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iQuilt Relies On Private Funding, Initiative

By Brad Kane

September 24, 2012

Hartford's grand plan to transform itself into a walkable, destination city relies heavily on the participation of downtown property owners and their ability to come up with their own funding.

Downtown has $64 million for projects in the next 12 months, and the majority comes from two major corporations performing their own improvements.

"A lot of it is not taxpayer funding at all; it is private funding," said Doug Suisman, a Hartford native who runs the Los Angeles urban design firm in charge of the project. "It is not a big expensive public works project."

The iQuilt vision is a series of small and large projects designed to make Hartford into a more visitor-friendly city by creating pathways connecting the various points of interest. A couple of the large projects include daylighting making visible a tributary of the Park River in Bushnell Park and realigning Gold Street from the Wadsworth Atheneum to Bushnell Park.

The near-term vision for the project calls for a walkable greenway between the Connecticut River near the Connecticut Science Center and Bushnell Park. In order to achieve this, the plan calls for the property owners along the way to remake their spaces in the iQuilt vision.

"It is really about connections and moving from point A to point B," said Thomas Deller, city of Hartford development services director.

The major iQuilt corporate buy-in so far is $8 million from The Phoenix Cos.

Phoenix is performing an $8 million rehabilitation of the first floor of its Boat Building. The roof of the first floor doubles as the city's Mortensen Riverfront Plaza, which connects the science center, Constitution Plaza, and Travelers along a path above street level.

As part of the rehabilitation, Phoenix will create a green roof full of plants so walkers can get a break from the pavement.

"The idea is to be an integral part of the greenwalk," Phoenix spokeswoman Jane Driscoll said. "This makes so much sense for the city."

Also along the iQuilt path, Travelers is investing $30 million for major maintenance and rehabilitation of the Travelers Tower in downtown. The construction, already underway, is strictly the building and doesn't fall along the iQuilt principles. However, the iQuilt designers are working with Travelers for another upgrade of its plaza along Gold Street, trying to make the area more receptive to the public.

The iQuilt plan still needs other downtown property owners to perform projects to help realize the vision. The Wadsworth needs to upgrade its side of Gold Street to match the Travelers plaza on the other side.

"The idea of energizing this space architecturally is very appealing to us," said Susan Talbott, the Wadsworth director and chief executive officer.

The Wadsworth is looking for private donors to help bring its architectural vision to fruition, hoping for an iQuilt supporter to supply the necessary funds, Talbott said.

"Until that happens, we are very dependent on Travelers," Talbott said.

Government funding for the iQuilt plan right now totals $26 million $13 million from the city, $3 million from the state, and $10 million from a federal transportation grant. The government money is slated for road and transportation improvements, along with signage.

"The concepts in it are coming out of the iQuilt plan," Deller said. "It is the way cities are built and grown."

iQuilt is hosting a free festival on Sept. 29 called Envisionfest in hopes of attracting 25,000 people to test downtown's walkability.

If the plan is successful downtown, the city hopes to connect the greenway to its neighborhoods, roping the entire city in one connected path, Deller said.

For the plan to be successful, iQuilt will need more buy-in from city property owners, modeling improvements on the plan's vision.

"Ideally, it is like Phoenix where it is voluntary," Suisman said. "If we succeed, it is voluntary to a large extent."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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