This short, boomerang-shaped street that bends around the former MassMutual building was part of Hartford's Asylum Hill neighborhood that was cut off from downtown by the ill-advised placement of I-84 through the center of the city in the 1960s. In 2001, MassMutual officials said they had to demolish six historic apartment buildings on Fraser Place for parking.
The city allowed the demolition, over much objection, only to see the company abandon the city. Now the new owners of the property want to close Fraser Place. While their overall plans for the property look promising, closing the street is not a good idea.
The new owners of the 81-year-old Georgian Revival building, Calare Properties of Hudson, Mass., and Hackman Capital Partners of Los Angeles, plan to invest about $30 million in a makeover. It will orient the 450,000-square-foot MassMutual building toward downtown. They hope to attract a number of office tenants.
This page has applauded the concept. But closing the street is another matter.
Though the street isn't heavily used, it is the easiest way downtown for many residents of Asylum Hill, including those in the Ashley Street area, site of several newly renovated homes. The idea is to connect the neighborhoods with downtown, not disconnect them.
There's a reason street grids have been around for so many centuries: They are a good thing. They give a city flexibility and opportunity. As long as the street is there, it can be used for travel, or again for homes or businesses. Take it away, and a little of the city's potential goes with it. The developers also plan to demolish the last residence - a three-unit building - on Fraser Place. It would be a healthier street with more residences.
Also, closing Fraser Place will move more traffic to Garden Street, already crowded at rush hour. If anything, Hartford should be rebuilding its grid - as is being done with the reopening of Temple Street downtown - not diminishing it.
The developers' objective is security, a valid concern, one shared by large corporations in Asylum Hill. But turning the neighborhood into gated communities is not the way to respond. We're trying to be Hartford, not Belfast or Baghdad. Sensible security, an active police presence and feet on the street are a better long-term solution.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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