January 21, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
The last promised piece of the funding puzzle needed to turn the old Thomas Cadillac site into the new University of Hartford Performing Arts Center has been put in place.
"This was the last big piece we needed," university President Walter Harrison said after learning that Gov. M. Jodi Rell plans a $4 million state contribution. "The exciting part of this project is that it combines a very important need that the university has with a very important need that the Hartford community has. It provides a really important spark to the North End of Hartford and its community."
Rell announced Friday that the State Bond Commission is likely to approve the $4 million at its meeting later this month. In a press release, she called the site a "major community resource."
"It will draw people to the neighborhood and will serve as an important catalyst for economic development," Rell said.
The first phase of the approximately $30 million arts center project is a $21.5 million conversion of the former car dealership near the city's Upper Albany and Blue Hills neighborhoods.
The remaining $17.5 million for the first phase has been raised from public, private and university contributions, Harrison said.
The new facility, which could be open in the fall of 2008, will house the school's dance and theater departments, with black box theaters, dance studios, scene and costume shops, a bank, a coffee shop, and community space, Harrison said.
The Cadillac-dealership building was designed by architect Albert Kahn, a favorite of General Motors, which asked him to build the car dealership of the future in the late 1920s, Harrison said. Kahn, noted for his use of natural light in industrial spaces, created a large structure with lots of windows and few interior structural elements. That will make turning it into performance space a relatively easy task, Harrison said.
The project's second phase probably will cost $10 million and will include converting the site's old auto body and upholstery shops into university buildings. But that's a few years down the road, he said.
Harrison thanked the governor and stressed the inclusion of two retail establishments as a way to integrate the new project into the neighborhood.
"It's not only for the university's population, it's for the whole neighborhood to enjoy," he said. "The reason we're putting a bank and a coffee shop there is to help bring the neighborhood in - to say, `This is your facility, too. We want you to be a part of this.'"
Clyde Billington, economic development chair of the Upper Albany Revitalization Zone, was pleased to hear the news.
"We've been waiting for something like this for quite some time," he said, noting that the neighborhood wanted community space at the facility. "We pushed for that, and they're going to have it."
"Things are coming along up there," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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