He's 21, from Lancaster, Pa., and working for the actuarial division of The Phoenix Cos. — just the kind of young professional the city wants to attract.
And he's living downtown in company housing.
For Patel, that means sharing a four-bedroom, fully furnished townhouse — down to the linens and silverware — just a few feet from Phoenix's offices at the corner of Market Street and Central Row, only steps away from the hottest bars and restaurants in town. He's got a membership in a local gym and a discount card to downtown restaurants, all courtesy of Phoenix.
Oh, and Patel is an intern.
It's the latest in a long line of strategies for injecting young people into downtown Hartford: Roll out the red carpet for corporate interns while they're here for the summer and hope they move downtown permanently when and if a job offer comes later.
After work, Patel walks a block from Phoenix to his front door in the townhouse development, which is home to University of Hartford students during the academic year. The four comfy chairs in his living room were there when he moved in. So were the dishes in the kitchen, and the washer-dryer setup in a closet upstairs.
"They give you everything you need to get started," said Patel, from Penn State. "It's better than my dorm room — way better."
For years, young people have been central to Hartford's plans for growth, and for years, results have been mixed. The 1998 Six Pillars plan of former Gov. John G. Rowland — including the ill-fated Front Street — had young professionals as a centerpiece. More recently, Mayor Eddie Perez courted the much-sought group in his March 2008 state of the city address.
"Go to any city, any urban area that's vibrant, and youth is always part of the vibrancy," explained Oz Griebel, president of Metro Hartford Alliance and a supporter of the Temple Street development where Patel lives."In an urban community, you want creativity, you want vibrancy — that's the dynamic that youth generally brings."
It's too early to say if the intern strategy is working. This year marks only the second summer that interns have lived in the townhouses.
They're filled with summer help from ING, Travelers, Aetna, Phoenix and United Technologies. Elsewhere downtown, ESPN and The Hartford have put up their interns at Hartford 21.
Ground zero is on the tan cement patio of the plush Temple Street Townhouses. Facing reopened Temple Street, the townhouses are home to about 100 interns along with a few UHart students remaining for the summer.
Civic leaders are cheering the Temple Street project as a much-needed stimulant for Hartford's downtown, both because of interns in the summer and college students during the rest of the year.
"The payoff is enormous," said Mark McGovern, Hartford's economic development director.
At the bar at Dish, a downtown restaurant in the newly renovated Sage-Allen building, Managing Partner Daniel Keller said young people living in the townhouse development make up about a third of his business. Naturally, the students and interns prefer the bar over Dish's dinner menu, with entrees at $20 or so.
"The more people they can get to live in downtown Hartford, the better," Keller said. "It's always had the businesspeople and it's always had the theatergoers, but people living downtown are the one thing Hartford has never had."
The Temple Street housing came together starting six years ago. UHart faced a housing squeeze, and downtown developer Philip Schonberger was doing a $54 million redevelopment of the decaying Sage-Allen department store building. Schonberger told UHart he was interested in building student housing.
Adding the interns worked well for the project — and for the downtown companies, which had mostly shunted off their interns to the suburbs.
"We kept hearing that these kids would have a great job experience but not a great Hartford experience," said Marc Levine, Schonberger's partner in the project.
The development's owners won't say how much the rent is for company's housing interns. For students at the University of Hartford, it works out to about $950 a month. Developers said only that rent was more for companies housing interns over the summer, but they added that the intern package includes amenities not offered to students.
Of course, Patel doesn't pay the rent — Phoenix does. The other companies all pay for their interns' housing, too.
"We've found that we're able to attract people from other universities and other locations if we pay for housing," said ING's Lauren Creutz, who manages the MBA intern program and chose to house summer workers at the townhouses.
That's the attraction of the townhouses for most corporations: promise a pad, increase the talent pool. Plugging Hartford is a bonus.
"We view it as a good return on our investment," explained Bethany Jepsen, university relations consultant for Travelers, which also houses many of its interns in the townhouses. "It gives them a good impression of Hartford."
It's hard to gain a broad measure of their impressions, though. Most of the interns at the townhouses are at Travelers. The company told the interns not to talk with a reporter about the housing, several interns said. A Travelers spokeswoman said company policy bars employees from speaking independently with the media.
Just a few years ago, Hartford struggled to lure interns back to the city after their one summer here, said Bobsie Ness, self-described "Hartford cheerleader" and president of New England Execustay, which arranged the interns' housing for Hartford companies.
"Now we've got 250 young professionals — bright people from all over the world — coming to Hartford for the first time," Ness said, "and experiencing it in a way that's so positive that when they do get that offer, they'll say 'We had a great experience, we loved it and, yes, we do want to come to Hartford.'"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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