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Front Street Favorite Emerges

Development Team Seen As Best Choice For Landing Project

April 21, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN And MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writers

A development team that includes the renowned firm of Robert A.M. Stern Architects and the owner of Glastonbury's Shops at Somerset Square has emerged as the last developer standing in the effort to revive Front Street, officials said Wednesday.

The working group of city and state officials in charge of Front Street's future has said it wants to continue negotiating only with a team led by The HB Nitkin Group of Greenwich and Realty Resources of Rockport, Maine. The team also includes the landscape designer who is working on the new convention center at Adriaen's Landing.

"At the end of the day, this is the group that has emerged as the one we want to try to reach a development agreement with," said Dean Pagani, spokesman for the Capital City Economic Development Authority, adding that Nitkin has not been formally "selected" and any agreement would be subject to state and city approval.

Bradley Nitkin, president of the Nitkin Group, said his company is active in the state and sees opportunity at the retail and residential heart of Adriaen's Landing.

"We're a very active owner in the Hartford market and we really believe in Hartford," he said, stressing that his company's statewide investments set it apart from others. "Because I believe that positive things are taking place today in Hartford and we want to be involved."

Nitkin's company has more than 200 retail tenants in the roughly 1 million square feet of retail space it owns in the state, Nitkin said. And, in contrast to what several other developers had told the working group, Nitkin said he thinks national retailers may well find the spot attractive.

"We have spoken to national retailers who we have relationships with, as well as to quality local retailers, and they are interested in being part of this project," he said.

"He has provided a list of contacts he has with [regional and national] retail establishments that are pretty impressive," said Richard D. Gray, the governor's representative to the working group and its head.

The road to this point has been a long one.

The state, through the development authority, is bringing roughly $70 million to the table to help develop the roughly $150 million site.

Last August, the development authority dumped developer Richard Cohen and Capital Properties from the project two years after he had signed a contract with the state. Cohen had failed to begin building at the site.

Then, following a failed attempt to find a new developer in a jiffy last fall, the state began anew, seeking interested developers.

The development authority's working group began with a list of roughly 40 names of developers to contact, Gray said. Some responded and the group was decreased to 13. Next, six developers were invited to submit more detailed, formal presentations to the group. Of them, two did - Nitkin/Realty Resources and BOS Group of Bethesda, Md.

Some of the other firms "dropped out of the process on their own because they had other commitments elsewhere in the country," Pagani said. "Some of them could not keep to our timetable."

Realty Resources had previously been partnered with CBL & Assoc. of Waltham, Mass., but that company backed out of the project and Nitkin, which owns Somerset Square, took its place.

When Nitkin came in, the company brought its whole team, Gray said, including: Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, the firm that bears the name of and is headed by the dean of the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven; Economic Research Associates of New York; and Edaw, a landscape developer and planner with worldwide offices and local experience - the company worked on the new convention center.

"We ended up, all of us, pretty much agreeing that the Nitkin group was the firm to work with," said John Palmieri, the city's director of development services.

The city has offered to negotiate potentially tens of millions of dollars in tax abatements, in addition to $6 million in a sort of federal low interest loan and $2 million in grant money, Palmieri said.

"They made a very impressive presentation; it was very complete and they had a very strong group with them," he said. "They covered every base."

Nitkin's group also told officials that preliminary plans do not call for additional state or city funding - something that caused the relationship between the project and Cohen to fall apart.

"We were not asked for any additional subsidy," Gray said.

Pagani said city officials, along with the development authority and the state Office of Policy and Management, decided that the Nitkin/Realty Resources group had the best chance to get the project done based on the projects it has completed, the partnership's enthusiasm for Hartford, and its willingness to accept the state's schedule for the review process and to get the project completed.

Nitkin, which has bought and rehabbed a number of distressed properties, has not completed the kind of project that Front Street would entail - a highly complex, mixed-use retail and residential complex on a dense urban site. But state officials said they believe the partnership can get the project done.

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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