Author Archives: Kenneth R. Gosselin

Hartford Rappellers Raise More Than Expected for Nonprofit

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Waterford Group CEO Len Wolman prepares to rappel 22 stories at the Hilton Hartford last week. (Photo by Daniel Owen/

Waterford Group CEO Len Wolman prepares to rappel 22 stories at the Hilton Hartford last week. (Photo by Daniel Owen/

More than 100 rappellers at the Hilton Hartford last week helped call attention to  a new, nonprofit organization focusing on the problem of drug and alcohol addiction among children and young adults.

The event also raised $305,000, well above the $250,000 first anticipated, Shatterproof, the Norwalk-based nonprofit announced Thursday.

The event was hosted by the Waterford Group Inc., which owns and manages the Hilton and two other hotels in the city. Waterford’s chairman Len Wolman was among the rappellers.

Read my story about last week’s event and see Daniel Owen’s video here.

Shatterproof was founded in 2013 by Gary Mendell, also a Connecticut-based hotel industry executive, after the death of his son Brian, at age 25. Mendell’s son has struggled with addiction.

Shatterproof plans 14 rappelling events around the country this year, with Hartford being the seventh.








Connecticut Home Sales Get Bump In Spring Season

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Connecticut home sales in June posted the strongest gains so far this year, a new report Tuesday shows, an indication that the well-watched spring home buying season may have been stronger than first thought.

Sales of single-family homes rose nearly 6 percent in June, to 2,799, compared with 2,646 for the same month a year ago, according to a report from The Warren Group, which tracks housing trends in New England.

Prices remain weak, however. The median sale price — where half the sales are above, half below — of a single-family house across the state fell 3.2 percent in June to $276,000, from $285,000 a year ago, Warren Group reported.

Timothy M Warren Jr., Warren Group’s chief executive, said Connecticut continues to show signs of improvement in what has been a prolonged, slow recovery from the last recession.

“Real estate closings in June, July and August are typically the highest of the year as the deals made during the spring selling season get officially recorded,” Warren said. “While not robust, the Connecticut real estate market continues to show a solid recovery.”

June’s sale volume was the highest since August, 2013 when 2,897 homes were sold, Warren said.

Even with the bump up in June, sales of single-family houses statewide are still lagging last year’s pace. Through the first six months of 2014, sales are down almost 2 percent, compared to the same period last year.

Prices also are lower, down 3.2 percent for the first six months of this year compared with 2013.

At Hartford’s Front Street: Visible Signs Of Apartment Construction

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

Almost all the apartment projects now underway in downtown Hartford are conversions of older commercial buildings, the largest being the former Bank of America tower of Main Street.

The Front Street Lofts as seen from the entertainment district. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

The Front Street Lofts as seen from the entertainment district. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/

So it’s hard to see the progress.

One notable exception is the Front Street Lofts, a new structure just west of the entertainment district where Infinity Music Hall & Bistro will open at the end of next month.

Construction of the $33 million, 121-unit apartment building also will include 15,000 square feet of retail space. The five-story building will have a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, all market-rate.

A rendering of Front Street Lofts. Courtesy of HB Nitkin Group

A rendering of Front Street Lofts. Courtesy of HB Nitkin Group.

Developer HB Nitkin Group says the apartments should be ready for occupancy by July, 2015. The rents are expected to range from $1,200-$1,300 to $2,000-$2,200, not including electricity or parking.

Financing includes $13.5 5million from the old Capital City Economic Development Authority, which oversaw the development of the convention center and the first phase of Front Street, plus numerous housing projects downtown.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.