Construction on the long-awaited, $50 million first phase of redevelopment around Dunkin’ Donuts Park is now underway, with an official groundbreaking expected in two weeks.
The first phase of “Downtown North” — located just south of the ballpark at Main and Trumbull streets — is the beginning of a four-part, $200 million redevelopment of city-owned land that is seen as critical to reconnecting downtown with the city’s northern neighborhoods.
As many as 1,000 apartments, restaurant and entertainment space and parking garages could replace an expanse of parking lots in the next five years or so.
On Thursday, backhoes dug into the first phase, known as “Parcel C” in front of the former Red Lion Hotel, and payloaders dumped soil into massive piles. In the next 20 months or so, out of the vacant lot will rise buildings with 270 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, 11,000 square feet of restaurant, shop and entertainment venue space and a 330-space parking garage.
The pandemic has slowed apartment leasing downtown, but developer Randy Salvatore said Thursday he remains “very bullish” about Hartford’s apartment market as the city emerges from under COVID-19.
Salvatore, founder and chief executive of Stamford-based RMS Cos., said he believes smaller cities such as Hartford could very well benefit from a migration out of larger urban areas such as New York or Boston fueled by the pandemic.
“And our building is not going to be ready for occupancy for another 20 months or so,” Salvatore said. “By that time, a lot of the immediate issues will, I would assume and I don’t think it’s a long stretch, will be gone. We’ll have a vaccine and people will be back to somewhat normal lifestyles.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Thursday the Downtown North project is transformative for the city.
“It’s also a significant vote of confidence that even as we battle this pandemic, investors still recognize the tremendous momentum we had coming into this spring and the tremendous potential we have for growth right now,” he said.
Construction is starting more than two years after the city chose RMS as the new developer and in the aftermath of a bruising court battle with the previous developer to regain control of the four city-owned parcels encompassing Downtown North.
The previous developers, Centerplan Construction Co. and DoNo Hartford LLC, continue to pursue an appeal of a jury’s verdict that the city was justified in firing the developers from the ballpark and redevelopment projects.
Bronin said Thursday he sees now as the right time to move ahead on Downtown North.
“The court’s decision was clear and strong and the path is clear, for us, to move forward,” Bronin said. “We knew from the day that we fired Centerplan that Centerplan would do everything they could to disrupt this project.
“We weren’t afraid of them then, we weren’t afraid of the outcome of the litigation and we’re not afraid of them now. We’re not spending a lot of time thinking about them. We’re working side-by-side with a responsible development partner with a strong track record to get this done for the city of Hartford.”
A ceremonial groundbreaking is expected the week of Oct. 11, but a specific date has not yet been chosen.
In March, the city signed a development agreement with RMS that spell out PILOT payments, or payments in lieu of taxes, beginning in the third year after the start of construction. The city will sign leases for each of the parcels separately as construction milestones are met for the preceding phase.
In a development where the majority of apartments will be market-rate, the addition of affordable units became crucial to winning neighborhood backing. The agreement calls for a minimum of 10% affordable housing units, including 5% for families earning up to 80% of the area’s median income.
State and local taxpayers also have a financial stake in the first phase, including a $12 million loan from the Capital Regional Development Authority. The city also has agreed to help support the affordable units through federal funding, contributing up to $900,000 over 20 years.
Salvatore said he is still planning for a long-sought grocery store for a future phase of Downtown North, and RMS is actively seeking out an operator.
Contact Kenneth R. Gosselin at [email protected]
©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.