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November 13, 2023

Hartford’s Bushnell theater worries parking lost to redevelopment could spell trouble

Contributed A rendering of the Bushnell South development plan in downtown Hartford.

Concerns over the loss of parking to redevelopment south of Hartford’s Bushnell Park could trigger a rare conflict between the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and Capital Region Development Authority.

The two natural allies have slightly divergent interests in the three properties that make up a 2.2-acre parking lot bounded by Capitol Avenue and Buckingham, Hudson and West streets.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth, on Thursday, told the agency’s Regional & Economic Development Committee that Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners is seeking a CRDA loan to buy the lot from The Simon Konover Co.

Spinnaker’s 2020 purchase of a former state office building at 55 Elm St. from Konover came with an option to buy the parking lot one block to the south, Freimuth said. That option has been triggered, Freimuth said, and Spinnaker is facing a January deadline to make the purchase or let it expire.

Spinnaker is currently engaged in remodeling a former state office complex at 55 Elm St., into 164 apartments, a project backed by low-interest gap financing from CRDA. According to Freimuth, the Norwalk real estate firm is likely to pursue a mix of commercial and residential development on the parking lots to the south, probably with CRDA backing once more.

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Spinnaker Development Partners is seeking a Capital Region Development Authority loan to purchase this 2.2-acre site bounded by Capitol Avenue, Buckingham Street, Hudson Street and West Street. Representatives of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts have expressed worry about the impact of parking loss to redevelopment.

CRDA board member Robert E. Patricelli is also a member of the Bushnell’s Board of Trustees. On Thursday, he told the CRDA subcommittee that the Bushnell board voted to make an offer on the 2.2-acre site. The theater’s leadership, worried about lost parking for patrons, wants to ensure parking is part of any future development on the site, Patricelli said.

“We feel a solution to the Bushnell’s longer-term parking needs has to be part of the CRDA’s objectives and consideration,” Patricelli said. “Without that, frankly, the principal economic driver of the neighborhood, the Bushnell itself, would not survive.”

Freimuth responded the property isn’t the CRDA’s to sell nor the Bushnell’s to buy. At least for now. Spinnaker has an option to buy it from Konover. 

The Bushnell could approach either entity or both to seek accommodations, Freimuth said. By loaning Spinnaker money for the purchase, the CRDA would have some leverage over the site’s future.

“The one thing we can all agree on is we don’t want a long-term parking lot there, and there has to be something bigger than surface parking,” Freimuth said. “And that’s got to be part of any agreement and any deal and any structure going forward.”

The property in question is part of a larger 20-acre “Bushnell South” area targeted for redevelopment. The city, CRDA, Bushnell theater and Spinnaker all contributed to a 2021 redevelopment plan produced by Boston-based architecture and planning firm Goody Clancy. 

The plan calls for transformation of a wide swath of parking lots just south of Bushnell Park into a neighborhood of 1,200 households, mixed with parks, commercial space and parking structures.

Reached after Thursday’s meeting, Freimuth said Spinnaker would be seeking a $2 million to $3 million CRDA loan to buy the lot. The CRDA could negotiate conditions requiring development consistent with the Goody Clancy plan, and could include a deadline to begin development work, Freimuth said. 

Importantly, a CRDA loan to Spinnaker could rule out use of the site for a federal courthouse, a prospect Freimuth has voiced opposition to in the past.

The 2.2 acre lot is one of three candidates the federal General Services Administration is considering for a replacement for the aging Abraham A. Ribicoff United States Building and Courthouse at 450 Main St. 

The other contenders are a parking lot at 154 Allyn St., and a 10-acre property in the city’s Asylum Hill neighborhood currently hosting a state office building.

Any loan to Spinnaker would come with a condition ruling the 2.2-acre site in the Bushnell South area out of consideration, Freimuth said. 

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