Urban Planning Experts Target “The Avenue” In Hartford

by Categorized: Hartford Redevelopment, Uncategorized Date:

For more than a decade, big-ticket redevelopment efforts in Hartford have focused largely on downtown — the idea being the success of a strong city center would ripple out into Hartford’s neighborhoods.

But this week, another neighborhood — along Albany Avenue — grabbed some of the spotlight, as urban planners and land use experts brainstormed ideas for revitalizing the mile-plus long corridor.

Hartford is one of four cities chosen for the Urban Land Institute’s Rose Fellowship annual year-long program which aims to create successful, long-term development plans. The city decided to focus those efforts on Albany Avenue.

On Friday, the group presented its initial impressions and recommendations, including two, mixed-use developments, one near the Hartt School of Music and another at the intersection of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street.

This lot at the intersection of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street is targeted for redevelopment. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin

This lot at the intersection of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street is targeted for redevelopment. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin

Teaon Tinker, of the family-run Tinker Real Estate & Insurance, said she was encouraged by what she heard, hoping it would help change the negative perception of the community where she has lived for 27 years.

“It’s the area everyone wants to drive through as fast as they can,” said Tinker, who moved to the North End from Jamaica when she was 10. “It hurts to always be downgraded. We have wonderful people here. You can’t pry me out of there.”

Albany Avenue, known as “The Avenue,”  long has struggled with crime, but it has had its successes. In the late 1990s the Artists Collective opened at the corner of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street and more recently, the new YMCA, the new Upper Albany Branch of the Hartford Public Library and the expanded Community Health Services Center.

Tinker agreed with the experts Friday that planning needs to be more comprehensive, tying together now isolated development efforts.

Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra and other city officials hope the new city public safety complex will be a catalyst for more development farther up Albany Avenue.

And an estimated, $17 million in state and local funding are earmarked for streetscape improvements, expected to begin next spring. The improvements — sidewalks, lighting and landscaping — could provide an additional boost, sprucing up the street’s rundown appearance.

One key issue not yet addressed by the experts is how all the development they envision would be paid for, but it is likely federal and state aid would be needed to attract private investment.

The Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing complexes are headed for redevelopment. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

The Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing complexes are headed for redevelopment. Photo by Kenneth R. Gosselin/kgosselin@courant.com

One early recommendation Friday from the visiting experts envisions a mixed-use development of residential and higher-end retail on the site now occupied by the rundown Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing complex.

Ricardo Noguera, director of community and economic development in Tacoma, Wash., said he believes the affluent community in the nearby West End and the closeness of the University of Hartford makes higher-end retail a natural for the site.

“I’m looking at the demographics in the West End, that’s within a half mile,” Noguera told me. “Folks who now shun this area, there would now be a draw.”

The city expects to seek proposals for the site this spring. Noguera said he believes it might take three or four years to fully develop the site, beginning first with retail — he mentioned Whole Foods as a possibility — followed by a public plaza and housing in later phases.

Closer to downtown, a parcel of land at the corner of Woodland and Albany is also is targeted for development. But the vision must be for something more than, say, a single restaurant, said Richard Ward, principal of Ward Development Counsel LLC in St. Louis, a development consultant.

“It has to be bigger than that, not just one thing,” Ward said.

He envisions retail on the ground floor, the building close to the street, not set back with parking in front. A second floor would be ideal, with housing, Ward said.

The visiting experts also mentioned that the University of Connecticut’s relocation of its West Hartford campus downtown also could foster more vibrancy, paired with the University of Hartford at the northern end.

Tinker, a board member of the neighborhood revitalization zone, said other parts of Hartford — downtown, the West End — have had their share of attention.

“Now, it’s our turn,” Tinker said.


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7 thoughts on “Urban Planning Experts Target “The Avenue” In Hartford

  1. Phil

    Get rid of the westbrook housing & bowles park projects and give a bunch of the land those places sit on, to U of Hartford for potential campus expansion. Then use the other land for the retail/housing mix plan. It’s win win for everyone.
    -The city increases it’s tax rolls, thereby making more money from new businesses and the associated construction
    -Area residents & students get places to shop nearby
    -Students and other people get some nice apartments
    -U of Hartford gets land to potentially expand into in the future
    -Neighborhood gets rid of the blight and improves property values, residents feeling of safety & pride
    -Everyone gets rid of the crime & drugs that go along with housing projects like westbrook & bowles park.

    1. mike

      Much of what you write is a good way to go, but UHart needs to be interested in some MAJOR expansion for this to work out.

      Just removing the projects will not immediately make the area better, there would need to be the removal and SIGNIFICANT private investment couples with again significant university investment in order to build enough of an anchor for this part of the Ave.

      chaning some buildings does not change perception, and the Ave like much of hartford needs perception changes.

      1. Phil

        I completely agree with what you said. I know it’ll take a LONG(as in years) time to change the perception, but I’m hopeful that this, once in a lifetime opportunity, will help be a catalyst for other positive things in the neighborhood.

        I feel just getting rid of those buildings along Albany Ave will do tremendous good because right now when you drive by it’s like driving by a half demolished/burned down house, it does nothing but depress, anger and/or scare people. It’s like a festering wound that needs to be healed. Sorry for the descriptions but I think it’s been almost 7 years that this project has been stalled so I’m glad to see some movement on it, again, finally.

  2. Joe Fisher

    Westbrook and Bowles are both almost 50% empty and are both planned to be demolished soon. The only hold up is getting the current residents out. Time to do something worth while that will both benefit the poor and the middle class.

  3. Eileen

    Am I the only person that finds this entire article completely laughable?

    This 2 star rated Washington based charity gets a five million dollar donation from a NY businessman and spends it by getting a group of urban planners together and determining that a Whole Foods market would save Albany Ave. This foundation doesn’t provide any money, but they can tell us what is going to save this area.

    You give me $2,000,000 and I will come up with a plan and I will even donate $1,000,000 to help make it happen.

  4. BestofLuck

    I admire the idea, but a Whole Foods on Albany Avenue? I think a gun store would be a better investment :)

Comments are closed.