July 9, 2018

Hartford 21: The tower Northland got right

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
One of the major pride points of Hartford 21 is the apartment high-rise's soaring and well-furnished lobby that greets residents and guests as they enter.
Photo | HBJ File
A photo of Hartford 21 under construction in 2005.

Larry Gottesdiener recalls the day years ago when he showcased his soaring 36-story Hartford 21 luxury apartment tower to local developers.

He remembers how one of downtown Hartford's best-known local landlords at the time could barely contain his incredulity, gazing around the lavishly appointed third-floor amenity spaces, including the soaring, glass-enclosed great room.

"This room cost you a million dollars!" Gottesdiener recalls his landlord-competitor saying.

Opened in 2006 with 262 luxury apartments, penthouses and community and ground-floor retail spaces, totaling 890,000 square feet, Hartford 21 is downtown's fourth tallest skyscraper (411 feet) and, when built, was the city's first new one in decades. It landed Hartford in the record books at the time as home to the tallest apartment building between Boston and New York City.

Of all his remaining Hartford realty holdings, Gottesdiener says he's proudest of Hartford 21, at 221 Trumbull St. It is, he says, a crowning achievement not just for his property investment-development firm, Northland Investment Corp., and his decision to plant his flag in Hartford, but for the city, too.

"This building would be the nicest apartment building in any major city in the country,'' he said. "We added a beautiful building to the skyline. It won architectural awards. We had one of the pre-eminent firms in the country design it, CPT out of Boston. It's sort of a nice legacy for my grandfather, the mailman."

Gottesdiener admits he went a bit overboard with its design and materials, including the 36-story glass-curtain wall on the southeast and northwest corners of the building, steel construction, an intimate eight-units per floor, textile covered hallways and expensive metal cladding fronting the XL Center. But it was worth it, he says.

Northland invested $65 million of its own money into the building, which also received a $32.5 million grant from the state. Its total pricetag was nearly $200 million, he said. The apartment tower was developed in partnership with the Capital City Economic Development Authority (CCEDA), the predecessor agency to the current-day Capital Region Development Authority.

Hartford attorney Bart Halloran was CCEDA chair when Gottesdiener approached him with his dream of a downtown apartment high-rise and a request for financial aid.

"It was a very, very difficult project to put together," Halloran said of the financing as well as Northland's need to expand and reconfigure a portion of the XL Center parking garage to accommodate Hartford 21 residents.

To fill a $25 million project-financing gap, CCEDA offered $12 million previously earmarked for upgrades to the city's parking garages, Halloran said, to Gottesdiener, who agreed to stake the balance.

"My thinking on it was that this was going to be a signature accomplishment,'' Halloran said of Hartford 21. " … This was something that didn't exist in Hartford at the time.''

The positive impact of Hartford 21's development on downtown continues, he said. Since it opened, other local and out-of-state developer-landlords have converted nearly a dozen former office and retail buildings into about 1,500 affordable and luxury apartments, with more about to be completed or on drawing boards.

That, coupled with the presence of UConn's downtown campus, Halloran said, has pulled more residents downtown. In particular, the once-vacant 777 Main bank skyscraper was recast into an amenity-laden apartment building with occupancy above 90 percent.

"It's not just the best materials, it has an award-winning design," Gottesdiener said of Hartford 21. "It's a square, which if you're in the development business, you know it's much more expensive. It's much more efficient to develop a rectangle, so there's only eight units per floor, and very small corridors coming off the elevators. All of that was in our plan. So, we have this."

The building vindicates, Gottesdiener says, his decision to locate his trophy property in Hartford against the wisdom of realty observers who questioned whether tenants would pay top dollar for its one- and two-bedroom and penthouse units.

Today, Hartford 21 is 97.3 percent leased, he said. More important, those original $4,600 monthly penthouse units that were hits with tenants right away now command $6,000 a month — and remain in demand.

"We established the empty-nester and family market and proved they will pay top rents and live downtown," he said.

Available one-bedroom, one-bath units, sized at 971 square feet, were recently listed on Apartments.com at $1,770 to $2,335 monthly. Two-bedroom, two-bath units, with 1,217 square feet to 1,320 square feet, listed for $2,020 to $2,945.

Hartford 21 tenants enjoy the usual menu of shared amenities: a high-tech fitness center; the community room with its fine furnishings, walls lined with works of art and a full kitchen; a well-appointed library-study; and garage parking.

While its residential units have found appeal, Hartford 21's ring of retail storefronts fronting Trumbull, Asylum and Ann Uccello streets have struggled.

TD Bank occupies a prime corner space at Trumbull and Asylum, near a KeyBank branch. Spiritus Wines occupies a portion of the space on Asylum Street, near sandwich shop Toasted. That's also next to the space that once housed Northland's and the city's failed six-month experiment in 2011 at jump-starting a downtown grocer, the Market at Hartford 21.

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