December 3, 2018
Economic Development

Hartford's other Main Street development block

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
The Arrowhead (left) and Flatiron (right) buildings occupy a key piece of Main Street real estate in Hartford.
Gregory Seay

Hartford's Arrowhead redevelopment

Here are Connecticut Main Street Center's recommendations to the city of Hartford and CapitalRegion Development Authority for redeveloping the13 buildings just outside Hartford's Downtown North quadrant fronting Main Street.

• Acquire 180 Pleasant St. for site control and adaptive reuse analysis ($375,000)

• Acquire Arrowhead building, 1355 Main St., and assemble nearby vacant lots to pave way for mixed-use development ($1.7M)

• Rehab 1293 Main St. ($560,000)

• Rehab 529 Ann Uccello St. (Flatiron building, ($318,000)

• Make façade improvements to nine buildings ($1.5 million)

• Make parking and streetscape improvements along Ann Uccello St. ($631,800)

• Make short-term streetscape improvements along Main Street ($63,000)

Sitting just blocks from Dunkin' Donuts Park and surface parking lots comprising Hartford's Downtown North quadrant, is a cluster of buildings fronting Main Street that some city and development officials see as ripe for recasting.

Patrick McMahon, CEO of Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC), a promoter of community economic development and historic preservation, says his nonprofit was retained by the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) to analyze the Main Street corridor, from Dunkin' Donuts Park to the junction of Main and High streets, where Albany Avenue begins.

Despite the corridor being home to vacant tracts and 13 historic commercial-residential structures, many in various stages of disrepair, there is plenty of potential. It's a five-minute walk to the center of downtown, and to Bushnell Park.

"The buildings are beautiful,'' McMahon said. "They're classic Main Street.''

Mayor Luke Bronin describes the Main Street block, which includes the Capital Preparatory Magnet School, as "an important connector'' to the ballpark and the rest of the Downtown North (DoNo) quadrant, which is slated for a $200 million mixed-use development led by Stamford developer RMS Cos.

Hartford architect-entrepreneur William W. Crosskey II, who partnered with CMSC in assessing the Main Street corridor — which has been branded as the "Arrowhead" development — says ongoing and proposed redevelopment in and around DoNo is spurring interest in properties in adjacent blocks heading west along Main Street and Albany Avenue.

"It's more the ballfield that's made the difference in interest in this area,'' Crosskey said.

However, redevelopment challenges exist. First, many of the buildings, which were erected between 1882 and 1902, are individually owned, making coordinated improvement efforts difficult. Also, the forlorn exterior facades of some of the Main Street buildings reflect landlords' lack of investment in some of the properties, observers say, many of which house streetfront retail and living spaces above.

One of the biggest and most visible properties, the Arrowhead building, named for an ex-café tenant, overlooks the city's Public Safety Complex that occupies a converted former city Board of Education building. The city is preparing to foreclose on the building at 1355 Main St., to satisfy property-tax liens, McMahon said.

Next door is a vacant, triangular-shaped property, known as the Flatiron building, at 529 Ann Uccello St. One option is to aggregate within several years the Arrowhead and surrounding properties into one attractive parcel for an "infill'' mixed-use development, McMahon said.

A catalytic project for the block is the rehab of 1279-1283 Main St., which is owned by the San Juan Center. The project aims to turn the mixed-use property into 10, one-bedroom apartments and street-front retail and it would be financed by a mix of tax credits and loans, including CRDA financing. The thinking goes, once renovation work begins on that project, it will signal to neighboring property owners that successful building renovations can happen.

According to McMahon, CRDA received $4 million from the state Bond Commission to fund loans to eligible Main Street landlords for property improvements.

That money is apart from CMSC's $1 million "Come Home to Downtown'' loan fund that is open to private and nonprofit landlords-developers to convert eligible properties into affordable and market-rate housing in Hartford and seven other Connecticut communities, McMahon said.

So far, he said, $227,000 in CMSC funds has been lent to five projects — two of them in Hartford's North End.

Crosskey says CRDA's property-improvement loan pool aims to help Main Street-block landlords improve their buildings' storefronts and convert vacant or underused upper-level space to living quarters.

Doing so, Crosskey says would enable landlords to leverage more revenue from their properties, money to pay property taxes and that can be reinvested in maintaining them long term.

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