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November 30, 2020 Town Profile: Hartford

Bushnell Park’s historic Pump House readies for up to $600K renovation

Those working on renovation plans for the Pump House in Hartford include (from left): Antonio Matta, Bushnell Park Foundation (BPF) board member; iQuilt’s Jackie Mandyck; city engineer Frank Dellaripa; and BPF Executive Director Mary Zeman.

The city of Hartford has had many major new developments in recent years that have dominated the headlines.

But sometimes it’s smaller projects that can make a big difference in helping the city become a more attractive place to live, work and play — something all Hartford employers increasingly desire so they can attract top talent.

That’s the case with a planned renovation of the Pump House in downtown Hartford’s Bushnell Park, which seeks to restore a historic building to its former luster so it can be a more attractive place for visitors and potential events.

The Bushnell Park Foundation recently signed a license agreement with the city to manage the Pump House Gallery space and will help oversee the renovations that will include interior and exterior repairs like new windows, lighting, gutters, decorative gates and carriage doors. Renovations will also be made to the bathroom and electrical and mechanical systems, among other changes.

The upgrades, which will cost as much as $600,000 depending on how much future city funding is secured, will occur in several phases, the first of which is scheduled for the spring, said Bushnell Park Foundation Executive Director Mary Zeman. Hartford’s Maier Design Group came up with the restoration design.

The foundation’s two part-time employees will also use the Pump House Gallery as office space once the project is complete.

“It’s an untapped potential,” Zeman said of the Pump House, nearby courtyard that plays host to Winterfest’s annual ice skating rink, and surrounding park. “We are trying to utilize this space as more of a destination.”

The Pump House isn’t a huge facility but it’s already shown itself to be an attractive place to host events. Last year Hog River and Hanging Hills breweries used the building and nearby courtyard to host Bushnell Park’s first-ever beer garden event, which drew thousands of people to downtown Hartford during the dog days of summer.

That’s a significant feat given that summer months are slow in Hartford. More importantly, it attracted a lot of younger people to the city, helping restaurants and other small shops.

That’s a crowd downtown employers and apartment landlords are laser-focused on trying to attract to the city. In fact, a major corporate-backed talent recruitment initiative is in the works and could be launched next year.

The 2019 beer garden event had significant support from Mayor Luke Bronin, whose vision is to make Bushnell Park a more friendly and engaging area, said city engineer Frank Dellaripa.

The Pump House renovations, which are being funded initially by state Neighborhood Assistance Act tax credits, will coincide with other city-backed Bushnell Park upgrades, including new LED lighting, signage and sidewalk and drainage improvements.

“When people go to The Bushnell to see a show, they want to walk across the park safely to go to dinner, and that’s part of the lightning upgrade,” Dellaripa said.

Zeman said people are always asking about hosting events at the Pump House, but it’s never been a major focus for the city. However, the popularity of the beer garden event proved that section of Bushnell Park can be a draw.

And it’s not only large events that could benefit. Smaller dinner events can be held inside the Pump House and offer a unique new venue to the city once the COVID-19 pandemic passes, she said.

There could also be a summer music series in the courtyard that showcases local artists, similar to the popular Monday night jazz series that takes place on Bushnell Park’s performance pavilion.

Historic building

The Pump House, of course, is still a key and functioning part of the city’s infrastructure. It was originally built in 1947 by the Army Corps of Engineers in response to catastrophic floods that wreaked havoc on the city in the 1930s. Today it still pumps water into the park river that is buried completely underground.

In addition to its functional use, the Pump House also used to host an art gallery.

The most prominent event to make use of the Pump House in recent years has been Winterfest.

In a typical year the annual event draws tens of thousands of people downtown by turning the Pump House into a game room and nearby courtyard into a free ice skating rink.

While Winterfest has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is still a need to preserve historic buildings in the city, said Jackie Mandyck, executive director of iQuilt, which runs Winterfest.

IQuilt is working with the Bushnell Park Foundation and city on the Pump House renovations, which will need further city funding to complete later phases.

“It’s a historic building, and in the city of Hartford we need to save these historic buildings,” Mandyck said. “That is very important.”

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December 2, 2020

A complete waste of money,the Pump House,
is fine as it.Are they trying to make it to expensive
to use,like was done to the Old State house?
If they want to make the Park safe let a
few cops walk through every now & then.

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