but that convention center and hotel are horribly placed. Architecturally, they are nice. However, they are spearated from downtown and seem like an island onto themselves. I couldn't help but notice the difference between theirs and ours in Providence. The Rhode Island Convention Center blends into the city and is in the middle of the jumble that is downtown. The Connecticut Convention Center seems like it's on the outskirts of the heart of the city. I don't see the pedestrian connections to the core. :(

Hartford 21's steal is starting to go up in height. I think that project is going to do wonders for that area of the city. That area really isn't all that bad at all. It just needs more people. :)

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I truly admire this city!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

May I ask your viewpoint as someone from outside the region? What is it about Hartford that you admire? I'm curious to know how others see the city.

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The last few years have really changed Hartford for the better as the redevelopment projects have actually moved from drawings to actual construction sites. Even though there are things that need to be worked out hopefully they will be figured out so that Hartford can become a more lively and thriving city.

When the convention center opened on June 2, 2005 thousands of people came to grand opening ceramony and throughout the day for the CT Business EXPO. Then on that Sunday there was an open house and close to 6,000 people came to walk around and tour the new Convention Center which was very exciting.

Currently there are people visitng the new apartments being built and leased around the city and hopefully Hartford can transform out of its 9-5 atmospheric lifestyle.

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It's going to take a number of years, but the wheels are turning for downtown Hartford. The city was dealt some serious blows by the urban renewal schemers and foolish interstate builders, but the place has character and it will come back. I wish I could get back there more often.

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What has become of the G. Fox department store? As far as I know, there have been many proposals for this large building, but all have failed thus far. Has this changed? It appears to be a solid building.

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What has become of the G. Fox department store?  As far as I know, there have been many proposals for this large building, but all have failed thus far.  Has this changed?  It appears to be a solid building.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

G. Fox is now capitol community college. They are also opening a college prep magnet high school there.

Capitol Community College

There is also a nightclub called Room 960 on the first floor

Room 960

And also a new restaurant called Global Gourmet which is fast and relatively inexpensive but fairly well reviewed. I haven't tried it though.

So G. Fox is vibrant once more!!!!

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Room 960 is a great place to go and spend a night. Great atmosphere, and great looking ladies. It is more of a upscale nightclub so dress to impress!

I have lived in Tempe, Arizona for the past 5 years going to school, this club reminds me a lot of the Scottsdale scene. Hartford needs more of these places to attract the crowds downtown. When I went a few weeks ago the place was packed and had a line out the door.

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Across the street from Fox and 960, Thre American Airlines buildig is going to have an open air restaurant on one floor above the street. I haven't seen the plans but it's a great idea.

KFC - I was in Manhatten on Monday and walked down empty streets. Like every city you need to know when and where to go.

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May I ask your viewpoint as someone from outside the region?  What is it about Hartford that you admire?  I'm curious to know how others see the city.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I live in Tampa and frankly never read, hear, discuss, or think about Hartford other than as a medium NE city...the only cities that get attention in all the publications, media, planning sites, etc is Providence and Boston - the two big cities in NE. In fact, Providence is used as a model for river use, restaurants, historical architecture, and culture.

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do you lurk around the Hartford forum waiting to cut and paste that tired old blather? Thats at least the second time you've posted that idiotic paragraph, word for word.

You're so out of touch with reality its not even worth trying to reason with you.

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"Most active in PVD Projects & Construction"

Gee, I wonder if he's biased. It's funny, all the publications, etc that I read doesn't mention Providence either. He must have forgotten to mention that he only reads "Providence" magazine.....

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Not only is he biased, he's delusional. He's been spewing out the same old garbage for months now. Whenever I present facts to him, he doesn't respond. :lol:

At least he's amusing.

btw, I was downtown for a bit this afternoon, got caught in a rainstorm actually. I took a couple photos of the Sage Allen project as well as Hartford 21. I'll post them as soon as I can. Even though Sage Allen is only 8 stories, I'm really excited about this project - it fills two major gaps on Main Street, and all three buildings are beautiful.

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A couple of good reads about Hartford's continued rise. The first is from the New York Times and the second is from the Hartford Business Journal.

September 18, 2005

Downtown Hartford's New Centerpiece

By ELEANOR CHARLES

Hartford

IN 1997, a group of Hartford insurance and utility executives proposed an ambitious - some would say quixotic - 33-acre mixed-use project for Hartford, then mired in a long and deep recession. It was to be named Adriaen's Landing, for an obscure Dutch explorer, Adriaen Block, who sailed up the Connecticut River and disembarked at the site in 1611.

The idea was picked up a year later by Gov. John G. Rowland and the Legislature, which committed up to $1 billion for property acquisition, remediation and construction of a 540,000-square-foot convention center and 2,556-car parking structure to be owned by the state, as well as infrastructure improvements like utilities and landscaping.

Today, the project has used about $850 million of the $1 billion, and two major components have had their grand openings in recent months.

On Aug. 25, the 22-story Marriott Hotel drew the usual array of state and local officials to its opening ceremonies. Earlier, on June 5, the adjoining Connecticut Convention Center opened.

Now the hotel, convention center and landscaping that amounts to a public park have become the centerpiece of a new business and tourist destination on Columbus Boulevard, just off Exit 29A of Interstate 91, overlooking the Connecticut River.

continue reading

Strong market +

strong mayor =

bigger city role

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Diane Weaver Dunne

[email protected]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Interested in rehabbing an old office building in Hartford, or creating new condos downtown?

Before developers sit down at the table to negotiate with City of Hartford officials, they need to understand that attitudes

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Nice to see the NY Times on board. They write about Hartford often, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but it's nice to get the name out there....

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