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Future Of Key City Intersection To Be Decided Tonight

October 13, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

The Hartford Redevelopment Agency tonight will choose one of two groups to turn the barren intersection at Park and Main streets into a gateway to the city's Hispanic commercial center on Park Street, officials said Wednesday, despite a last-minute request for a delay from four city organizations.

The Hartford Preservation Alliance, Inc. and three neighborhood revitalization zones - South Green, Sheldon/Charter Oak and South Downtown - asked for time to interview the prospective developers, noting that half the project area is in the South Green Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The city denied the request.

"We've really had sufficient time to engage the community for nearly four months now," said John F. Palmieri, the city's director of development services and the redevelopment agency's executive director. "It's been public at every stage [of the process.]...They had time."

One developer - Plaza Mayor, LLC, made up of a group of city Hispanic businessmen and developer Theodore M. Amenta - originally proposed a $64 million project with two towers of roughly 20 stories each , a 40,000 square-foot main square, parking, a banquet hall, a boutique hotel, and a chapel. At a meeting in September, the developers said the towers could grow to more than 20 stories each with improved views and fewer units per floor.

In an interview Wednesday, Amenta said the plan could have anywhere between 40 and 80 residential units that would sell for $380,000 to $400,000 per unit.

The plan would use $24 million in private equity, would need more than $17 million in government assistance and would borrow much of the balance. The profit made on the residential units would subsidize the loss the developers expect to take on the retail, the developers have said.

Brothers Joseph and Frank Citino of Providian Builders proposed a $26 million, five-story, antique-looking complex with apartment, retail and office space and parking. Providian, of Hartford, plans 75 apartments, 57 units of retail space and 88 business spaces. In an interview Wednesday, Joseph Citino revised his numbers to say that his project would need no public subsidy.Palmieri would not say which of the two "decent proposals" he planned on recommending to the agency's voting members at their 5 p.m. meeting in the License and Inspection Conference Room at 260 Constitution Plaza. "In the best of all worlds, it might have been nice to have gotten others," he said.

Roughly half of the site at Park and Main - the land at the southwest corner of the intersection - is in the South Green Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The site had previously seen some controversy over four buildings - for a decade, the Connecticut Historical Commission blocked their demolition with a court order until, in 2002, a fire forced the city to demolish the buildings.

City officials acknowledged that although they were aware of the real estate's presence in the South Green Historic District, they did not make mention of it in the request for proposals that sets the guidelines for developers to follow. In fact, in May, the city rescinded its initial requirement that the buildings be limited to five stories.

In the Sept. 30 letter to the redevelopment agency, the alliance also reminded the agency of the latter's own redevelopment plan for the neighborhood, which limits building height to five stories, mandates that new and nearby construction be compatible with the historic district, and more.

"While HPA has taken no position on the application of any particular developer, we think it is very important that any development that is selected be sensitive to the historic nature of the site and that its architecture be compatible with that of the surrounding area," the alliance wrote.

"Basically they're saying: Do the right thing," Palmieri said, in response to the letter. "And I think their concerns are well placed.

Should the selected developer move forward and use either state or federal funding for the Park and Main streets project, that would trigger a review from the State Historic Preservation Office. But Palmieri said he didn't believe that review would pose a serious threat. "I'd be surprised if there would be any big problem in gaining state approval," he said.

In a second letter, dated Oct. 7, the alliance joined with officials from three Neighborhood Revitalization Zones to ask that the redevelopment agency delay its action to allow time for the groups to meet with the developers for brief question and answer periods. The city denied that request.

Palmieri said the city expects that the selected developer will be either encouraged or directed to meet with various community groups to gain their input.

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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