By Jamie Bratt
Hartford’s development headlines this year reveal a tale of two cities. On the one hand, the structural deficit and high tax rate have stagnated the city, leading to depressed real estate values and some high-profile corporate departures. On the contrary, “The ongoing redevelopment has begun to change the trajectory of Hartford, particularly downtown, bringing more people to live here and explore all the city has to offer. Hartford also remains the commercial epicenter of the region, home to many blue-chip corporations as well as small and midsize businesses crucial to the economy.
In a few examples, downtown redevelopment has occurred entirely through private investment. These include the refurbishment of the Goodwin Hotel, which recently reopened its 125 guest rooms and half dozen event spaces with a signature first-floor restaurant Harlan Brasserie. The iconic historic hotel had been shuttered for nearly a decade. The Candlewood Suites also undertook new private development within a stone’s throw of Hartford’s new baseball stadium. Although Dunkin’ Donuts Park was plagued by delays and cost overruns in 2016, fans quickly forgave the tumult and had avidly embraced the Yard Goats in their beautiful new stadium which opened in April of this year. Dunkin’ Donuts Park recently earned the title of best minor league ballpark in the nation by Ballpark Digest.
The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) has played a pivotal role in the infusion of strategic downtown redevelopment, offering secondary financing to help close underwriting gaps. Though CRDA does deploy investments elsewhere in the region, creating new residential units in Downtown Hartford and putting mothballed buildings to productive use, have been a core mission of the agency. In the last four years, CRDA has participated in the production of over 900 apartment units downtown, with a current average occupancy rate of 94 percent. Projects included restoration of historic mill buildings, conversion of former bank headquarters, and even much smaller boutique projects. The overall mix of units is 86 percent market rate, 14 percent affordable. The next wave of CRDA investments downtown will bring another 600 units of residential. Combined with 400 units created by CRDA’s predecessor, the agency has achieved two-thirds of its downtown production goal – approximately 2,000 units. Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut (UConn) is adding finishing touches to its signature downtown campus across from City Hall (many will remember the Hartford Times façade, which now serves as UConn’s ceremonial downtown front door). The project includes approximately 30,000 square feet of retail. Barnes & Noble will anchor about half that space.
In addition, the State of Connecticut shifted 2,100 employees to a newly-renovated home at 450 Constitution Plaza, a long time vacant office building overlooking the Connecticut River. The XL Center attracted over 600,000 attendees to various events last year. The combined effect is a dramatic increase in feet-on-the-street, seven days a week, essential to infusing vibrancy in Hartford’s downtown.
Jamie Bratt, Director of Planning & Economic Development, City of Hartford