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May 19, 2023

East Hartford targets $20M in public funds to spur large-scale private developments

Contributed A rendering shows what a possible development on the site of the demolished Showcase Cinemas multiplex in East Hartford would look like.
Michael Puffer | Hartford Business Journal East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh (left to right), Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and State Rep. Jeffrey Currey, D-11th District, visit the former Showcase Cinema site off SIlver Lane in East Hartford, where developers plan to build at a complex of at least 300 apartments.

East Hartford is planning to use $17 million in state funds and $3 million from town taxpayers to advance three private redevelopment projects, two of which would each add hundreds of new market-rate apartments.

The Capital Region Development Authority board of directors, on Thursday, signed off on the use of $10 million in new state bond funds and the repurposing of about $7 million in previously authorized bonding to aid three developments. These include a large-scale, mixed-use project adding hundreds of apartments and more to the Founders Plaza office park; development of at least 300 apartments at the former Showcase Cinemas site; and demolition of a former school to make room for an estimated 16 new houses.  

These requests also need to clear the state Bond Commission, which is expected to take them up at an upcoming meeting.

$10 million for demo

East Hartford got the CRDA’s blessing Thursday to spend $10 million to demolish the former McCartin School and three large derelict buildings at, or adjacent to Founders Plaza.

Town officials want to demolish the empty school to make room for houses that would mix well with the surrounding residential neighborhood. A development partner has not yet been identified.

At Founders Plaza, the town is working with undisclosed developers on a plan to add hundreds of apartments, along with new restaurants, entertainment, office space and passive recreation amenities. The roughly 50-year-old office park sits near the bank of the Connecticut River opposite downtown Hartford.
The lion’s share of the demo funds will be used to take down the former Red Thread Building at 300 East River Drive, the former Bank of America building at 20 Hartland St., and a parking garage.

“Really our conclusion is we have to remove those buildings to allow for new development,” East Hartford Director of Development Eileen Buckheit told the CRDA board Thursday. “We are looking for mixed-use development that has some housing, entertainment, restaurants – things that would work well being close to Founders Bridge and the East Coast Greenway. That demo number looks really large, but these are large buildings.”

East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh said the Founders Plaza development is a top priority that will generate tax revenue and add vibrancy using the town’s most attractive and valuable development site.

“There will be a large live, work, play development overlooking the Connecticut River and the first step is to turn back the clock 50 years (through demolition),” Walsh said Friday morning. “To me, it’s a complementary development of the town’s best underutilized asset.”

Concourse Park also in line for subsidy

The CRDA board also signed off on East Hartford’s request to repurpose $7 million in previously approved state bond funding to defray costs of a planned development of at least 300 apartments on a 25-acre site off Silver Lane that once hosted a Showcase Cinemas.

East Hartford has already spent about $5 million of $12 million in previously approved state bonding on the purchase and demolition of the cinema site. It is now seeking approval to use the remaining funds to defray costs to build the much-anticipated Concourse Park apartment complex. Town officials aim to get remaining funds reauthorized in a manner that would allow for them to be applied to apartment construction.

Walsh said the Concourse Park development is a critical piece of a broader plan to revive the long-stagnant and declining Silver Lane commercial corridor. Massachusetts-based National Development is already building 2.5 million square feet of logistics space at Rentschler Field, and the city is moving to redevelop an enormous retail plaza on Silver Lane.

“That is simply the funding that needs to be in place to make this development a reality,” Walsh said of $10 million being directed at Concourse Park. “It’s all part of a critical development to make Silver Lane the economic engine it once was.”

Buckheit said town officials plan to use $3 million in previously approved municipal bonds to upgrade the street and utilities heading into the Showcase site.

New York-based developer Avner Krohn and West Hartford-based developer Brian Zelman had originally agreed to build at least 360 apartments and had land-use approvals that would have allowed up to 477 units. After interest rates soared and banks tightened their lending standards, the pair received town permission to scale back the proposal to a minimum of at least 300 units, a project the CRDA estimates will cost $80 million.

In recent interviews, Krohn and Zelman said they plan to begin building this fall and still aim to erect 402 units.  Reaching that goal will depend on the amount of financing they can secure from lenders, Krohn and Zelman said. 

Krohn said he anticipates leasing apartments after 18 or 19 months and completing the project completely within two years. 

Investments by the state and town are crucial to help overcome fast-rising interest rates and construction costs that have risen dramatically over the past two years or so, Krohn said. He praised Mayor Walsh for having the vision to make an investment that will pay long-term dividends.

Krohn said the city-owned Showcase site pays nothing in taxes today but will yield $800,000 annually after development wraps. Beyond that, this is the first market-rate housing development in East Hartford in decades, Krohn said. It will feature meticulous landscaping, right down to ensuring flowering plants match the color scheme of buildings, he noted. It will also be loaded with amenities, including a pool, 12,500-square-foot clubhouse, gardens, 16 acres of paths and more, he said.

“There are a lot of people working in the town who don’t have a market-rate option in the town,” Krohn said. “That means they’re spending their money somewhere else. That’s the reason these funds are so necessary.”

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