All-star development team plans $841M housing, commercial project along CT River in East Hartford
By Michael Puffer
A partnership including some of the most prominent businessmen in Greater Hartford is planning an $841 million development along the Connecticut River in East Hartford, including 1,000 apartments, 300,000 square feet of commercial space and new transport links.
The ambitious plan to redevelop the roughly 50-year-old Founders Plaza took a big step forward Wednesday as Port Eastside LLC paid $4 million for a low-rise office building on 7.3 acres at 99 Founders Plaza.
Port Eastside plans to demolish this building, along with the former Red Thread property and a crumbling parking garage, then acquire additional properties, to make a roughly 30-acre development site along the river.
The project would mix up to four mid- to high-rise apartment buildings with a 100,000-square-foot medical center, retail and commercial buildings, serviced by a new transportation center, an elevated greenway and a new pedestrian bridge spanning the Connecticut River into Hartford.
“The idea is opening up the river on both sides for the benefit of the people living on both sides,” said Martin Kenny, owner of multifamily developer and investor Lexington Partners, who is involved in the East Hartford project. “This is something that needs to happen and is happening in other cities. This is a way to get that going.”
Port Eastside LLC paid $4 million for this low-rise office building at 99 Founders Plaza.
Kenny said the existing buildings should be demolished this year, with reconstruction possibly launching as soon as a year later and proceeding in phases. The entire project could be completed in seven or eight years, Kenny said.
Kenny owns and manages about 1,000 apartments already in the Hartford area with his friend and longtime business partner, Alan Lazowski, owner of national parking giant LAZ Parking and other ventures.
The partners were recruited into Port Eastside this spring. Kenny admits he found the plan a bit daunting at first but quickly warmed to its prospects.
Other partners include: Hoffman Auto Group Co-Chairman Jeffrey S. Hoffman; Manafort Brothers Inc. President Jim Manafort; Peter S. Roisman, head of Houston-based multifamily investor REV; and Figure 8 Properties principals Harris and Bruce Simons. MBH Architecture President Nicholas P. Michnevitz III is leading design of the project.
“When you see the names…those are serious developers,” East Hartford Mayor Michael Walsh said. “They are well known to the state of Connecticut, and they are familiar to everybody. This is a game-changer.”
The development team is counting on East Hartford to come through with about $45 million to defray costs of building a new parking garage, using either a tax financing agreement or an improvement district. Either vehicle would direct a portion of new tax revenue from the development to pay down costs.
The plans have been quietly shopped around to East Hartford’s Town Council, Department of Economic and Community Development Director Alexandra Daum, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Mark Boughton, U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and members of East Hartford’s legislative delegation.
The proposal will need staunch political backing, as investors seek $45 million through a tax agreement with the town and about another $100 million from state and federal sources for transportation links, including an impressive pedestrian bridge spanning the river.
Port Eastside backers are seeking to draw amusement and entertainment venues to commercial buildings planned for the site, creating a destination that will blend well with the Connecticut Convention Center, Connecticut Science Center, Front Street Entertainment District and other offerings just on the west side of the river.
Kenny said the planned pedestrian bridge would land near the Colt Armory Complex development in Hartford. Coupled with riverside paths and the pedestrian crossing at the Founders Bridge, it will create a loop connecting entertainment, arts, education and dining options on both sides of the river.
The plan incorporates a transportation center, with a stop for CTfastrak buses connecting to an improved greenway, stops for LAZ Parking vans to Bradley International Airport and rental electric scooters.
The Capital Region Development Authority and state Bond Commission have approved $6.5 million to help cover demolition costs for existing buildings on the site. The development team will have to secure a development agreement with the town, along with other agreements for local, state and federal incentives.
The project has significant political momentum. Even so, this week’s purchase represents a big commitment for a project that still has many dominoes to fall before permitting and financing is secured. It’s a big show of confidence from an all-star development team.
“What we are confident about is we have a great team of well-heeled people who care about our region,” Kenny said. “Alan and I have shown that in Hartford with our commitment there. There is a lot of juice with this group, and we like each other.”