Vision Emerging For Hartford’s ‘Downtown North’

by Categorized: Hartford Redevelopment Date:

The area just north of downtown Hartford is now a patchwork of parking lots and vacant land, but a new study envisions a bustling extension of downtown with hundreds of units of housing, storefront space and even a supermarket.

The city’s year-long study of the area known as Downtown North is nearing completion, but a draft of the study recommends that prime development sites encompassing 40 acres eventually could support as many as 900 units of housing, 190,000 square feet of retail space, and a 30,000-square-foot grocery store.

Hundreds of  surface parking spaces would be lost in any redevelopment, so parking garages and decks would have to be woven into any redevelopment plans.

A final report with recommendations is due in January.

Get an early look at what will be unveiled at a public presentation Wednesday here.

The Downtown North area was once part of the city’s central business district but in the 1960s, it was split off when 1-84 was built through the heart of the city. The divide contributed to the decline of the area, including the H.B. Davis building, nicknamed the “Butt Ugly” Building. The building was demolished several years ago.

Thomas E. Deller, the city’s director of development, told me today the study is focused on how to bring the area back together with downtown. The study is intended to serve as a guide for how the city should zone the area and pursue redevelopment, Deller said.

“We have to develop regulations for what we want and what we don’t want,” Deller said.

The city has acquired parcels of land in the Downtown North area in recent years, but one challenge would be acquiring those that are privately owned. And, to make the vision work, the area in the vicinity of the highway will have to be made more pedestrian-friendly, Deller said.

Financing also is a prime consideration, but Deller said funds from the Capital Region Development Authority targeted to add housing downtown could go to projects in Downtown North.

Earlier this year, the city had pushed for the University of Connecticut to locate its new downtown Hartford campus at Talcott Plaza, which is just across I-84 in the existing central business district. The city had argued Talcott Plaza would be a potent catalyst for redevelopment in Downtown North.

UConn decided to locate the new campus in the former Hartford Times building near the Front Street redevelopment instead. UConn said it preferred to locate near a more established area of the city.

While the study initially focused on the Downtown North area, it was expanded to include other areas of downtown:

  • Corner of Main and Pratt streets. A group of buildings, including the city’s first skyscraper, were demolished in the late 1980s in preparation for a redevelopment that never happened. Parking lots now occupy the area, but the study envisions housing and storefronts.
  • Bushnell Park. The study recommends more housing across the street from the park, to capitalize on the views.
  • Union Station. Parking lots along Allyn Street would be replaced with housing and storefronts.

Deller said any new retail space is not intended to compete with what already exists in the downtown area. Existing spaces are relatively small, but new development could provide larger spaces such as what is needed for a supermarket.

Development isn’t necessarily limited to housing and storefront space, Deller said. The city has suggested part of downtown North might house modern offices for city workers. The area also has been mentioned as a site if the XL Center eventually needs to be replaced.

A presentation on the study will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., Hartford.







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