January 31, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN And CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Courant Staff Writers
Plans to convert the dormant Hastings
Hotel and Conference Center in Hartford into the new home of the
Connecticut Culinary Institute are in doubt again, as the institute's
efforts to get state money have proved unsuccessful.
The institute has been hoping for $3.5
million that officials say they need to renovate the facility. The
money has been approved by the legislature but has stalled on the
desk of Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
"At some point it has to come
off the table, and if it's not going to happen, we need to know
... because we need to find a Plan B," said Brooke Baran, an
institute spokeswoman. "It's a little bit frustrating to know
you have the support of the legislature for a great project in Hartford,
when so many other large companies are leaving."
The institute, Baran said, would probably
have to shelve its plans for the Hastings "if we don't get
a commitment from the state that there will be an allocation of
dollars within the next couple of weeks."
The project got a boost last summer
with the endorsement from the state legislature. But after a meeting
Friday of the State Bond Commission, Rell's budget director conceded
that the project isn't a high priority.
Although the legislature puts together
a list of many bonding projects, the administration determines which
make it onto the commission's agenda each month.
"The amount they want is substantial,"
budget director Robert Genuario said. "As yet, it has not reached
the top of the priority list. We're certainly concerned about the
amount of ... the request, given the nature of the project. That's
a lot of money for that project."
The Hastings, built in 1983 by Aetna
adjacent to its Asylum Hill headquarters, was intended as a training
facility with 271 rooms and 55,000 square feet of conference space.
Its most recent operators ran the facility as a hotel, closing its
doors in 2003, leaving more than 100 people out of work and forcing
several other businesses in the building to close.
Last summer, the culinary institute
revived a year-and-a-half-old plan to buy the facility and use the
space as a replacement for the school's Farmington campus. The plan
had been in limbo after a key partner pulled out of the project
10 months earlier.
The project would require new kitchens
and a campus-style home for the school.
The institute plans to finance the
move with public and private money. The building is listed for sale
through CB Richard Ellis at $10 million.
Genuario said the project does not
stand out when viewed in the context of the state's obligations
for hundreds of millions of dollars for public school construction
and other needs.
"As you know, we have been trying
to keep control of our overall bonded indebtedness," Genuario
But state Sen. Eileen M. Daily, D-Westbrook,
who supports the project, called the conversion plan "a wonderful
project for the state of Connecticut."
"It's well worth the price tag,"
said Daily, who chairs the legislature's finance, revenue and bonding
committee. "This investment on the part of the state really
pales in comparison to some of the huge investments that the state
makes, and this is a good, solid, reliable company with an excellent
While waiting for state approval, the
institute has continued its process of securing financing, getting
construction approvals and planning for its future, Baran said.
"But as the days go by, you become
less and less hopeful," she said.
Matt Hennessy, chief of staff for Hartford
Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said the city is still supportive of the project
as a good investment of state dollars in the city.
"I think you get a big bang for
your buck," he said. Hennessy also said that some nonprofit
institutions have expressed interest in the facility, but the city
prefers a for-profit use that would not be exempt from taxes.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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