Economic Development: Topping Off Past Initiatives and Setting New Goals
February 18, 2010
When you mention “economic development” and “Hartford” together, most people tend to think of big ticket items like the Connecticut Convention Center, Hartford 21 and the new Downtown Marriott Hotel.
But – as would be expected in a city as diverse as Hartford – economic development initiatives in the capital city over the past 10 years have been far more diverse, ranging from new car dealerships and shopping centers to small restaurants and convenience stores.
In a city facing numerous challenges of its own, as well as the normal ups and downs of the national economy, all opportunities to expand the tax base, provide jobs and improve the quality of life for residents and businesses must be fully explored.
The Metro Shopping Center (MSC) on Main Street is a good example of this opportunistic approach to economic development. Located in Clay Hill, one of the city’s most economically distressed neighborhoods, it took vision on the part of public and business leaders to see that a run-down lot could be transformed into a thriving shopping center. Opened in January 2008, MSC contains 40,000-square-feet of retail space. Neighborhood residents who once had to drive or take the bus to do their food shopping can now use the Sav-A-Lot Grocery Store, the shopping center’s anchor tenant. 40 new jobs were created, many of them going to local residents.
On a larger scale, Charter Oak Marketplace (COM) has created 750 jobs and includes 350,000 square feet of retail space, anchored by Walmart and Marshalls. Located off Flatbush Avenue near the West Hartford town line, COM is built on the site of the former Charter Oak Terrace housing project.
Charter Oak Terrace, which had become blighted and crime-ridden was the first of Hartford’s housing projects to be demolished and rebuilt under the direction of the late John Wardlaw, former Executive Director of the Hartford Housing Authority.
Stowe Village and Dutch Point were also demolished and replaced with less dense housing, projects that were planned in the 1990’s but not completed until the past decade.
Another major economic initiative of the 1990’s that has borne much fruit in the past decade was the creation of more residential space in Downtown Hartford. Today, those wishing to live Downtown can use from several new residential buildings, including Hartford 21, Trumbull on the Park,Temple Street and the soon to open American Plaza. Overall, the number of residential units in Downtown Hartford has tripled in the past decade and its population is estimated at around 2,500.
In addition to the Hartford Housing Authority, housing in Hartford’s neighborhoods has been expanded by several community organizations, such as the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA, see page 5), Broad Park Development Corporation, Mutual Housing of Greater Hartford and the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA). Private companies, working in partnership with the City’s Department of Development Services, have also been able to upgrade housing in Hartford. Rego Realty, for instance, has renovated dozens of buildings at various sites around the city.
Despite numerous successes, a great deal remains to be done in Hartford. As the initiatives of the 1990’s are finished off, city leaders are targeting new areas for development.
One key area will be Downtown-North. This area lies north of I-84 and was once an integral part of Downtown. It began to decline in the 1960’s when the highway cut it off from the rest of Downtown. Construction is now underway on a brand new Public Safety Complex in this area on High Street.When completed in 2011, the $85 million complex should spark renewed interest in the area, which is now mainly devoted to surface parking lots. It is also home to the former H.B. Davis building at the corner of Main Street and Trumbull Street. Long abandoned and isolated, it has become commonly known as the “butt-ugly building.” The City is currently in the process of purchasing the property for future development. The building will probably be demolished.
Another area designated for development is known among city planners as “Downtown West” and includes the area west and north of Union Station. The success of development in this area will, at least in part, be tied in to plans to upgrade the railroad station. The area also includes the former Connecticut Mutual building on Garden Street, much of which has been demolished although the ornate original building has been left intact.
Although the AI Tech Center (see page 1) is breathing new life into Constitution Plaza, the former Hotel Sonesta, which is adjacent to it, remains abandoned. City officials are hoping the “buzz” generated by the Tech Center will help land a buyer for the abandoned hotel.
In the neighborhoods, the City has purchased land at the southeast corner of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street. Three buildings have been demolished, businesses have been relocated and the Hartford Redevelopment Agency will be seeking a developer for the property, which is just across the street from one of the neighborhood’s cultural treasures, the Artists Collective.
Another major area for possible development is being opened by the relocation of SIMS Metal Management from Parkville to the North Meadows. SIMS is the large scrapyard located between Super Stop and Shop and I-84. Many Parkville leaders are hoping to develop the land by extending Bartholomew Avenue, which now ends at Olive Street, all the way through to Flatbush Avenue.