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December 11, 2023 5 We Watched

Late developer Martin Kenny’s work continues to shape CT’s multifamily landscape

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER Lexington Partners’ late founder Martin J. Kenny in the chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery in West Hartford.
In Memoriam: Martin J. Kenny
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Prominent Hartford real estate developer Martin J. Kenny headed into 2023 with a significant project lineup.

The most ambitious was a 292-unit apartment development at the 22-acre Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery campus in West Hartford. The project was complex and long in the making; it needed to balance the needs and desires of surviving nuns, town officials and nearby residents.

Wetlands needed to be shielded. The sale, and subsequent changes in the property’s use, needed the blessing of the Vatican in Rome.

Two developers had previously tried and failed to get the project off the ground, noted Chris Reilly, president of Kenny’s company, Lexington Partners.

But Kenny had a knack for realizing opportunities where others saw obstacles, Reilly said. Kenny negotiated a deal that set aside a portion of the existing brick-sided Sisters of St. Joseph building on One Park Road as a condo — maintaining it as a residence for the aging society of nuns.

The remainder of the century-old building was refurbished into 92 modern apartments, which began leasing in May. Monthly rents for the studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments initially ranged from $1,590 to $3,400.

Meantime, a newly constructed, 200-unit apartment building wrapped around the rear of the Sisters of St. Joseph building debuted in October.

Unfortunately, Kenny died of a heart attack in September, just prior to the “One Park” development’s completion. He was 67.

His death came as a shock to the Greater Hartford business community, where Kenny had an outsized impact.

Patrick Kenny (left) and Kevin Kenny, carry on their father’s work as vice presidents at Lexington Partners.

But while Kenny is gone, his company continues work on projects he envisioned. Lexington Partners is also advancing tentative concepts and partnerships Kenny began forming.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October, family, friends and officials honored his memory and unveiled a “ONE PARK” sign in bold letters across the front entrance of the recently completed West Hartford apartment development. The sign includes Kenny’s flourished signature, which appears like an artist signing his work.

“He had a strong signature,” Patrick Kenny, his son, noted just after a covering was lifted off the sign.

Patrick and his younger brother, Kevin Kenny, are vice presidents at Lexington Partners. They have pledged to carry on the business in their father’s memory, along with Reilly and parking magnate Alan Lazowski, Martin Kenny’s longtime friend and business partner.

Martin Kenny learned the development business under his father, Maurice. With Patrick and, later, Kevin Kenny joining Lexington Partners, Martin Kenny headed into 2023 saying he felt rejuvenated and ready for big things.

A full plate

Kenny entered the year with hopes to begin redevelopment of the former Red Lion Hotel property in Cromwell. The plan was to demolish the decaying hotel and replace it with 254 apartments, 20 townhomes and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.

The project was delayed as construction and borrowing costs jumped significantly. In October, Cromwell officials signed off on a 10-year tax abatement that will allow the two-year, $100 million project to launch in the second quarter of 2024, starting with demolition of the shuttered hotel property, Reilly said.

In September, Lexington began a $14 million conversion of a 130-year-old, granite-block courthouse in the quaint center of Litchfield into a 20-room boutique hotel. Lexington and Lazowski are partnered in the project, while SALT hotels has a 10% equity stake and will manage the property upon completion.

That project is expected to wrap by next August.

Just before his death, Kenny unveiled plans for a $26.7 million transformation of the former LAZ Parking headquarters at 15 Lewis St., in Hartford, into 78 apartments and a restaurant space, potentially with rooftop dining overlooking Bushnell Park.

The state Bond Commission, on Oct. 6, approved $7 million for the Capital Region Development Authority to provide a low-interest loan for the project.

Lexington is working with an architect to meet standards for historic tax credit assistance. Once those are secured, the rest of the funding stack will be assembled, Reilly said.

Reilly said Lexington expects to start the estimated two-year project in the second quarter of 2024.

Founders Plaza redevelopment

Kenny and Lazowski this year were also recruited to be part of an ambitious $841 million redevelopment of the roughly 50-year-old Founders Plaza office park along the Connecticut River in East Hartford.

Reilly said the project is off to a good start, garnering pledges of support from local, state and federal officials. He expects demolition of two existing buildings on-site to begin in late January or early February. That will be funded by a $6.5 million state grant.

Reilly said the development team is working with East Hartford officials to create a master development plan.

With construction financing increasingly difficult to secure, the development team has decided to tackle the Founders Plaza project in manageable chunks, Reilly said.

They expect to begin with a light industrial building designed to suit an unidentified tenant and 375 apartments, Reilly said. If all goes well, that construction could begin in early 2025, Reilly said.

Shoreline retail redevelopment

In 2023, Kenny also began negotiating with the owners of a large shoreline retail property for a joint redevelopment that would create hundreds of apartments and new retail space.

Reilly said discussions are ongoing with local officials, but the project is not advanced enough to share further details.

He did say local officials have been enthusiastic about the vision. The project could start in early 2025, Reilly said.

Kenny had begun lining up several additional projects, none of which are sufficiently advanced enough to discuss publicly, Reilly said.

Reilly noted with wry humor that he keeps the funeral prayer card of his friend and boss in his car, and sometimes addresses Kenny through it, asking him how he managed to juggle so much.

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