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August 25, 2014 SUMMER SERIES: HARTFORD IN 2024

The catalyst investor

PHOTO | HBJ File Suzanne M. Hopgood was chosen by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to be the founding chairman of the Capital Region Development Authority, which has led redevelopment projects in Hartford.

Hartford's current revival efforts wouldn't be possible without the help of state investment.

The Capital Region Development Authority, which was created in 2012 to better coordinate economic development efforts in Greater Hartford, has been the main deal maker and financier of most apartment projects currently underway in downtown Hartford.

CRDA is overseeing about a $300 million project pipeline, ranging from XL Center renovations to the relocation of 3,000 state workers to downtown Hartford.

Suzanne M. Hopgood was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as the organization's founding chairman. A Hartford resident and long-time business consultant, who at one point oversaw a $1 billion equity real estate investment portfolio for Aetna Realty Investors, Hopgood's background made her a natural fit to get CRDA up and running.

Here are some of her thoughts and views on Hartford's future:

What's the major difference you see right now in terms of Hartford's development compared to surrounding suburbs?

It is important to start by defining the Capital City. It is the regional center for business, theater, culture and arts, transportation, the economy, government, and entertainment.

For an overview of current trends, consider corporations leaving campuses in New London (Pfizer), Middletown (Aetna), Danbury (Union Carbide), and Simsbury (The Hartford). Buildings are left to be demolished or are struggling for re-positioning.

Conversely, Hartford's formerly dead buildings are coming to life and catching the national megatrend of companies and employees moving back to the city. The renovation into apartments is happening at the Sonesta on Constitution Plaza, Bank of America Building at 777 Main St., the Capewell and Hartford Office Supply buildings, and on Front Street. Transportation initiatives are addressing future needs, as the iQuilt plan connects downtown Hartford.

Of the various development projects underway or planned for Hartford, which will have the most significant economic impact? Why?

The UConn-Hartford Campus. UConn's Hartford branch will bring 2,500 students, faculty and staff to the Capital City.

UConn's “urban campus” design will cause students to circulate throughout downtown to attend classes in a variety of buildings and some will become downtown residents. Half of those students are graduate students with more income and a greater housing demand.

All the projects currently underway are game-changers. They are all bite-size projects, being done simultaneously. New apartments, transportation, and creating a walkable city answer the needs of Millennials, many of whom are less interested in owning a car and a large house, in part due to economic realities and lifestyle changes.

The Millennials are the entrepreneurs of the future and that spirit and innovation already exists in Hartford. They will be the political leaders of the future and they will re-set attitudes towards city living.

The mixture of students and Millennials downtown creates opportunities and a demand for investment far beyond what we can see today. We're building a city of the future.

Greater Hartford remains a collection of suburbs and the city needs to develop a regional strategy as the center of the region.

About five years ago, few people would have predicted the pace of new development in downtown. In 10 years, what might be an unexpected development/result that comes about as a result of the current initiatives underway?

New businesses will open to serve the increase in downtown activity. Many of those businesses will be student-centric, focusing on the needs of UConn-Hartford students.

Public transportation and biking will also improve along with walkability as iQuilt continues to be implemented.

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