May 23, 2018

CRDA halts XL Center eminent domain threat

The head of the Capital Region Development Authority says he is postponing plans to seek eminent domain authority to take over a key portion of XL Center's atrium and adjoining retail/office space currently owned by Northland Investment Corp.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said Wednesday he plans to first meet with Senate Republicans and members of Hartford's state legislative delegation before he asks his board of directors for eminent domain authority.

Freimuth said he was seeking that legal avenue this week after several failed attempts to purchase the space, known as the "Trumbull Block," from Northland.

However, a group of Republican state senators has raised concerns about the potential move and wants more information on the steps the quasi-public agency has taken to purchase the property, including copies of any appraisals.

"As you are aware, eminent domain is a powerful tool and needs to be used sparingly," the GOP's letter said. "We would like to know why eminent domain, a seemingly drastic approach, is being considered as an option in this situation."

The Hartford Business Journal reported Tuesday that Freimuth planned to ask his board of directors for eminent domain authority on Thursday.

Freimuth said that portion of the building is crucial to the short-term operations and long-term redevelopment of the arena. The retail space, for example, includes a three-story, 192,000-square-foot parcel that would be needed to expand XL Center's current footprint.

CRDA a few years ago recommended a $250 million overhaul of the XL Center, concluding that the building's functionality and ability to generate revenue are severely limited by its age and obsolete design, among other problems.

A 2015 study conducted by SCI Architects concluded that at least 100,000 square feet of additional space, including room for a second concourse, would be necessary to bring the XL Center up to modern-venue standards.

Meantime, Northland Principal Larry Gottesdiener blasted CRDA's attempts to pursue eminent domain. He said CRDA's multiple appraisals have led to inadequate valuations of the property and that Northland isn't interested in selling right now, particularly because there is no funding or plan in place for a long-term renovation of the arena.

CRDA has been unable to secure the full $250 million allotment from the state legislature.

"The taking of private property should be a last resort not a first resort," Gottesdiener said. "The $250 million plan was rejected. What is needed now is a conversation about the future of the XL site among all of the stakeholders."

State lawmakers did grant CRDA $40 million last year for renovations. That money, which is in addition to the $35 million in renovations completed in 2014, could be used for buying Northland's Trumbull Street property, Freimuth said.

But Senate Republicans are questioning whether or not that is the best use of that money.

"If obtaining the Northland Investment Corp. property is part of a larger $250 million unapproved renovation vision, and is not part of a plan to best utilize the $40 million in approved funds, we have further concerns about this course of action."

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