Construction fences appeared at the old Sonesta Hotel in downtown Hartford in the past week, leading folks to wonder: Is the apartment conversion project planned for hotel about to get underway?
This morning, I visited Constitution Plaza where the long-vacant Sonesta stands. There, I found developer Jeffrey D. Ravetz, president of New York-based Girona Ventures, and his partner, Joseph Klaynberg, of Wonder Works Construction Corp., also headquartered in New York.
Ravetz told me he and Klaynberg were in town to meet with contractors. He expects work will start on converting the hotel into 193 apartments, mostly studio and one-bedroom units in six to eight weeks.
“We feel extremely bullish everything will go as good or better than expected,” Ravetz said.
If all goes as planned, the Sonesta would be the first of the apartment conversions in downtown Hartford to break ground.
The Sonesta project — and several other apartment conversions in downtown Hartford — have gotten tangled up in investors wary of potential change in the federal historic rehabilitation tax credit program.
Since the spring, the Internal Revenue Service has been sorting out a court ruling that could place new requirements on investors in the program. A decision has yet to be rendered.
The Capitol Region Development Authority has approved a $2 million “bridge loan” to help temporarily fill the tax credit funding gap and help close financing for the project, hopefully this month.
The project’s costs have risen from an initial $24 million to the current, $28 million as construction costs and interest rates have crept up, Michael W. Freimuth, the authority’s executive director, told me this morning.
The permanent financing package, Freimuth said, now includes $12.8 million in bank loans; a $4 million state affordable housing loan; $5 million in federal historic rehabilitation tax credits; $4 million in state historic tax credits; and $2 million in developer equity.
Meanwhile, Ravetz said he had to deal with intruders breaking into and vandalizing the building, vacant for more than a decade.
“There has been broken glass,” Ravetz said.