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Colt Needs A Kick-Start

March 16, 2005

Robert A. MacFarlane, the developer in charge of renovating the historic Colt complex in Hartford, says the project is in good shape despite the absence of construction work on the site.

Pardon us for being nervous. This project is as important as any major downtown improvements in its potential contribution to the city's economic renaissance. Not only does it preserve historic buildings, but it also grooms Coltsville as the ideal location for a national park, now being studied by the National Park Service.

So far, Mr. MacFarlane and his partners at Colt Gateway have kept their word and exceeded their promises to treat the buildings with respect for their history, bring jobs to the neighborhood and clean up pollution on the site of the former gun factory. Two commercial buildings have been renovated, rented and occupied in record time. Plans are afoot for a third commercial operation in the modern U-shaped building near the former factory.

A promised resumption of the next phase - renovation of the south and east armories into retail, commercial and residential space - was supposed to happen last fall. Subsequent delays were attributed to the need for various federal, state and local approvals. At year's end, the developer was expecting a $2 million grant from the federal Economic Development Agency, and a mortgage closing was said to be imminent.

Still, no hammers have been heard.

This week, Mr. MacFarlane acknowledged setbacks. He characterized them as minor bumps. Among them was the news that the project would not be getting the federal grant after all. Budget woes in Washington were blamed. Meanwhile, the company has switched mortgage holders from Citizens Bank to Wachovia. Again, a closing is said to be imminent.

Mr. MacFarlane is hoping, in the absence of the federal grant, that the state Department of Economic and Community Development will agree to release the balance of a $4.5 million remediation grant pledged long ago to the developer. In the absence of the federal grant, this money would facilitate approval of the new mortgage, he said.

Public officials, from the governor on down, should do all they can to make this happen. The pollution has been cleaned up, but the state has released just $1 million of the promised grant. Its intention is to pay it in installments as Colt Gateway completes each phase of the project. Although this strategy is understandable, a chicken-and-egg standoff won't serve anyone's interest.

Mr. MacFarlane said loss of the federal grant is not a deal breaker and that the project will resume by the end of the month. We take him at his word.

Work is to begin first on the south armory, the wing known as the Colt Building, which is partially occupied. In five months, the focus will shift to the historic east armory, the building under the blue onion dome.

That's the meat of the project from a preservation standpoint. And stakeholders shouldn't underestimate the value of scaffolds on the landmark, a visible sign of Hartford's progress to all who pass through the city on I-91.

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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