July 30, 2018

Stamford developer’s DoNo vision taking shape

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
Rough artist’s sketch of Stamford developer Randy Salvatore’s DoNo vision.
Randy Salvatore, CEO and President, RMS Cos.

Stamford real estate developer Randy Salvatore, who is negotiating with the city of Hartford on a $200 million proposal to redevelop its Downtown North quadrant, says it will take six years to create the phased development he envisions.

"It's very rare that you have the opportunity this large on the edge of a municipality,'' said Salvatore, CEO and president of RMS Cos. in Stamford.

Although there is no formal name yet for what will eventually cover about 13 acres in four city-owned parcels in the shadow of Dunkin' Donuts Park, Salvatore says it will contain many of the housing, retail and other resident amenities — perhaps even a grocery store — proposed by the previous DoNo developer, Centerplan Cos. of Middletown.

Under the RMS plan, which was publicly shared at a city hall meeting July 24, the developer would erect 800 apartments — 150 of which would be built in a first phase behind the Red Lion Hotel on Trumbull Street — and 60,000 square feet of retail space, including space for a modest downtown grocery.

In addition, RMS proposes to create 2,000 parking spaces, including perhaps a 1,000-slot parking garage on Market Street. The plan does not include a hotel or office space.

Negotiations between RMS and the city continue over Salvatore's request for a 99-year lease on the four parcels.

"We envision a planned development with primarily about 800 units of apartment housing, and some retail and coworking space,'' Salvatore said.

That RMS already owns a downtown Hartford hotel had nothing to do with not putting one in DoNo, he said. Centerplan proposed to develop a Hard Rock Hotel in the area.

"I don't think there's demand for a hotel,'' he said.

Salvatore says his DoNo development, which has received positive feedback from lenders, does not envision any owner-occupied dwellings initially. However, if consumer demand and market conditions warrant, there is the possibility that some condominiums/townhomes could be added.

He declined to specify financing details for the Hartford projects, citing ongoing negotiations with the city for the long-term ground lease. Salvatore said he not only will have equity in the development, but also envisions having a long-term hand in his DoNo project, similar to past ventures.

He said his company has reached out to the Capital Region Development Authority, which has staked at least a dozen office-to-apartment conversions in downtown, about potential financial assistance for DoNo.

Salvatore said exact timing for the start of DoNo construction hinges on completing contract talks with the city as well as canvassing Hartford community groups and other stakeholders about what they want it to be.

Once the first phase of building starts and is completed, then the cycle will repeat until it is finally finished over a six-year period, he said.

He said RMS had a good experience with its current New Haven development, one similar in scope and pricetag to DoNo. There, the Hill To Downtown venture sits on land bisected and partly isolated by a freeway, similar to DoNo, he said.

Salvatore responded to an assertion from Larry Gottesdiener, a Massachusetts developer who built the Hartford 21 high-rise apartments and who previously owned office buildings downtown, that a replacement for the aging XL Center arena be relocated to DoNo.

"I don't agree with that,'' Salvatore said. "I really believe DoNo is meant to create life downtown. … The only way to do that is with residential.''

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