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City Ready To Pull Plug On Plaza Mayor

Financing, site plan approvals required by Oct. 1 for Park Street project

By Diane Weaver Dunne

July 20, 2009

City officials are about to terminate their support for the stalled $32 million mixed-use Plaza Mayor project intended to serve as the gateway to Park Street unless the developers secure financing and submit final plans for approval.

The Plaza Mayor project was initially selected by the Hartford Redevelopment Agency in July 2005 following a bid selection process for a city-owned 2.25 acre parcel located at the corner of Park and Main streets.

The Hartford City Council in 2006 approved the project, which included two luxury residential towers, a banquet hall, restaurant, street-level retail space, underground parking, and an acre of public space with a fountain.

In a June 26 letter to project principals Carlos Lopez, representing local businessmen who created Solaris LLC, and Damon Hemmerdinger, a New York City-based developer who is the managing general partner of the project, the city warned that it would terminate its initial approval and withdraw $6 million of city funds unless financing and planning and zoning approvals are in place by Oct. 1.

Project developers were very close to securing financing for the project from two lenders in 2006, according to former project partner Theodore Amenta, a Hartford-based architect who designed the project.

The developers have not presented a commitment of financing for the project nor have they submitted final site plans for approval to the city’s planning and zoning commissions, said Mark McGovern, deputy director of the city’s development services.

At press time, McGovern said the developers had not yet responded to the city’s letter, and does not expect the developers will be able to proceed with the project.

However, given the current economy, the city will begin to take steps to position the site appropriately for improvements or development as the market turns, McGovern added.

No Response

The city has long desired to develop a gateway at the intersection of Park and Main streets and to better position that section of the city for development. To that end, $6 million was appropriated by the city in 2007 to improve the road and streetscape on Park Street, considered one of the state’s most vibrant Hispanic commercial strips.

Lopez, president of Connecticut Parking Services, referred to Hummerdinger for comment but acknowledged that the city had “been very patient.”

Hummerdinger did not return a call for comment.

Lopez has served as a spokesman for the local partners, which initially included Angel Sierra, president of the Spanish American Merchants Association (SAMA), Carlos Valinho, a local property owner and investor, Cesar Mejia, president of a Hartford construction company and vice president of SAMA, and former Hartford Corporation Counsel Alexander Aponte.

Although the project has been stalled, Lopez said he was hopeful the project might still move forward.

But Amenta said that was unlikely in the near future. “I believe the project will resurrect itself,” he said, adding, “But I don’t see that happening at the moment.”

Although Amenta sold his financial interests to Hemmerdinger about two and a half years ago, he said that the project would be great for downtown.

Long-Time Goal

Creating an architectural gateway to Park Street was the goal of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency when it issued a request for proposals in April 2005.

The agency selected the $63.6 million Plaza Mayor project that called for $17.2 million in public funding over the $26 million proposal made by Providian Builders that called for $5 million in public money. The project was later scaled down to a $32 million project that called for $6 million in public funding.

In 2005, when Plaza Mayor had been selected by the city, Lopez said that the project design closely offered the type of public space common in Latin America.

In addition to a nondenominational chapel, a banquet hall and outdoor space on Park Street, it would offer local residents a place to celebrate, said Lopez, adding that the Hispanic culture is a very family-oriented community.

“This has been needed for many years,” he said at that time.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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