City Proposes UConn Campus Relocation For “Downtown North”

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford Date:

The city of Hartford has proposed that the University of Connecticut relocate its West Hartford campus to now-vacant, city-owned land on the northern edge of downtown.

According to the proposal provided to me this morning by the city, the city has proposed leasing the 3-acre parcel at 1214 Main St. for $1 a year to the university so UConn could construct a 237,000-square-foot facility on the site.

This vacant, city-owned lot on Main Street on the northern edge of downtown Hartford is being proposed by the city for the relocation of the University of Connecticut's West Hartford campus to the city. It has been identified in several studies as being one of the "most underutilized" downtown. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

This vacant, city-owned lot on Main Street on the northern edge of downtown Hartford is being proposed by the city for the relocation of the University of Connecticut’s West Hartford campus to the city. It has been identified in several studies as being one of the “most underutilized” downtown. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

The city also owns land surrounding the site — in an area designated as “Downtown North” — that would provide space for future expansion, the proposal states.

The city’s proposal is among 13 submitted to the UConn after it sought in January to widen its search for a downtown Hartford site for the campus. Details have also emerged on a proposal by LAZ Parking’s Alan Lazowski for the area on Main Street near One Talcott Plaza and another by Developer HB Nitkin Group for Front Street.

The university widened its search after approving $243,000 to study the former Travelers Education Center. It’s unclear if that building is among the 13 proposals.

The city’s proposal doesn’t include a cost estimate for construction and cost details have not emerged on the other projects.

UConn declined to comment. The university has not commented on any of the proposals or any of the sites it had considered before widening its search.

In a letter accompanying the proposal, Thomas E. Deller, director of development services, wrote that the city hopes the university will strongly consider the Downtown North area as option for the relocated campus.

“A university presence will create an institutional bookend to the benefits of residents and businesses by cultivating community along downtown’s border with the North End neighborhoods,” Deller wrote.

The land targeted by the city  is located near both the Capital Preparatory Magnet School, the Rensselaer at Hartford Graduate Center and Capital Community College. Downtown North also has been an area targeted for new housing.

The city's proposed site for the the relocated West Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut is in an area known as "Downtown North." Credit: City of Hartford

The city’s proposed site for the the relocated West Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut is in an area known as “Downtown North.” Credit: City of Hartford

The city said 100 parking spaces would likely be available on the same parcel where the college building could be construction. Another 900 spaces are in the immediate area.

Construction of a new parking garage within the first five years of the university relocating to the area also is a possibility. The project would be a joint venture between UConn and the city and would be a more desirable alternative to existing lots.

The city proposal said the new police and fire complex nearby would enhance “perceptions of safety.”

Urban planners and land-use experts from the Urban Land Institute, who visited Hartford last month and are focusing on the revitalization of Albany Avenue in the North End, talked about the importance of Downtown North.

They mentioned the benefit of the area being used for higher education or student housing.

The area has its challenges because it is physically, if not psychologically, separated from the rest of downtown by I-84.

If selected by UConn, the city’s proposal would require city council approval.

 

 

 

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42 thoughts on “City Proposes UConn Campus Relocation For “Downtown North”

  1. DR

    Terrible idea. The campus needs to be downtown – it is better for the city and better for the school. Sticking the campus in the wasteland of “Downtown North” would not accomplish either objective.

    1. Jon Hendry

      There’s going to have to be parking for UCONN, and parking lots just create big dead spots in a downtown: no retail, nothing interesting, just asphalt to walk past.

      So might as well stick UCONN north of 84, and the parking lots nearby.

  2. SL

    This is an awful idea. The whole purpose to getting the WH Campus into the downtown was to fill vacant buildings and inject some life into the downtown scene. What student is going to walk across the I-84 overpass to get to anything in downtown. I parked over there for a few UConn bball games and the walk is terrible. No way kids would do that if they relocated the campus there.

    Hartford needs to focus on growing the current downtown before they try expanding it anymore…..

    1. Jon Hendry

      Perhaps the walk wouldn’t be so dire if those dire little concrete ‘parks’ over 84 that nobody ever steps foot in (except skateboarders) were replaced by retail shops, cafes, or restaurants. Maybe frequently-changing popup shops.

      Of course, that wouldn’t make sense unless something like UCONN were north of 84 to increase foot traffic.

  3. Dave

    The Hartford Times Building is a great idea. It puts the students between the Atheneum and Science Center. Adds life to Front Street. And it saves the magnificent facade of a historic building.

    No other site will do as much for the students or the city.

    1. Sharpshooter

      Has the Times building been vacant all of this time…if so what kind of condition is it in and how much to renovate?

  4. Lynnie

    Trying to sell students (and parents) on the new city location will only work if you can show that the location is vibrant and safe. The North end is neither of these. Why build on the outskirts when there are vacant buildings in the city proper that are ready to go?

    1. Jon Hendry

      For over a year, I’ve been parking in the lot across from the Main street lot mentioned in the story, and I haven’t had any trouble.

      Trouble would be even less likely if there were more people around, especially in the evening.

    2. Jon Hendry

      Also, it occurs to me that West Philadelphia is somewhat analogous to the North end.

      West Philly is even more separated from downtown Philly: walking on Market street from Philly to West Philly you walk over a river, and over a highway. And there’s a long bit of Market street where the huge train station is on one side and the huge post office is on the other.

      West Philly is probably less vibrant and less safe than the North end.

      But West Philly still attracts plenty of students to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

  5. Patrick

    Not that great of space for UCONN unless it was to include covering-up 84 and have it be part of a large redevelopement taht connects it to downtown. As it is right now, it’s too separated from downtown by 84.

    What would be great in that area(north of 84 & south of Pleasant St) would be to tear up those ugly parking lots and make a large park space. It would help connect downtown more so than what they currently are being used for and until they are developed in the future (which will probably be some years) you’ll have a nice, clean, green space for people to use and something way more visually appealing for residents & visitors to see than acres of concrete.

  6. Phil Cole

    I prefer the Front Street proposal since you have the historic Times Building as a centerpiece as well as the ability to utilize available lease space in the new Front Street development. Whatever option is chosen, I’m glad Hartford is aggressively pursuing options to bring life back to downtown that include UCONN West Hartford campus relocation, iQuilt with the Bushnell Park expansion, and residential apartments.

  7. Thank God for a Voice of Reason

    I’m usually as large a Hartford supporter as they come, but the North End? Are you guys out of your minds down there in City Hall? That is THE WAY to kill off public support for this move into the city. Not to mention to kill off any impression of student safety. Terrible idea.

  8. Josh L.

    It’s only barely just in the North End… the problem is that the highway separates it from downtown. If there were some easy pedestrian crossings, it might not be that hard of a sell and might help actually bring some higher-end retail to the northern part of Downtown Hartford. At some point, Hartford is goin to have to try to do SOMEthing north of 84.

    1. Jon Hendry

      Agreed. The north end is a bit like West Philly, which manages to host an Ivy League school, and a good engineering school, while being separated from downtown by a river and a highway.

      1. DR

        @Hendry. The comparison of the North End to West Philly is absurd. They are entirely two different setting and contexts.

        West Philly has a very large student population which is primarily residential, not commuter, meaning the critical mass is there for a vibrant area separate from downtown. A commuter building in the North End would provide so such critical mass and thus would be unable to replicate University City.

        The point you seem to be missing is this – Hartford has very little going for it and what it does have is downtown. Hartford needs to work off of its strenghts and right now it is the budding development of downtown. To propose to move students to the north end and not to downtown harms downtown and does nothing to help the north end.

  9. Some Guy

    Moving UConn out of West Hartford and into Hartford is a bad move in the first place. One of the reasons so many students choose the WH location is for the Town itself. Enrollment will likely plummet at the new campus and State and UConn leaders will stand around with their hands in the air saying “What happened?”

    1. Patrick

      I can’t see that many students saying “I want to go to school in West Hartford!” I think the reason students choose that campus is b/c it’s cheaper, which it will still be. If a student really wants to go to school in West Hartford, they can go next door to University of Saint Joseph.

      This new location will attract more people from north, east and south of Hartford who normally wouldn’t have wanted to deal with the traffic headache of driving on 84 through Hartford and West Hartford. It’s only 10 minutes away from the current site so it’s not far at all. You’ll lose some students no matter where you move the school but by moving it downtown, you’ll gain more potential students than lose potential students.

  10. stuart

    OMG, you guys acts as if the students would have to walk through 84 traffic….its no different than walking down a regular city block, except that u have traffic running beneath…should people not walk the streets of NYC because the subway is running beneath them? I’m sure there are both pros and cons, but the 84 argument is lame.

    1. DR

      The crux of the argument isn’t that there is traffic beneath, it is that you would be asking students to walk through several blocks of wasteland to get to downtown – such a walk is not appealing, is not smart growth and would discourage students from going downtown.

      If Hartford wants to grow its downtown, it needs to get people living and working there. Once downtown is viable, then worry about the north end.

  11. rick

    who are the morons in charge of this? leave a nice part of WH sandwiched btw two major buslines for the north end?

    1. Patrick

      Pull out a map, this is hardly the North End. It’s still downtown, just the northern part of it. If anything it’s near the Clay Arsenal or North Meadows, not the North End. Unfortunately too many people think everything north of 84 is the North End.

      Although I don’t think right now, this would be the best location for UCONN, calling it the North End is grossly ignorant.

  12. Chelsea

    The main draw of the WH branch for me was the location in a safe residential community. The downside was there was nothing to do in between classes unless you wanted to get in your car and drive somewhere (like the Westfarms). Moving the branch to Hartford will only work if it’s in a location with a lot of pedestrian traffic. The location they are proposing will be just far enough away that students will do as I did in the W.H. location…just go to classes, grab a coffee in the cafeteria and head home (keeping my spending money in my pocket).

  13. FactCheck

    what a classically dumb idea for Htfd which has birthed so many dumb urban planning ideas, that Htfd is used as a model of what not to do in urban planning programs all over the USA. putting up new new buildings in no.end is dumb and totally unnecessary – right up there with spending 700 Million on a busway that nobody needs between NB & Htfd.

    Just follow the $$$ as to both dumb ideas – it leads to the construction companies and unions which own the politicians. We have lots of empty spaces in downtown htfd – htfd has plenty of buildings – that isn’t a problem.

  14. Katie

    I spent a total of 5 years driving into Hartford one or two evenings a week to take classes at RPI’s graduate center which is close to this proposed location. While I didn’t feel unsafe, I also drove straight to the campus, parked in the lot there, bought my dinner in the on-campus bistro, and then drove home after classes. I never walked around the “neighborhood” or patronized local businesses.

    It’s not exactly a vibrant area for young college students. It’s basically a wasteland of commuter parking lots and commercial buildings, and too close to some very sketchy residential areas. And traffic on 84 into Hartford during rush hour was a nightmare due to a backup of people trying to get eastbound out of the city – good luck to the UConn students who would be dealing with it either getting to or leaving campus.

  15. Anonymous

    They’re going to have to hire a personal security guard for each student. This is a dangerous part of town…and has been for fifty years. I wouldn’t accept the offer. It’s asking for trouble.

  16. Robert Smith

    Katie’s statement inherently makes the case for the opposite of what she intends. She said
    “I spent a total of 5 years driving into Hartford one or two evenings a week to take classes at RPI’s graduate center which is close to this proposed location. While I didn’t feel unsafe, I also drove straight to the campus, parked in the lot there, bought my dinner in the on-campus bistro, and then drove home after classes. I never walked around the “neighborhood” or patronized local businesses.”

    Her words show how tragic it would be to ever duplicate or even approach the RPI model having a bunch of commuters who never walk or drive around the neighborhood.

    1. Patrick

      I don’t think that was the opposite of what she intended. Like she said there’s nothing around there right now to entice people to explore. Sad, but hopefully the state would at least pave over those parking lots and create a green space instead of the concrete wasteland.

    2. Katie

      I’m not sure what you thought I intended to say, but that was the point I was making.

      The RPI graduate center offers night and Saturday classes only and is intended for working adults, so by its nature it will be very much a commuter school. In all of those classes I had one classmate who actually lived in Hartford – everyone else was from the suburbs. Even students taking Saturday classes will carpool over into downtown proper or go to West Hartford for lunch – there’s just nothing nearby that’s safely or easily walkable.

      I would anticipate that a UConn campus in “Downtown North” would suffer similar issues – few will live nearby because the closest residential areas are unsafe hovels, and there’s nothing else nearby to engage commuter students. Most will drive in, stay on campus for classes and all activities, and then drive out.

  17. Tom

    The UConn Board of Trustees owes a fiduciary duty to the university and its students. It owes nothing to the City of Hartford. If a move to Hartford is in the best interest of the university and its students, the move would be prudent. If the move is instead, another ill-conceived attempt to revitalize Hartford, then the Board will have breached that fiduciary duty.

  18. J A

    There are a few advantages to the 1214 Main St. idea, but juxtaposition with the Hartford Times proposal underscores how much better UConn could do in its site selection. The primary advantage of the 1214 plot is that a large amount of vacant land is available, allowing for flexible construction of a building meeting UConn’s space needs, with room left over for parking. As many commenters above (and many real estate professionals) recognize, however, having an ideal building in a less-than-ideal location is a poor tradeoff.

    The Front Street area is much more central in downtown, allowing for easy pedestrian access using in-place sidewalks and infrastructure. Additionally, the Times building itself is a beautiful and historically important structure a university could proudly claim as its campus center. For those who wonder whether the building is large enough, the answer is that, presently, it is not (containing only about a third of the 150,000 square feet UConn needs), but a few nearby building sites remain, allowing for the flexible extension of space, either in a single-building addition or a small campus comprising two or more buildings.

    The city is quite fortunate to have RPI’s regional campus here. Ideally, the RPI Hartford building would be located in a more central part of downtown. Perhaps RPI could consider locating next to or in the same building as UConn, building upon the existing synergies between institutions.

  19. Mike

    I work downtown every day. The proposed site would be the worst possible choice. It’s dangerous, the traffic is terrible, it’s far from downtown, and there are so many empty buildings already – why build when you can reuse? The buses let you off at the Old State House. Why force our kids to take a long, dangerous walk to scaryland?

  20. Dinx

    Move UConn out of Storrs and into Hartford, where it belongs. The college is way over capacity there, they don’t even have enough water.

  21. pete

    Isn’t it pathetic that the only thing all the monied in Hartford are competing for is to land UCONNs new commuter school. When was the last time any company of any size moved into Hartford. Ain’t happening. Oh yes, The Hartford will move some from Simsbury but that is temporary while it continues its slow demize.

  22. kevin

    Doesn’t seem like a good fit to me, I would rather it be closer to bushnell park/downtown. There are vacant buildings in that area, maybe if needed head closer towards hospital area or the Bushnell and agree parking is needed. that one parcel seems to small, What kind of vision do we have for downtown?? Seemingly small to me, I was hoping for something larger.

  23. Lastmate

    1) Why don’t we see if the State buys the office complex on Columbus Blvd.? Just how many other office office buildings in the Capitol area would be vacated and more ideally suited?
    2) Regardless of how open minded we pretend to be the proposeed lot would still be considered by many too close to the “north end”.

  24. CR

    And the Bank of America Building is still 100% vacant? Ok, got it. So much can be done with Hartford. It’s a shame that so little is.

  25. mc

    Absolutely NOT. This will not do anything to make the campus urban or help the city. This would be an oasis reliant on cars just like the rest of Hartford.

  26. Vincent

    John O. Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee and current president and chief executive officer of the Congress for the New Urbanism, has a more blunt assessment of the freeways that were punched through the hearts of cities across the nation during the interstate building boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

    “They’re a real turd in the punch bowl,” Norquist said last week. “You want to make a city ugly quick, put a freeway through the middle of it.”

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