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November 9, 2023 Deal Watch

Developers pitch mixed-use redevelopment of East Hartford’s Silver Lane Plaza

A rendering of one potential plan to redevelop the Silver Lane Plaza in East Hartford.

East Hartford’s search for a developer to build on the 22-acre Silver Lane Plaza site has drawn a single response, with a team of development veterans proposing a mix of retail and up to 93 tightly packed, small lots designed for factory-built modular homes.

The development team is composed of industry veterans including Framingham, Massachusetts-based Grossman Development Group, Charter Realty Principal Daniel M. Zelson and Jason C. Hess, a veteran real estate attorney with New York-based mixed-use developer Leyland Alliance.

Collectively, the partners have helped complete millions of square feet of ground-up development and redevelopment worth more than $1.5 billion, according to the team’s RFP response.

Charter Realty paid $40 million for the 500,000-square-foot Blue Back Square in West Hartford Center in 2021, and has since done much to reposition and fill vacant space within the mixed-use development. Leyland and Charter were partnered, along with others, in the “Storrs Center” development in Mansfield, creating a mixed-use town square near UConn’s campus.

Grossman is also building a sprawling mixed-use development along the Berlin Turnpike in Newington that will yield a 269-unit luxury apartment complex and 78,000 square feet of retail space.

East Hartford paid $4.5 million to claim the 22-acre Silver Lane retail plaza this spring by eminent domain. Officials said three deteriorating buildings on the property were going increasingly vacant. 

The town claimed the property with plans to demolish the vacant buildings and find a developer to put it back into productive use.

Responses to the town’s request-for-proposals were due last week. The Grossman/Zelson/Hess team was the only respondent.

Director of Development Eileen Buckheit said Thursday that town staff will shortly begin the vetting process. Buckheit noted the town has the right to seek a new round of applications if unsatisfied with the current proposal.

The applicant’s response included three development variations, reserving the right to pick one, following an additional feasibility study. The options include:

  • A development of five retail or restaurant pad sites of 1-acre each, stretched along the frontage of Silver Lane, with 93 closely packed, single-family lots behind intended for factory-built, modular homes. The lots would be 1,800 to 2,200 square feet, supporting individual homes of 900 to 1,400 square feet, according to the application. There would also be a clubhouse and pool.
  • A 150,000-square-foot retail site for a “big box” retailer on the southwestern corner of the property (by the intersection of Applegate and Silver lanes), two freestanding retail buildings totaling 14,000 square feet on the southeastern corner, and 65 tightly packed lots for factory-built modular homes of 900 to 1,400 square feet.
  • A shopping plaza along the Silver Lane frontage, with a 20,000-square-foot anchor grocery store and three additional retail buildings adding another 30,000 square feet. This version would also have 65 tightly packed, single-family lots intended for factory-built modular homes of 900 to 1,400 square feet.

It is not clear from the application if the aim is to sell or lease the residential lots. Attempts to reach a representative of the development team were not immediately successful Thursday.

Michael Goman, a principal at real estate consulting firm Goman + York, said having satisfied its state-mandated low-income housing threshold, East Hartford is looking for development that will add value and complement nearby redevelopment projects.

Goman, who consults for the town of East Hartford, noted the applicants come with a wealth of experience.

“They are coming in with a strong track record as very capable people,” Goman said. “They’ve obviously done initial due diligence. The question is, can we find a meeting of the minds between their development plan and what the town aspires to have happen there?”

The developers are proposing to buy the property for $1 following a due-diligence period. The town would be obligated to demolish and clear three retail buildings on-site and hand it over clear of environmental hazards. 

The town would also waive permit fees and fund any needed infrastructure upgrades, including utilities, roadways, wetlands restoration, stormwater drainage, sidewalks along Silver Lane and possibly more, according to the proposal. 

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