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Developers Break Ground

Dispute With Housing Authority Won't Stop Unrelated Apartment Project

June 26, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The developers at the heart of a sweeping, now-disputed deal with the Hartford Housing Authority broke ground on 57 units of apartment housing Monday.

The roughly $15.7 million, publicly subsidized development called The Gateway will turn a vacant, 3-acre parcel just north of Hartford's downtown into a horseshoe of apartments for those living on low incomes.

The developer - SOC Group LLC - is a partnership of the nonprofit Sheldon Oak Central Inc. and SRC Construction Inc. The former is run by Daniel O. Merida; the latter is run by Meriden developer Salvatore Carabetta.

Carabetta is suing the housing authority, claiming it reneged on a deal that began with redeveloping the Nelton Court housing project and would have remade much of the city's public housing.

In an unrelated project, Carabetta has yet to pay subcontractors more than $1 million for work done and paid for by the city at the Breakthrough Magnet School.

City attorneys say the Breakthrough issue is close to resolution. And on Monday, Perez said that Carabetta's housing authority troubles didn't bother him. The Gateway project is unrelated.

"They are two separate projects and this is a project that they successfully competed for," Perez said. "Sheldon Oak has a strong history in the city."

The new apartments at 1450 Main St. will go on a 4-acre parcel the city had long pushed for retail activity. Merida has long been interested in building apartments at the site.

In its most recent round of bidding on the site, the city issued a request for proposals in May 2005. Merida and Carabetta came back with a combination residential/retail plan. They were ultimately selected to move the project forward.

But getting retailers to commit to the site has been hard, Merida said. Two things stopped retailers from committing to the project to date: the lack of a suitable corner lot for a major retail store, and their reluctance to commit until the housing units were completed.

"The people who are interested in retail are saying, `Well, what are you going to do there?'" Merida said. "They want to see it."

In the end, the city decided to change its plans, split the parcel in two and let Merida and Carabetta move ahead with residential on the back portion, giving them a one-year, $150,000 option on the retail parcel.

"Sometimes you can't wait for the whole thing to be together in order to take the first step," Perez said. "We were convinced, after Danny did his market studies, that while [retail] would have been the highest and best use, it wouldn't have been the market-driven use."

Carabetta's disputed deal with the housing authority surfaced last fall amid allegations of corruption and bid rigging at the authority. The agreement was to have included work at the Nelton Court, Stowe Village, Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing projects.

The authority had considered settling the suit with Carabetta, but that was before Perez forced its old board out and ushered a new one in. Earlier this spring, the authority's new board decided against settling the suit. It is pending in court.

Carabetta, who sat in the back row of Monday's groundbreaking while Perez sat in the front, declined to comment on the housing authority, alleged corruption, or the deal that caused him to file suit.

He did express optimism, though, about this new Main Street project.

"It is a great project for the city of Hartford and the residents," he said.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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