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Looking Back and Ahead with Adriaen

Terryl Mitchell Smith

February 18, 2010

One of the first thoughts one has when you say “Adriaen’s Landing” is, who was Adriaen and why is it the name of the newest commercial, entertainment and convention district in the capital city. That’s a good question and the answer is a great story reflecting much of Greater Hartford’s history.

The “Adriaen” referred to in the district’s name is the same Adriaen Block of Block Island fame. In 1614 the Dutch trader and navigator became the first recorded European to explore the Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River. Block is said to have traveled past Hartford as far as the rapids of Enfield, but it’s unknown whether he actually landed in Hartford. However, locations throughout the city and region are all reminders of Block’s vision of Hartford’s potential.

In the beginning…

Adriaen’s Landing District was inspired by that same enterprising spirit of economic development Adriaen Block sought when he explored this area for Dutch trade. Initial plans for Adriaen’s Landing included: 500,000 square feet of entertainment/retail, 350-residential units, a 350-room business hotel, a 520,000 square foot convention center, a 700-room convention center headquarters hotel with 50,000 square feet of meeting space, a Connecticut Discovery Center, a 50,000-seat domed sportsplex and 7,000 parking spaces. Redevelopment conceptual studies of the site were first developed by The Phoenix Companies in 1995 with the support of numerous regional organizations, other major area corporations, the City of Hartford and the State. It was at this time the project was given the name of Adriaen’s Landing. The Capital City Economic Development Authority (CCEDA) was created through a legislative act to oversee the development and management of the district.

The development plans piqued the interest of the NFL’s New England Patriots based in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With the prospect of Hartford becoming the home of a professional football team, funding was authorized for the NFL Stadium in lieu of the planned sportsplex. As luck would have it, the Patriots withdrew their commitment in favor of the new Gillette Stadium they now call home.

No turning back now...

To paraphrase an old saying…the project must go on, especially since so much had already been put in place for the redevelopment. In 1999, then-Governor John G. Rowland regrouped and structured a development team consisting of CCEDA, the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM), and the Waterford Group as the master developers. A couple of concepts were explored, both of which included a stadium on this side of the river, but studies would show that the size of the stadium would not work in this location in the city. Still wanting a stadium as well as all of the other components of the project, a solution was found through a donation by United Technologies and Pratt & Whitney of 75 acres of land at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The name of the location originally referred to Pratt & Whitney’s test airfield named after the founder of the company, Frederick B. Rentschler. From propelling planes to propelling pigskin, now it refers to the home of the UConn Husky’s football team.

Besides the hotel, convention center, parking and entertainment/retail components of the Adriaen’s Landing Project, the plan also included an “attraction”, which became the Connecticut Science Center. The plan’s intent was to develop street life and connect the key pedestrian routes of Hartford considered to be Prospect Street to the west, the Connecticut River to the east, the historic residential neighborhood of Sheldon Oak to the south and the downtown business district. With the legislation for development already in place, the state and its partners continued to push for a development that would transform Hartford, and on May 31, 2001 ground was broken.

Here we are...

Four years and two days later on June 2, 2005 the Connecticut Convention Center, the heart of the 33-acre development project, opened its doors to the public. Both the adjoining four-diamond 409-room Marriott Hartford-Downtown Hotel and the Convention Center were built with the possibility of expansion. The newest addition to the complex, the Connecticut Science Center, is a $150 million dollar example of a successful public-private funding partnership. It’s not only an “attraction”, but it also creates some unique opportunities for generating convention business. Science-related associations who held their events at the Convention Center in early years, when the Science Center was a work in progress, will return to special events and programming at the new facility. It’s an incomparable draw for markets from health to horticulture that sets us apart from our competition.

The beauty of Adriaen’s Landing is the synergy between the entities within and surrounding the complex. Hartford may have the reputation of being the insurance capital of the world, but Connecticut has long been known for its significant science and technology base. The presence of a strong technology industry within the state appeals to aviation and aerospace-related conferences and conventions.

Reaping the rewards…

The benefits generated by the Convention Center reverberate throughout the district and city. Not all of a convention’s activities are held solely at the Convention Center. Many groups have enjoyed dinners on the banks of the Connecticut River at Riverfront’s Boat House and at local restaurants, while others have been enticed by cultural exhibits and special programming at the neighboring Wadsworth Atheneum during their stay. Highlights of the district are not only places, but also the people. Visitors enjoy the real stars of the free shuttle service, the drivers. Star Shuttle drivers freely share their knowledge of the city with riders; it’s like getting a private tour of the city. The Front Street District, the last piece of the Adriaen’s Landing development, is well underway and promises to be the perfect compliment to all of the attractions the city has to offer guests and residents.

H.B. Nitkin Group (Nitkin) out of Greenwich, Connecticut has come up with a design reminiscent of the energy and vitality of the original Front Street where businesses and city dwellers shared the same community. Phase I of the mixed-use component will feature commercial, retail and entertainment venues. Nitkin has seen success with this type of development throughout the state. Construction is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2010. Phase II, the residential component to include the historic facade of the Hartford Times Building, is in the design process and the Nitkin Group is anxious to get started.

From skilled construction job opportunities to a variety of service industry-related positions, the $771 million dollar investment in the Adriaen’s Landing Project has also yielded a return in the form of employment for Greater Hartford area residents, and a brand that distinguishes Hartford as a progressive New England city. The Adriaen’s Landing project has reconnected the city and its people back to the river where it all began all those years ago with one Dutch explorer.

For more information on Adriaen’s Landing and Capital City Economic Development Authority visit www.cceda.net.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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