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May 20, 2022

East Hartford eyes Silver Lane acquisitions to redevelop dingy commercial corridor

East Hartford is gearing up for a multimillion-dollar effort to revitalize its dingy Silver Lane corridor by acquiring multiple large, dated and underperforming buildings for redevelopment.

City officials are moving to adopt a strategic plan, developed under a $50,000 contract by East Hartford-based real estate advisors Gorman + York.

The plan – which will be the subject of a public forum next Wednesday – seeks to stop the decline of the Silver Lane corridor

“The plan gives us the proper tools to prioritize and explain the town’s priorities for development and blight removal,” Eileen Buckheit, East Hartford director of development, wrote in response to questions from the Hartford Business Journal.

Eileen Buckheit, Development Director, East Hartford

The plan looks at largely commercial and industrial properties on either side of Silver Lane, from the Charter Oak Mall west to a series of small plazas by the commuter on ramp to Interstate 84. 

The aim is to capitalize on recently announced plans by Boston-based National Development to redevelop a 300-acre portion of the former Rentschler Field. That plan aims to add two warehouse buildings totaling 2.5 million square feet, as well as two more buildings of roughly 100,000 square feet for high-tech manufacturing and research.

East Hartford’s new strategic plan aims to avoid displacing area residents, but prioritizes several properties for acquisition and redevelopment, including, in order:

  • Silver Lane Plaza – 808-850 Silver Lane
  • Nursing Home – 51 Applegate Lane
  • Charter Oak Mall and associated ring road – 934-940 Silver Lane
  • Futtner Farm – 711 Silver Lane
  • Pratt & Whitney fields
  • 755 Silver Lane
  • 707 Silver Lane (UTC)
  • Five properties in 2018 Revitalization Plan

In addition to acquiring key pieces of property, Gorman + York suggests East Hartford adopt a special zoning district for the Silver Lane area that provides a swift and predictable land-use approval process, along with more flexibility for highest-yield designs. Gorman + York’s plan also calls for reducing the retail square footage of the area through demolition of obsolete buildings.

Today, it is not that Silver Lane is overbuilt,” reads a portion of the Gorman + York report. “It is that Silver Lane is under-demolished. There is too much older, nearly functionally obsolescent retail space in the corridor that can no longer compete — can no longer attract investment.”

The plan also calls for East Hartford to invest in sidewalks, roads and other infrastructure, demonstrating to investors the town’s commitment to Silver Lane’s resurgence.  

The town has access to funding for a grand effort. Connecticut lawmakers have allocated $60 million to East Hartford redevelopment in recent years, according to Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority. The money would flow through his agency, which has so far pledged to use $9 million for Silver Lane redevelopment.

East Hartford is already pursuing the broad strategy recommended in the new plan. The town purchased the closed Showcase Cinema site on Silver Lane in 2019, then demolished the structure. It has entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with New Britain-based Jasko Development and Zelman Real Estate of West Hartford.

The investors plan to build up to 420 apartment units on the Showcase site, Buckheit told CRDA board members Thursday. Land-use approvals are expected in August, allowing for a sale to be finalized in the final quarter of the year, she said.

Buckheit said a similar approval and purchase timetable is expected for the National Development’s efforts at Rentschler Field.

“We are trying to change the image of the corridor,” Buckheit said. “We are trying to change the image of this entire area.”

The plan laid out by Gorman + York must undergo review by East Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission, before going to the Town Council for adoption, Buckheit told the CRDA board. She hopes to see the process completed by summer, then tackle sites one-by-one. 

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