State Bond Commission Backs Funding For XL Center Upgrades

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford, Hartford Redevelopment, XL Center Date:
A rendering showing the new "fan club" bar area planned for Hartford's XL Center. Credit: JCJ Architecture

A rendering showing the new “fan club” bar area planned for Hartford’s XL Center from across the arena bowl. Credit: JCJ Architecture

The State Bond Commission Friday morning backed $31.2 million for upgrades at Hartford’s aging XL Center, with construction expected to begin in late spring.

The funding is part of a $35 million package approved by the state legislature in last year’s session of the General Assembly. In December, the bond commission backed spending $1.8 million of the package on developing plans for the improvements.

My colleague Chris Keating, who covered Friday’s bond commission meeting, reports that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said it makes sense to make short-term improvements now because the state does not have any immediate plans for constructing a new arena.

“What I’m trying to do is stretch a very old facility,” Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol complex. “It is one of the older facilities in the nation of its type. I’m trying to get eight to 10 years out of it, quite frankly. Right now, the air conditioning system is in failure. Other systems in the building are in failure.”

Malloy added: “There is now way we could build a replacement facility overnight or quite frankly, in the next two years, for instance. So, we either close it and have no functions being run in Hartford or we put some money into it and stretch its life.”

The $35 million also includes funding to study long-term options for the XL Center, opened in 1975 as the Hartford Civic Center. The study is expected to get underway in earnest later this year.

In addition to new mechanical systems, improvements now planned will include a new “fan club” bar area that overlooks the bowl, loge seating and an upgraded sound system. The concourse will be refurbished to include themed “nodes” at the corners, renovated restrooms and expanded concession offerings.

Construction is expected to begin in May and be mostly completed by October, in time for the beginning of the hockey and basketball seasons.

See more renderings here of planned upgrades at the XL Center.

“XL Center needs this infusion of funds to stay current with industry practices as we map out a longer term plan for the buildings future,” Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, told me.

The CRDA oversees the operations of both the XL Center and The Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. Last year, the CRDA hired Global Spectrum to manage both.

PLANNED XL CENTER IMPROVEMENTS
Arena Bowl:
*New fan club area overlooking the bowl
*New loge boxes
*New sound system
*Upgraded video board and scoreboard
*New LED ribbon boards
*New digital advertising signs
Concourse:
*Renovated restrooms
*New wall and floor finishes
*New lighting
*Concession area improvements
*New doors and signs at entrances
*Improved disabled accessibility
Event Level:
*Renovated Wolf Pack, UConn basketball and visiting hockey and basketball team locker rooms
*New locker room for UConn hockey
*Renovated support kitchen
*New restrooms
*Improved disabled accessibility
Mechanical Systems:
*Upgraded control system
*Repaired or replaced heating, cooling and air circulation systems
*Repaired or replaced piping systems

Source: Capital Region Development Authority

#ThrowbackThursday: Even In 1970s, More Downtown Apartments Key To Hartford Revitalization

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Today, apartment projects are underway in downtown Hartford to boost vibrancy in the city’s center.

The strategy is hardly new, however. A story published on Feb. 28, 1976 about the sale of a building in downtown’s Union Place speculated on the possibility of more apartments in the area.

“Apartments would complement City Council plans for a residential community downtown. Downtown Council Director Stanley Schultz…said Union Place would be the perfect site for inexpensive housing — “perhaps for artists looking for a place convenient to everything.”

One of the apartment projects now underway is the conversion of the former Professional Building, at 179 Allyn Street, which is near Union Station.

Read the story from 1976:

Sale_Gordon_Building

Hartford’s Former G. Fox Building Pulled Out Of Foreclosure

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

A looming foreclosure on the former G. Fox & Co. building in Hartford — a key cog in downtown redevelopment plans in the last decade — has been averted now that a Canadian investor has purchased the mortgage.

The former G. Fox & Co. department store building on Main Street in downtown Hartford pulled out of foreclosure Courant Photo by Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant.

The former G. Fox & Co. department store building on Main Street in downtown Hartford is pulled out of foreclosure. Courant Photo by Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant.

Olymbec Corporate Group, based in Montreal, purchased the remainder of the $25 million mortgage on the Main Street property in late January, owner Hartford Downtown Revival and its principal owner, Anthony Autorino, told me Tuesday.

Hartford Downtown Revival, which owns 60 percent of the building, had tried unsuccessfully to refinance the mortgage. The mortgage covered the office space — with the state and the city of Hartford as major tenants — but not the building’s retail space.

The state owns the portion of the building occupied by Capital Community College.

Autorino told me the details of the partnership with Olymbec are still being worked out, but plans for marketing the building and attracting new tenants will be developed in the next month or so.

The foreclosure prevented Hartford Downtown Revival from making any major changes in the building. Now, the new partnership is expected to address vacancies of 30 percent for the office space and 60 percent for the retail space. They will begin with the office space, Autorino said.

“Now, we’re in a much better position,” Autorino told me. “We have to plan for how do we fill the building up and be a cornerstone of revitalization that was envisioned from the beginning.”

Autorino

Autorino

The building had good occupancy and was current on its payments when the mortgage matured in 2011. But even those buildings had a tough time refinancing as property values slid and lenders tightened the size of what they would lend in relationship to a property’s value.

On top of that, the mortgage had been sold to investors on the secondary market, part of a larger portfolio of mortgages, making it tougher to work out a deal.

In commercial real estate, mortgages are relatively short-term, and owners must find lenders at maturity to refinance, or pay the loan off with a balloon payment. The tough economic climate when the mortgage on 960 Main matured combined with weak office leasing also made it difficult to refinance.

Autorino and the state jointly purchased the property in 2000 for $4.5 million. Autorino’s share of the redevelopment costs was about $45 million, with the state investing about $50 million. The redevelopment was completed two years later.

Autorino is a former United Technologies Corp. engineer and executive who reaped a fortune on the sale of the telecommunications company he founded. He battled the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. over bank loans for, among other things, real estate development through the 1990s. He was eventually cleared of federal fraud charges involving the loans.

A political insider, Autorino helped craft the “Six Pillars” development plan envisioned by former Gov. John G. Rowland, for Hartford, which included the redevelopment of the G. Fox building. The 11-story building was constructed in 1918, a cornerstone of downtown’s once-thriving department store district. The store closed in 1993.

Lender Pushing For Rockville Redevelopment Hit With Civil Penalty

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

The mortgage lender that wants to redevelop a large portion of downtown Rockville has been ordered by federal authorities to pay an $83,000 civil penalty for illegally splitting real estate settlement fees.

East Hartford-based 1st Alliance Lending reported the violations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, admitted liability and provided information on others involved in similar practices, according to a release from the CFPB.

“These types of illegal payments can harm consumers by driving up the the costs of mortgage settlements,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said. “The Bureau will use its enforcement authority to ensure these types of practives are halted. We will, however, also continue to take into account the self-reporting and cooperation of companies in determining how to resolve such matters.”

John C. DiIorio, chief executive of 1st Alliance, did not have an immediate comment today.

DiIorio is pursuing a $120 million redevelopment of downtown Rockville, part of the town of Vernon. DiIorio’s company would become the anchor commercial tenant and bring hundreds of jobs to an area that has struggled with the loss of manufacturing jobs.

DiIorio’s company focuses on refinancing of troubled home loans using federal mortgage programs.

According to the CFPB, 1st Alliance started using a hedge fund in 2010 to finance loans. Under the arrangement, 1st Alliance split revenues and fees with the hedge fund. In 2011, 1st Alliance found a lower cost funding alternative, ending its relationship with the hedge fund. However, 1st Alliance continued to split fees with them.

The hedge fund received payments from 83 1st Alliance loans made from August, 2011 to April 2012. In April, 2013, 1st Alliance reported to violations to federal authorities.

 

Report: Greater Hartford Home Prices Surge in January

by Categorized: Residential Real Estate Reports Date:

Greater Hartford home prices posted the largest year-over-year gain in January in nearly a decade, but experts cautioned against breaking out the champagne just yet.

The median sale price of a single-family house in the 57-town area tracked by the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors jumped 10 percent, to $220,000 in January from $200,000 for the same month a year ago, according to the association’s monthly housing report.

That was the first double-digit gain in median sale price since March, 2005 when the median — where half the sales are above, half below — soared 16 percent compared with the same month in 2004.

Sales of single-family houses in January rose 2.5 percent, to 552 from 566 a year earlier. Pending sales rose 5.5 percent.

But one economist Friday cautioned against reading too much into one month’s numbers, especially the first month of the year.

Donald L. Klepper-Smith, an economist at DataCore Partners Inc. in New Haven, said the small data sample, the mix of housing and weather can combine to “give a false reading.”

Trends, Klepper-Smith said, don’t typically start to develop until the spring, when home buying begins in earnest.

“That being said, the general trend of the housing recovery is up, and that’s a good thing,” Klepper-Smith said.

Jeff Arakelian, the association’s president and chief executive, said the increase could bode well for the spring.

“Buyers looking to purchase have some great options and mortgage rates are still very reasonable,” Arakelian said. “With ample inventory, this could lead to a strong spring market.”

In 2013, home sales in greater Hartford posted double-digit gains for the second year in a row while prices stabilized. The median price rose less than one percent.

 

 

Tenant For Potential New Building Would Fit With Hartford’s Front Street

by Categorized: Downtown Hartford, Hartford Redevelopment Date:

The Capital Region Development Authority is pushing ahead with a study to determine if it is feasible to construct a building on a parking lot in front of Hartford’s convention center.

While the CRDA has declined to identify the tenant interested in occupying the building, a member of the authority’s board told me today the tenant would match the area’s entertainment focus.

“It is a use that would fit in with what is happening on Front Street,” Thomas E. Deller, the city’s development director and a CRDA board member, said.

The Front Street entertainment district is located across the street from the convention center parking lot. Front Street now has a movie theater and an upscale steakhouse. Two other restaurants are expected to open this spring, with Infinity Music Hall & Bistro following in the summer.

The CRDA board Thursday approved using up to $30,000 in state economic development funds for studying development of the parking lot. The study is expected to be completed in the next couple of weeks, CRDA executive director Michael W. Freimuth told me today.

The study will determine, among other things, if a building can be constructed at a reasonable cost.

One major issue is how much it might cost to deal with contamination under the site that was sealed off in the construction of the convention center, opened in 2005. Dealing with cleaning up soil could push up development costs significantly and make construction to expensive.

The parking lot was envisioned for future expansion of the convention center. Any development on the site would have to be constructed in such a way that it could be incorporated into an enlarged convention center should that become necessary in the future.

Downtown Hartford Corner Up For Sale With a Price

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Paul Khakshouri promoted a vision last spring for the half-acre he owns at the corner of Ann Uccello and Asylum streets in downtown Hartford: an apartment building with as many as 800 apartments, more than three times as many as Hartford 21.

This week, Khakshouri — also owner of the neighboring Homewood Suites — didn’t have much to say about the property being listed for sale for $3.95 million.

“I have no comment on that right now,” Khakshouri, a Manhattan real estate investor, told me today.

See the post of my interview with Khakshouri last year.

The parcel, now leased to a parking operator, is being marketed as being suitable for about 840,000 square feet of residential or a combination of office, retail and residential uses. The site is currently leased to a parking operator.

In 2013, Khakshouri’s vision for the corner also could have involved the sale of the property, though there was no specific listing price. Certainly, building the apartment tower would have required securing a developer and assembling a financing package. (The apartment tower, Khakshouri said, would cost as much as $200 million.)

An unspecified “partnership” with the city also would be key, Khakshouri said.

Thomas E. Deller, the city’s development director, told me today that he has not had any discussions with Khakshouri since the property was listed for sale this week.

More Development Possible Near Hartford’s Convention Center

by Categorized: Hartford Redevelopment Date:

With downtown Hartford’s Front Street entertainment district nearly all leased, officials are looking across the street for possible new development.

The Capital Region Development Authority is in discussions with a potential tenant for a building that would be constructed on the parking lot in front of the convention center in Hartford, the authority’s executive director confirmed Wednesday.

CRDA’s executive director Michael W. Freimuth declined to identify the possible tenant.

But Freimuth told me he will ask the authority’s board Thursday to approve the use up to $30,000 in state economic development funds to study the 1.3-acre site and how much it might cost to develop.

“We are experiencing a modicum of success at Front Street, further heightened by apartment construction and the UConn campus,” Freimuth said. “We think there is further potential there.”

One major issue is how much it might cost to deal with contamination under the site that was sealed off in the construction of the convention center, opened in 2005. Dealing with cleaning up soil could push up development costs significantly, Freimuth said.

Ronald F. Angelo, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, told me Wednesday that it is a good time for the study, given activity in the downtown area.

“If the study shows that it looks reasonable, there might be a good opportunity here,” Angelo said.

The parking lot was envisioned for future expansion of the convention center. Any development on the site would have to constructed in such a way that it could be incorporated into an enlarged convention center should that become necessary in the future.

The Front Street entertainment district now has a movie theater and The Capital Grille. Infinity Music Hall & Bistro is expected to open this summer; and two restaurants — Ted’s Montana Grill and Nix’s seafood restaurant are scheduled to open this spring.

Report: Time Right For Reversing Damage of Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

The aging, I-84 viaduct in Hartford tore apart neighborhoods when it was built in the 1960s and certainly has plenty of counterparts across the country.

The I-84 viaduct in Hartford is shown over Flower Street in this photo from 2007. Michael McAndrews/mmcandrews @courant.com

The I-84 viaduct in Hartford is shown over Flower Street in this photo from 2007. Michael McAndrews/mmcandrews @courant.com

But a new listing by the Congress for the New Urbanism, a non-profit that promotes reducing the impact of highways that slice through cities, also places the Hartford viaduct among its top 10 picks for highways in the United States and Canada that have potential for reversing damage done to neighborhoods.

The potential is rooted in on-going, active planning locally for alternatives and communities that are supportive of making a change, said Norman Garrick, a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Connecticut and and a CNU advisory board member.

“These are projects that are not just theoretical, they have advocacy around them,” Garrick told me.

Hartford’s I-84 viaduct has been on CNU’s biennial “Freeways Without Futures” report ever since 2010. The 2014 report also includes such cities as Buffalo, Detroit and Toronto.

See the entire CNU report here.

The listing comes as the city of Hartford is also examining how it can reconnect the area of Main Street to the rest of downtown, also separated by the highway but in an area east of the viaduct.

In 2010, the Capitol Region Council of Governments released a report on options for the 3/4-mile-long elevated, viaduct portion of I-84 that begins at Sisson Avenue and runs to about Union Station.

The options ranged from rebuilding the existing viaduct and  lowering it to a boulevard to burying completely, similar to Boston’s “Big Dig.”

“We have quite an opportunity to rebuild the city, correcting what was done in the 1950s,” Jennifer Carrier, director of transportation planning at CRCOG, told me. “It’s a chance to reconnect the neighborhoods to downtown.”

The state Department of Transportation is now in the first of what is expected to be a 14-year period to determine the most viable option for the viaduct.

The general conclusion of the CRCOG report was that lowering the highway to street level made the most sense. The job would not only require hundreds of millions of dollars, but the move of city streets and the Amtrak rail line. On top of that, there would need to be years of construction, plus cooperation from merchants, taxpayers and major employers such as Aetna and The Hartford.

In addition, consideration also has to be given to the 175,000 vehicles that use the stretch of i-84 daily, CNU said.

Hartford drew CNU’s attention after the non-profit’s president and CEO John Norquist visited the state five years ago, Garrick said.

Another Connecticut highway — New Haven’s Route 34 connector — also had been frequently highlighted on past lists, but has now fallen off, given the start of redevelopment efforts last year.

 

 

 

Back9 Network Pushing Ahead With Studio In Downtown Hartford?

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

 

My colleague Dan Haar reports that the Back9 golf lifestyle network is pushing ahead with its plans for a $7.5 million studio on Hartford’s Constitution Plaza:

That studio space in the former Spris restaurant location, briefly Braza, is not only going to open, [Back9 CEO James L. Bosworth Jr.] said, but it’s more than halfway there.  Without making any announcements, the company has spent $4.5 million toward the $7.5 million total cost of the studio, starting in 2012.

Read Dan’s column here.