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Developer Avner Krohn’s relationship with New Britain began about 15 years ago when he first saw the Andrews Building at 136 Main St.
“The building had been gutted probably less than 20 years prior but it just wasn’t run well,” Krohn said.
Today, the Andrews Building is a mix of retail on the lower floors and luxury apartments above after Krohn’s company, Jasko Development, renovated it. Other downtown New Britain buildings Jasko resurrected include the Rao and Raphael buildings, each now a mix of retail and residential.
As Krohn, 40, embarks on his biggest New Britain project — a $14 million, luxury 107-unit apartment building at Main and Bank streets dubbed The Brit — he says his work in the Hardware City is far from done.
“I think New Britain can handle many hundreds of market-rate apartments downtown if you build with the right mixed use, with retail on the ground floor,” Krohn said. “I think smaller projects will come into play on the side streets once you get the vibrancy that’s necessary downtown.”
The Brit, Krohn’s fifth project in downtown New Britain, will have that mix of ground-floor retail, including a restaurant, and apartments above. He envisions attracting young professionals who can commute to Hartford from the CTfastrak bus station one block away.
“New Britain is blessed and lucky to have access points right into the downtown — Routes 72 and 9 and the proximity to I-84,” he said.
Krohn, who’s been in the development business about 17 years, said his philosophy with a project like The Brit is to create a lifestyle for his tenants.
“You’re building a community. You’re creating interaction among the tenants,” he said. “People are not just looking at coming home from work and putting their head down for the night. They may be working from home a few days a week. That’s why we’re going to have an outdoor area that’s going to be landscaped and have grills. We’ll have a pet spa.”
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who described Krohn as an involved partner of the city, said she has high hopes for The Brit’s ability to draw in younger professionals.
“Attracting more young professionals to New Britain would positively impact our local economy, increase participation in community organizations and cultural events, as well as elevate New Britain’s reputation as a thriving city with a bright future,” Stewart said. “We believe the young professionals who move here will fall in love with their new city and make long-term commitments themselves.”
Krohn said Jasko’s philosophy is to adapt each project to the setting. For example, he and Brian Zelman of Zelman Real Estate partnered on The Residences at Wash Brook in Bloomfield, which will have no retail.
Instead, the project with 111 apartments in a four-story building just under 135,000 square feet will focus on nature, occupying five acres of a 17-acre parcel with the rest placed in a conservation easement.
“The entire goal is to tailor a development to the specific area where it’s located,” Krohn said. “From a design aspect, from an architectural aspect, from an engineering aspect, we look at the neighborhood, the setting and make sure it fits. Every setting we’re building in has its own vibe, its own look, its own creative aspect.”
Krohn sees New Britain as a partner in his project and said he works closely with Mayor Stewart and her staff.
“We’re looking at it as a blank canvas and we’re saying, ‘How do we create the new New Britain?’ I’m thinking about, ‘How do I make this city a better place?’ Mayor Stewart and city officials understand it’s a long-term vision. As a developer, you want to piggyback on the fact that you have a mayor and officials who understand your vision.”
Stewart said Krohn’s work on the Rao, Andrews and Raphael buildings represent the first major investments in downtown by a private developer in decades.
“Many developers just renovate or develop a property and then leave, but Avner has been actively committed to the city of New Britain for over a decade,” she said.
The city has provided Jasko with tax breaks and other incentives.
“Most towns in the state — definitely Hartford County — work to provide incentives to developers,” Krohn said. “A lot of these projects would make no economic sense if you didn’t have either a [payment in lieu of taxes] program, or a tax-fix structure, or an abatement.”
Stewart said the tax incentives aid the developer and, in turn, tenants through lower rents. Eventually, tax deals help grow the grand list over time while also improving the neighborhood, she added.
Krohn said Jasko’s advantage is its ability to take on and complete many projects.
“We have our own construction team and in-house construction management, so all our projects — the year or two years of pre-construction — are done in-house by our team,” he said. “It makes a big difference with quality and understanding how to maneuver.”
He also said that model helps with project financing because his company has a track record of successful projects.
Krohn said Jasko employs a combination of financing, including investors, for his multimillion-dollar developments.
“But once we get to a certain point on a project, we’re going the traditional lending route. We have great relationships with lenders,” he said.
It seems Krohn was always destined to be an entrepreneur. As a child growing up in Rockland County, N.Y., he started mowing lawns at age 10 and grew that into a landscaping business he sold at age 17.
He then spent four years in Israel, studying and playing drums professionally, coming home each summer to study finance and real estate. He said his parents supported him in pursuing his dream of a career in development and real estate.
Today, Krohn is a married family man living on Long Island, spending the occasional night in Connecticut for business.
Other projects Jasko is currently involved with include a proposed 360-unit apartment at the former Showcase Cinemas in East Hartford, a commercial project in West Hartford Center, a 200,000-square-foot retail project in North Carolina and medical buildings in Massachusetts.
Despite his full agenda, Krohn said his work is much more than a job.
“There’s never a boring moment or hour. No matter how long you’re in the business, it’s always changing,” he said. “It’s the creative aspect of looking at something that may be desolate or blighted, then bringing it, and the area around it, back to life. And when I drive by a completed project at night and see the lights on — nothing is more gratifying.”
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