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The Hartford News    September 3 – 9, 2020

When Hartford’s street system was being laid down in the late 19th century, almost all roads led – quite literally – to Downtown. At that time, Downtown Hartford was the undisputed retail, cultural and commercial center of the city and the region. In the mid-20th century, however, Downtown began to grow increasingly isolated from the rest of the city. Residential areas Downtown were cleared out for urban renewal projects like Constitution Plaza. As the 20th century progressed, more and more Downtown workers moved to the suburbs. Getting in and out of Downtown – and finding a place to park – became the primary concerns. I-84 cut Downtown off from the surrounding neighborhoods to the north and west and I-91 cut it off from the Connecticut River. This isolation was increased by the addition of many surface parking lots built on the outskirts of Downtown.

By the late 20th century, it was becoming increasingly clear that this isolation was not good for either Downtown or the rest of the city. A first step forward was Riverfront Recapture, founded in 1981 to reconnect Hartford to the Connecticut River. After years of work, Riverfront Plaza opened in Downtown Hartford in 1999, reconnecting Downtown with the river and East Hartford as well. Around the same time, state and city leaders began pushing for more residential space in Downtown Hartford. Under the leadership of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), this initiative has seen many successes in the past few years. Several residential complexes have been built Downtown and more are on the way. As a result, Downtown has become more like a neighborhood and less like an office park in the past decade. Now construction will soon start on two projects that will help reconnect Downtown with the neighborhoods to the north and south.

In the north, the DoNo (DOwntown NOrth) project is moving forward. The overall project is estimated to cost approximately $215 million and at this time is envisioned to consist of 794 residential units and 59,600 square feet of retail and commercial space built on several properties surrounding Dunkin Donuts Stadium. The project is expected to take six years. The first phase of the overall construction project will concentrate on what developers have labeled “Parcel C,” a triangular-shaped property located along Trumbull Street just south of the ballpark. This planned five-story complex will include 200 residential units, 10,800 square feet of retail space, and a 259-space parking garage as well as courtyards and rooftop terraces. The development of the area around the baseball stadium was used to sell paying for its construction to city residents. Problems with the construction of the stadium, including the City of Hartford’s dismissal of the project’s initial developer, has delayed the start of construction on the developments surrounding the ballpark. Hopefully, there will be shovels in the ground soon.

To the south of Downtown, at the intersection of Park and Main Streets, construction on a more modest but equally important project is expected to begin in just a few weeks. Tentatively named “Park & Main,” this development will include 126 residential units and 23,460 square feet of retail space. Twenty percent of the apartments (which will include studios, one- and two-bedroom units) are reserved for affordable housing. Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and 7 Summits Realty are the lead developers on the project. The intersection of Park and Main is one of the key spots in the city, located at the juncture of the Downtown, Frog Hollow, and South Green neighborhoods. The area has been vacant for several years, despite several plans to develop it. But ground was broken for the project two weeks ago and Clay Fowler, Chairman and CEO of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners said construction had actually already begun. He explained that Park & Main will be constructed in a modular fashion with units being built offsite and then brought to the actual construction area. Construction of those units is already underway, Fowler said at the ground-breaking. “The Park and Main development is a critical piece of connecting our South End community with Downtown,” said State Representative Julio Concepcion, a resident of Downtown Hartford. “This development also adds to a great deal of investment in the Park Street area, including a new library, affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, and Parkville Market. I want to thank all of those involved in making this a reality, particularly the residents who fought hard for this project for so many years.”