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Front Street Squeeze Is Applied

Perez Ties Money To Commitment

May 11, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Three months after the state approved an agreement allowing the developer of the long-delayed Front Street residential, retail and entertainment project in Hartford to go forward in two phases, the city has told the developer that he'll have to do it all at once to get the money he wants.

Bradley Nitkin, of the Greenwich-based HB Nitkin Group, is counting on roughly $16 million in cash and tax abatements from the city. That's in addition to the $33 million the state has committed to the project - the development of a vacant parcel to serve as a link between the new Connecticut Convention Center and adjacent hotel to the rest of downtown.

But if Nitkin wants all of the city's money, he'll have to commit to the entire project, the city told him in a letter this week.

"He needs to decide what he's willing to commit to," Mayor Eddie A. Perez said. "If he's willing to commit to one project, then come in with that project, give us the justification for the full subsidy that we had on the table, and that's what he'll get.

"If he wants to do something smaller, I think the jury is still out."

Negotiations are ongoing. Nitkin says he will respond to the city's letter, and remains confident about an agreement.

"I intend to come back to the city and respond to their proposal with more details about what we're going to be building and to come to an agreement with them that works for both of us," Nitkin said.

The state has made several attempts to develop the site. In August 2004, the Capital City Economic Development Authority dumped developer Richard Cohen when he failed to begin building two years after signing a contract with the state.

Then, after a failed attempt to find a new developer a year ago, the state began anew, seeking interested developers. In April 2005, Nitkin was the final choice for "preferred developer," and the two sides began working toward a development agreement.

About 10 months later, in February, Nitkin signed an agreement with the state that would bring 200 residential units and 100,000 square feet of retail space to Adriaen's Landing. The deal allows Nitkin to proceed in two phases. The first is a $31 million project with a minimum of 60 residential units and 43,000 square feet of rentable retail.

Nitkin, speaking generally about his plans, has said that the project could have "lots of restaurants, lots of streetscapes, lots of outdoor seating." Its restaurants could have double-height ceilings, there could be a comedy club, there might be live music, and there could be a movie theater in the spot near the Hartford Times building.

Should Nitkin not complete the second phase, he would have to repay at least some of the state money and relinquish his claim to the property.

But the phased-in approach has Perez concerned that he is being asked to put up 100 percent of the funding for a fraction of the project.

The city told Nitkin this week that it will give him all of the money he has asked for if he commits to the entire project. If that's not possible, the city told Nitkin that it would also consider tailoring a funding package based on the "maximum number" of residential units and retail space that the developer can guarantee.

"We're saying: `We'll fund what you commit to,'" Perez said.

Nitkinsaid that although his agreement with the state allows for phased development, he expectsto do it all at once. Nitkin said the issue for him is whether the units being built would flood the residential and retail market too quickly. But that, he said, would probably delay, not prohibit, phase two.

"We're planning one project there and our total focus is on seeing it as one whole project," Nitkin said. "But our deal with the state allows us to decide at the last minute whether it makes more sense to build it in phases or not."

John F. Palmieri, the city's director of development services, says that concerns about flooding the market are overblown. "He's not talking about hundreds of units," Palmieri said. "The question for us is whether or not the phase one proposal he's making is worth pursuing."

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.
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