Hotel Developer Stepping Over the Edge In Hartford — For Charity

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford, Uncategorized Date:

Waterford Group Chairman Len Wolman builds hotels from the ground up, but next week, he will see how it feels to go from the top down.



On Tuesday, Wolman will be among the 115 who are expected rappel down the side of the Hilton Hartford on Trumbull Street — one of three hotels in downtown Hartford owned and managed by Waterford — as a fundraiser for Norwalk-based Shatterproof.

Waterford is partnering on the event with Shatterproof, newly-formed, charitable organization that seeks to call attention to the problem of alcohol and drug addiction among children and young adults.

Wolman told me he urged his employees to participate in the rappelling event.

“I just didn’t see that I could ask them,” Wolman said. “I felt I needed to sign on myself.”

Wolman said he has no prior experience rappelling. He has, however, bungee jumped with his son off a bridge in New Zealand about five years ago, cajoled by his son into doing it. Wolman doesn’t know how far he jumped, but he thinks walking down the side of the 22-story Hilton — about 200 feet — may be more.

“As the time gets a little closer, I’m getting a little more nervous,” Wolman told me. “But I’m doing it.”

Wolman said he’s thought about his strategy for the 12-15 minute descent: “When I drop off the building, I’m going to look straight at the building when I go down.”

And how is Wolman with heights?

“It’s not my favorite,” Wolman said.

But Wolman said the challenge will be worth it, given what Shatterproof is trying to accomplish

Wolman said he has known Shatterproof’s founder and chief executive Gary Mendell for years. Mendell founded HEI Hotels & Resorts, also based in Norwalk. Mendell  left the day-to-day operations of HEI, where he was CEO, to focus full-time on building the nonprofit Shatterproof but still remains an owner of HEI.

Mendell was moved to found Shatterproof last year, after his son, Brian, died in 2011 after a struggle with substance abuse.

After his son’s death, Mendell told me he was shocked to learn the statistic that 80 percent of those who are addicted become so before their nineteenth birthday. And there was no major organization calling attention to the problem, he said.

Mendell said the name Shatterproof comes from another statistic: 350 people a day in the United States die from alcohol poisoning or drug addiction, shattering their families, he said.

Mendell said he chose rappelling rather than the more typical walks, runs or bicycle rides to make a dramatic statement as the nonprofit launched.

On Tuesday, there will be three ropes down the facade of Hilton for event, running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. As of late Friday, there were 9 slots left. To participate, there is a $25 entrance fee, plus the requirement to raise at least $1,000 in pledges.

The event is run by a professional company, Over the Edge, which also provides training.

Hartford is the seventh location to host a Shatterproof rappelling event this year. Wolman and Mendell will go down the building at 9 a.m.

“This disease is such a dire disease,” Wolman said. “It’s so critical that something get done.”

Hartford’s XL Center Launches Video Series On Renovations

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Global Spectrum, which operates Hartford’s XL Center, has launched the first of planned weekly updates on the $35 million renovations at the arena.

Here is the first installment with Peter Stevens, president of JCJ Architecture and Robert Saint, director of construction services for the Capital Region Development Authority:

Future videos and more photographs of the renovations can be found here:

Hartford Office Tower Goes Up For Auction Next Month

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

CityPlace II — the 18-story, office tower in downtown Hartford — is being put up for auction in late August, nearly two years after it was lost to foreclosure, according to a listing on

The CityPlace II tower, at left, is going up for auction. File photo by Michael McAndrews/

The CityPlace II tower, at left, is going up for auction. File photo by Michael McAndrews/

The starting bid for the Asylum Street building is $6.5 million for the online auction, which begins August 25.

The 300,000-square-foot structure, built in 1989, is separate from the larger, 38-story CityPlace I, now called the United Health Care Center. However, the two towers share a common lobby and other amenities.

CityPlace II’s , whose tenant roster includes Bank of America, Webster Bank, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has a 35-percent vacancy rate.

The tower was previously owned by Northland Investment Corp., which lost the property  in 2012, nearly three years after it first sank into foreclosure. LNR Partners, the mortgage servicer pursuing the foreclosure, took over the property.

Northland bought CityPlace II in 1999 for $33 million.




Plans Collapse For Hartford Museum Honoring Poet

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Wallace Stevens’ poetry is often difficult for the novice reader, but the reason why the poet’s Hartford home probably won’t become a museum isn’t: a major investor has pulled out of the project.

Alison Johnson, who led the five-member investor group, confirmed Thursday plans to turn Stevens’ home on Westerly Terrace into a modest museum honoring the poet had been shelved and weren’t likely to be revived.

“I had a call on Monday morning from one of the five consortium members, who told me that he was very sorry to say that he was withdrawing his offer to put up $100,000 as one of the investors in the consortium,” Johnson told me, in  an email.

The former home of poet Wallace Stevens is back on the market. Photo Credit: Paula Fahy Ostop, William Raveis,

The former home of poet Wallace Stevens is back on the market. Photo Credit: Paula Fahy Ostop, William Raveis,

Further, “He said that he had also changed his mind about letting the projected house museum use his collection of Wallace Stevens’ furniture and paintings,” Johnson said.

The group had agreed to purchase the property July 1 at the asking price of $489,900.

Johnson declined to identify the investor. But previously, Johnson had said one investor, Stevens’ grandson, Peter Hanchak of Virginia, still owned some of Stevens’ furniture and paintings. The group had hoped to return those items to the house.

When reached Thursday, Hanchak declined to comment.

Johnson, author of “Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive” and the web site,, said the group had hoped to show another side of Stevens, sometimes considered solitary, even prickly.

“It is of course with great disappointment that we cannot move forward on this project,” Johnson said. “The Wallace Stevens home is a wonderful house with beautiful interior wainscoting and paneling, and I’m sure some family that purchases it will be delighted with their new home.”

Johnson said a home inspection did not reveal any major flaws and was not a factor in the decision to halt the group’s plans.

Paula Fahy Ostop, the listing agent with Ellyn Marshall & Associates/William Raveis in West Hartford, said the property at 118 Westerly Terrace has returned to the market with at the original asking price.

The house has been owned by Christ Church Cathedral since Stevens’ death and used as a deanery. The church decided to sell it because its priests now prefer to live in their own homes.

The investors had planned to hold the 6-bedroom, 1920s Colonial for 18 months, in hopes of raising $500,000, enough to transfer the property to a foundation that would oversee the museum and its maintenance.

Stevens was praised as a “poet’s poet” as early as the 1930s, but he kept a low profile in Hartford, virtually unknown to his neighbors. Stevens was known to compose poems in his head while walking to his job as a vice president at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., now The Hartford Financial Services Group.

Stevens, who lived in house from 1932 until his death in 1955, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and National Book Award.

A few years ago, The Hartford Friends of Wallace Stevens, a group of poets and poetry lovers, created a tribute to Stevens in the city.

Theyerected 13 knee-high granite stones — each with a verse of Stevens‘ widely known poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” — along his walking route from home to office. One of the stones is on a grassy boulevard across the street from the house.

Jim Finnegan, the group’s president, said the Friends had also tried to interest corporations and area colleges in acquiring the house, with no success.

Finnegan said the museum plan was the last hope to preserve as many interior features as possible as they were when Stevens lived there.

“Oh well,” Finnegan said. “I hope the house finds a suitable buyer.”




Greater Hartford Home Sales Show Gains in June

by Categorized: Residential Real Estate Reports Date:

Home sales in Greater Hartford rose at a double-digit pace in June, a new report today shows, an encouraging sign after the spring home buying season got off to a disappointingly slow start.

Sales of single-family houses in June rose 11 percent, to 1,071 from 968 for the same month a year ago, according to the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors.

The median sale price — where half the sales are above, half below — slid a little over 1 percent, to $234,000, from $236,700 a year earlier, the association reported for the 57-towns it covers, roughly from Enfield south to Middletown.

“The month of June was a rebound for closed sales,” Jeff Arakelian, the association’s president, said, “It appears the market is correcting after a slow spring.”

Statistics for the first six months of the year show just how slow the market has been this year. Through June, sales of single-family houses increased less than 1 percent compared with the same period in 2013.

Sales closed in June reflect homes that would have gone under deposit in the previous 60-to-90 days. Real estate agents say July will provide more insight into the spring market, usually the busiest of the year and a barometer for annual home sales.

And, agents say, fall could provide a bump, though it is not traditionally as busy as the spring.

Home sales in Greater Hartford posted double-digit, year-over-year gains in 2012 and 2013, and last year prices stabilized. The trends were an encouraging sign that the area was beginning to hit a stride recovering from the housing downtown.

Pending sales in June rose nearly 4 percent, to 1,120, from 1,080 for the same month a year ago. Those figures show sales could remain in positive territory for the next few months, though not all homes under contract reach closings.

The association’s report indicated that more property owners had confidence their homes would sell. New listings in June rose by nearly 20 percent, to 2,084, from 1,737 a year ago.

Inventory — the total number of homes on the market — jumped by 17 percent, to 7,787 from 6,655 a year ago.

Based on sales in June and the number of homes for sale, the area has a seven-month supply of homes — just barely a buyer’s market, favoring purchasers over sellers. A six-month supply is said to favor neither buyer nor seller.

Sales of condominiums also were strong in June, rising nearly 23 percent, to 275, from 224 a year earlier. The median sale price inched up less than a percent, to $155,000, from $154,000 for the same month in 2013.









Long-Vacant Building Near Planned Hartford Ballpark Has A Buyer

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:
The long-vacant former bank data processing center on Windsor Street in Hartford has a buyer. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

The long-vacant former bank data processing center on Windsor Street in Hartford has a buyer. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

The bunker-like building at 150 Windsor St. just north of downtown Hartford has remained vacant since Bank of America moved out six years ago.

But the 193,000-square-foot structure is now under contract, providing evidence, city officials say, that the recent plan for a new ballpark just to the west is spurring investor and developer interest in the now-barren area known as Downtown North.

“It’s a building that’s been sitting empty, no one knows what to do with it, but someone, as a result of the ballpark announcement, believes this is the time to take a risk on it,” Hartford’s director of development Thomas E. Deller told my colleague Dan Haar.

Jay Morris, the broker with O,R&L Commercial who has the listing, declined to identify the buyer or the purchase price. But Morris told me the purchase should close by the end of the year.

Morris said he did not know the buyer’s specific plans for the 4-story building, constructed in 1971 for a long line of bank data processing operations.

The building is owned by Summit Place LLC, according to city records, whose managing member is Irving Bork, of Ellington.

The building was one of the 13 sites proposed for the University of Connecticut’s downtown Hartford campus. At that time, another broker from O,R&L said the building “would be taken right down to the steel” if UConn chose it. (UConn ultimately selected the former Hartford Times building near Front Street.)

The Windsor Street property has enough space to park 300 cars on the site, with two levels of underground parking. The building has large, 40,000-square-foot floor sizes and room, if needed, for an addition. The building occupies an entire city block between Trumbull and Pleasant streets and has a back-up generator.

Plans for the ballpark must still be approved by the city council. The city hopes the Downtown North area will form a connection between downtown and the city’s North End. In the 1960s, the construction of I-84 split off the area from the rest of downtown.

Acclaimed Poet’s Hartford Home Is On The Market

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:
The former home of poet Wallace Stevens is on the market. Photo Credit: Paula Fahy Ostop, William Raveis,

The former home of poet Wallace Stevens is on the market. Photo Credit: Paula Fahy Ostop, William Raveis CLICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOS

For years, acclaimed poet Wallace Stevens walked from his home in Hartford’s West End to his day job at a local insurance company, composing poems on the way.

Now, the 1920s Colonial where Stevens’ daily journeys began is on the market, with an asking price of $489,900.

The 3,900-square-foot home has 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms built on about a half-acre in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

The home has owned by Christ Church Cathedral, which has used it as a dean’s residence, since 1955.

Stevens bought the house at 118 Westerly Terrace in 1932, and it became the poet’s lifelong home. Stevens didn’t learn to drive, so for many years he walked to the two miles between his home and the offices of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co.

Stevens kept a low-profile in Hartford and remained virtually unknown to his neighbors and an oddity to his co-workers.

Once asked to repeat at the Wadsworth Atheneum a lecture he had given in New York in 1951 at the Museum of Modern Art, Stevens declined: “Sorry. In Hartford I’m known as a businessman.”

Stevens won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955, just months before he died.

Paula Fahy Ostop, an agent at William Raveis in West Hartford, has the listing.

The Hartford’s CEO Puts West Hartford Home Up For Sale

by Categorized: luxury home real estate Date:


Liam E. McGee has listed his West Hartford home for sale now that he is stepping down as CEO of The Hartford. Photo Courtesy of Trulia.

Liam E. McGee has listed his West Hartford home for sale now that he is stepping down as CEO of The Hartford. Photo Courtesy of Trulia.

Two weeks ago, The Hartford’s Liam E. McGee announced he would be stepping down as the insurer’s chief executive officer in July amid health problems.

Friday, McGee listed his 12-room, Colonial in West Hartford on Woodridge Lake for $2.7 million.

The 7,700-square-foot home at 64 Waterside Lane, built in 2001, has 6 bedrooms, 7-1/2 baths, home theater, basketball court on the grounds and a dock on the lake. The property encompasses nearly 4 acres in exclusive Wood Pond.

Online property records show McGee and his wife, Lori, purchased the home for $2.6 million in late 2009. The property had previously been owned by the former CEO of Phoenix Cos., Dona D. Young.

Julie Carter, an agent with William Raveis in West Hartford, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment today.

The $1 million-plus market has been slow to recover from the last housing downturn, but one agent said the home’s lakeside location is a plus.

The view to Woodridge Lake. Photo Courtesy of Trulia.

The view to Woodridge Lake. Photo Courtesy of Trulia.

“It’s a different dynamic for homes that are on the water,” said Rob Giuffria, of Prudential Premier Homes in Farmington.

Giuffria said he didn’t expect the house to sit long, probably between two and six months. He also didn’t expect much room for negotiation, and he anticipates a sale price of no lower than $2.5 million.

In 2013, The Hartford Financial Services Group disclosed that McGee had a brain tumor surgically removed. Earlier this month, the insurer said McGee had a “follow-up procedure” related to same health issue, as the company said McGee would step down. The insurer did not elaborate on the procedure.

McGee will remain chairman until The Hartford’s next annual meeting.

McGee came to The Hartford in the fall of 2009 as the company was struggling, having taken $3.4 billion in assistance from the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, which it paid back with interest in the spring of 2010.

I am trying to obtain more photos of 64 Waterside Lane. Check back later for updates.





City Still Pushing For Supermarket In Downtown Hartford

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford, Downtown North, Hartford Redevelopment Date:

The city of Hartford says it remains committed to securing a supermarket for the downtown area, after a plan for a grocery store collapsed this week because a minor league ballpark may be built nearby.

“We all want to see the market,” Thomas E. Deller, the city’s director of development services, told leaders of the city’s neighborhood revitalization zones Thursday night. “It’s important for us to get a supermarket downtown and, if possible, in Downtown North. We would really like that to happen.”

After nearly two years of work, the Hartford Community Loan Fund this week pulled the plug on its plans for a full-service supermarket that would have been part of a larger, mixed-use development at 1212 Main St., sometimes referred to as “12B.”

Both the ballpark and the supermarket targeted Downtown North, or “DoNo,” a barren, redevelopment area just north of downtown Hartford.

The loan fund, a community revitalization organization, had strong interest from the operator of a ShopRite for the site. The operator, Paul Tornaquindici, did not believe the ballpark, proposed next door, at 1214 Main St., would be compatible with the store, Fowler said.

Deller told the NRZ leaders at their monthly meeting Thursday that there were still many unanswered questions about the loan fund’s plan.

“The proposal for 12B, 1212 Main St., [is] one that has been out there a while,” Deller said. “There hadn’t been a clear developer for the site. There hadn’t been a clear proposal for the site and clear economics to show the operator could actually rent the site and operate a market there.”

On Friday, Rex Fowler, the loan fund’s executive director, defended the loan fund’s work on the project, saying it did not come to the table unprepared.

Fowler said the loan fund:

      • Completed a detailed market study confirming the economic viability of such a full-service supermarket for the Downtown North redevelopment area
      • Identified an experienced market operator with a strong commitment to serving all members of the Hartford community.
      • Identified of a highly qualified, experienced community developer with strong access to capital, experience with similar projects across the country, and interest in a role in implementation of the Downtown North Master Plan as completed by the City in December, 2013.
      • Identified local and national sources of financing for the project.

“HCLF is proud of the work that our staff and our partners have contributed to this project,” Fowler said.

The supermarket, as envisioned by the loan fund, would have served both downtown and the city’s North End neighborhoods. Downtown North was an ideal location because it was in the middle of a “food desert” with few options for purchasing groceries.

Deller said he believes a ballpark and a supermarket can thrive side-by-side. He cited calls from developers since the announcement of the ballpark proposal two weeks ago, some saying the area would work well for a supermarket.

Deller also said a supermarket opened near the Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., next where housing is being built. Housing also is a major, planned component for Downtown North.

“The reason why I bring this up is to show that they are not mutually exclusive,” Deller said. “They can work together. They can operate together.”

Fowler said he believes Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra and city council members are committed to taking steps to ease the food desert that affects a quarter of city residents and, to improve access to healthy and affordable foods.

“We continue to be eager to assist our City leaders in their efforts toward this objective in any way possible,” Fowler said.






Greater Hartford Home Sales Slip In All-Important Spring Season

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Sales of single-family houses in Greater Hartford slipped for the third month in a row in May, a new report Wednesday shows, a less than encouraging sign for the spring home buying market.

In May, closed sales fell by 9.3 percent, to 836 from 922 for the same month a year earlier, according to the report from the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors, which tracks a 57-town area from Enfield south to Middletown.

The median sale price — in which half the sales are above, half below — dropped 3.1 percent, to $218,000 from $225,000 a year earlier.

Inventory jumped 14.2 percent, to 7,632, from 6,682 a year earlier. Based on sales logged in May, the area has a nine-month supply of houses for sale, firmly in what is called a buyer’s market. The market is said to be in equilibrium with a six month’s supply, favoring neither buyer nor seller.

There were a couple of positive signs: properties under contract rose 4 percent, compared with a year ago — pointing to the potential for a year-over-year increase in sales in June. Sellers also appear confident they will find buyers, as new listings rose 14.4 percent.