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November 17, 2022

Developer eyes $130M, 360-unit mixed-use development for Hartford’s Bushnell South

CRDA These are the developable parcels in the Bushnell South area.

A New Jersey developer who was selected to build on a 2.8-acre parking lot south of Bushnell Park in Hartford submitted a proposal outlining an estimated $129.6 million project, with 360 multifamily units and 2,500 square feet of retail space.

But the final project at 165 Capitol Ave. could look much different.
This week it was revealed that a selection committee including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and representatives of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) had picked The Michael’s Organization out of four applicants.  

A representative of Camden, New Jersey-based Michaels said the company’s submission – which, like the others, came in June – represented the upper limit of a range of density proposed under the “request-for-qualifications” issued by CRDA.

The number of units and size of retail offerings could change to match input from residents and area stakeholders, said Jay Russo, a vice president with Michaels.

“We plan on meeting all the stakeholders and listening to the mayor and neighbors and hearing what everybody has to say about their visions and seeing if we can make them a reality,” Russo said. “The problem with RFP and RFQs is you are kind of working in a vacuum. We like to hear what the abutters are talking about. Things like that are important to make a project a success.”

The lot is near both the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and part of a larger “Bushnell South” redevelopment area the city hopes to see transformed into a neighborhood of about 1,800 residents, with retail, restaurant, entertainment and arts offerings.

Michaels’ submission called for two apartment buildings, one with 189 units and one with 156. There would be 15 townhouses, each with two bedrooms. The development would have 44 parking spaces, including 29 under one apartment building and 15 under the townhouses.

The apartments would be divided into 140 studios, 177 one-bedroom and 28 two-bedroom units.

Michaels proposed to pay $2 million for the development site.  

Four developers responded to the CRDA RFP. Michaels’ selection was revealed this week in materials shared with the CRDA board ahead of its Thursday afternoon meeting.

Two of the applicants have worked in Hartford, including Spectra, an offshoot of New York-based Wonder Works Construction, and Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners. The fourth contender was Charlotte-based builder LCM, which has subsequently rebranded to Quarterra Multifamily.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth lauded all four applicants as strong contenders, each capable of completing the project.

LCM and Michaels came out as close finalists, partially based on a desire to draw new developers to Hartford, Freimuth said.

Ultimately, the complexity of Michaels’ proposal, its hefty staff capacity and experience working in challenging urban environments helped put it over the top, as did its inclusion of owner-occupied housing.

“The Michaels’ proposal had a more in-depth approach to it,” Freimuth said. “They had more horsepower at the staff level, who were doing more difficult, complicated urban development deals. They were in tougher marketplaces, like Camden, Philadelphia and Chicago. Those are tough markets to work in. They’ve been doing it awhile. They understand it. It’s second nature to that team.”

Freimuth also acknowledged that plans could change. He said massive shifts in interest rates, ongoing supply chain problems and other factors could impact ultimate designs and phasing of the project.

“What was submitted was relevant to compare the four proposals,” Freimuth said. “What has yet to develop is a real development plan with a real budget.”

Freimuth said his agency will spend months negotiating the terms with Michaels. The resulting development agreement will need approval of the full CRDA board.

Freimuth was not able to offer a concrete timetable but believed a development agreement could be ready for a vote in spring.

Russo said Michaels hopes to break ground in 18 to 24 months, then complete the project within 20 to 24 months more.

“I think Hartford’s a great place,” Russo said. “I think this could be a great place for people to live, work and play.” 

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