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Front Street `This Close'

September 9, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

With a deadline looming and a pointed push from the governor to get a deal done, talks continued Friday between the state, the city and the prospective developer for the long-delayed Front Street project, officials said.

"We are in positive discussions with all the parties," said Michael Cicchetti, a spokesman for the state agency in charge of negotiating a deal for the retail, residential and entertainment district planned for just across the street from the new Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

"When you're this close to bringing something together, no one wants to walk away because we need a little bit of extra time."

Although Cicchetti said the talks were going well, he said the deal would not be done by Friday - the day beyond which Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she did not want the Capital City Economic Development Authority to go.

In a letter to the chairman of the authority in late August, Rell said that she was "increasingly concerned about continued delays" in the project and that she would not agree to an extension beyond Sept. 8.

"CCEDA may have become so accustomed to delays that it is too willing to accept these as standard business practice," she wrote on Aug. 25. "I do not accept this premise, nor should you."

But on Friday, Rell's spokesman, Judd Everhart, softened that message.

"As long as the talks are continuing in good faith, and as long as progress is being made, Gov. Rell is willing to allow them to continue," he said.

Front Street is the roughly 6-acre retail, residential and entertainment district planned for Adriaen's Landing. Part of the goal is to link the Connecticut Convention Center with the rest of downtown.

The state has made several attempts to develop the site. In August 2004, the Capital City Economic Development Authority dumped developer Richard Cohen when he failed to begin building two years after signing a contract with the state.

Then, after a hurried and failed attempt to find a new developer in 2004, the state began anew, seeking interested developers. In April 2005, Greenwich developer Bradley Nitkin was the final choice for "preferred developer," and the two sides began working toward a development agreement.

In February of this year, the authority signed an agreement with Nitkin that allows for a phased development of the project. As part of that deal, the state pledged $33 million to the project and gave Nitkin 120 days to secure funding from Hartford.

That deadline was later extended until Sept. 8.

But the city didn't like the scope of Nitkin's original proposal - 60 residential units and 43,000 square feet of retail - and told him that if he wanted all of the money he was asking for, he'd have to do the whole project. The original scope was 200 residential units and 100,000 square feet of retail.

Last month, in response to Nitkin's comeback offer for 115 units and 60,000 square feet of retail, the city committed $4.2 million in grants and loans and a tax-fixing agreement that could be worth several million dollars. The city has since upped its offer twice - offering a total of $7 million in grants and loans, as well as a sweetened tax-fixing agreement worth more than originally planned, officials said.

City officials still say they think Nitkin is waiting for between $5 million and $7 million more from the state.

Cicchetti said a deal could reasonably be in place within a week.

"The city has done every possible thing it can do," said Matt Hennessy, chief of staff to Mayor Eddie A. Perez, adding that the mayor will recommend that the city council approve the funding as soon as he gets confirmation that the state has cemented a deal. "He needs to hear from the [state] that this deal is ready to go."

Nitkin could not be reached for comment.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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