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January 19, 2024

CRDA extinguishes parking spat with the Bushnell theater

Contributed A rendering of the Bushnell South development plan in downtown Hartford.

The Capital Region Development Authority, on Thursday, approved a $3 million loan to help Spinnaker Real Estate Partners purchase roughly 2.2 acres just south of Hartford’s Bushnell Park for a mixed-use development.

The loan to the Norwalk-based developer comes with conditions meant to ease concerns coming from the Bushnell theater, which currently uses the larger of two blocks of property included in the pending sale as event parking. 

The Bushnell’s leadership feared a conversion of the roughly 2-acre parking lot at 63 and 67 Capitol Ave, and 186 Buckingham St. could cause a real risk to its operations.

The loan terms approved Thursday require at least three years of free access to the parking lot for Bushnell events. Site developers must also seek to allow the Bushnell to invest in first-floor commercial space and/or parking, if possible.

Additionally, the CRDA has committed to forming a working group to develop a parking and traffic plan for the roughly 20-acre “Bushnell South” development zone. The area, located south of the park, is being targeted for mixed-use redevelopment, with the city and CRDA seeking to incentivize developers to pursue compatible projects on public and private property in the zone. The working group will involve developers active in the Bushnell South area, along with representatives from CRDA, the city and the Bushnell theater.

At a November meeting, CRDA board member Robert E. Patricelli, also a member of the Bushnell’s Board of Trustees, warned the loss of parking to Spinnaker might threaten the theater’s continued viability. At that time, he said the Bushnell leadership wanted to make its own bid for the property.
Patricelli, on Thursday, praised CRDA leadership’s moves to address parking concerns. He abstained from a vote on the loan out of concern for a possible conflict but voiced strong support for the loan terms.

“I also want the record to show the Bushnell would like to express its appreciation to the (CRDA) chairman and the executive director in particular for their interventions to come to this, I think, suitable compromise proposal,” Patricelli said Thursday.

Spinnaker has a pre-existing option to buy the property, and a nearby quarter-acre site, from the Simon Konover Co., an option that expires this month.
CRDA Director Michael Freimuth was eager to help the developer acquire the property, which gives CRDA some influence over the destiny of the properties. 

The agency is pushing for redevelopment in accordance with a 2021 Bushnell South master redevelopment plan developed by Boston-based architectural firm Goody Clancy. It calls for a neighborhood of 1,200 households, mixed with parks, commercial space and parking structures.

Another condition of the loan to Spinnaker is the removal of the 2-acre parking lot from consideration as a location for a new federal courthouse. It is currently one of three Hartford sites under consideration.

“We have found that to be inconsistent with the plan and we certainly want to encourage housing around the park and not a federal office building that is basically highly secured and active only certain parts of the week,” Freimuth told his board this Thursday.

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