Hartford apartment project gets millions in public funding; another gets it pulled
HARTFORD — A $45 million conversion of two, historic and former state office buildings near Bushnell Park into 108 apartments won critical backing for public funding Thursday in a project that could give a significant boost to the area’s Bushnell South redevelopment.
A committee of the Capital Region Development Authority, the quasi-public state agency that has provided low-cost loans primarily for housing projects in and around Hartford, approved a $6.5 million loan. The proposed project, involving 18-20 and 30 Trinity St., would be developed by a partnership of Philadelphia-based Pennrose LLC and The Cloud Co., of Hartford.
In addition, CRDA’s executive director Michael W. Freimuth told the agency’s housing committee that it is rescinding a $3 million loan to help finance an apartment conversion at the former Travelers Education Center on Constitution Plaza. The $18 million proposal called for the creation of 101 apartments in the long-vacant structure.
“That is not going to go forward, at least not in a way that we had envisioned,” Freimuth said.
The developers — Biagio Barone of Stratford-based Barone Properties and John Guedes of Primrose Cos., based in Bridgeport — declined to comment Thursday.
After the meeting, Freimuth said Barone and Guedes had been unable to acquire the building.
Thursday’s approval for helping to finance the conversion of the historic properties on Trinity Street is just the first step in what was described as a complex project. CRDA’s full board must approve the loan, followed by the State Bond Commission.
There also is between a $5 million and $6 million financing hole that must be plugged, presumably with a federal or state grant, on top of a half-dozen funding sources that are already anticipated to be needed to pay for the redevelopment.
“There are a lot of moving pieces here,” Freimuth said, “This has been through the meatgrinder for the better part of a year. They still have a gap.”
The state has agreed to sell the properties to the partnership for $1.1 million. But Pennrose and Cloud must come back to the state in August with a plan for how they intend to finance the project in order to complete the sale.
The redevelopment also faces significant challenges, including a wall in the one of the buildings that is structurally unsound and will need to be completely replaced. Also, the layout of the buildings leaves much space that cannot be converted to apartments.
Despite those obstacles, Freimuth said the buildings are integral to the overall development of Bushnell South that includes a jumble of parking lots next to the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
“These are critical buildings, they’re are historic buildings,” Freimuth said. “They literally look at the Capitol, they sit on Bushnell Park next to the arch. They are abutting the theater. They are part of the overall goal of rebuilding the Bushnell South area.
The plans call for a restaurant at 30 Trinity and rooftop deck at 18-20 Trinity. A landscaped plaza between the two buildings would visually connect them.
The apartments, mostly studios and one-bedrooms, would be mixed-income, with 20% reserved as “affordable” for tenants, restricting rents and limiting income to less than 50% of the area median income.
If funding and other approvals come together, the purchase of the structures could be completed later this year. Construction would start in 2024 and take 18-24 months to complete.
The Trinity Street buildings long have been considered as part of Bushnell South, anchoring its northwest corner. The buildings have been vacant since state office workers were relocated to the 1931 State Office Building on nearby Capitol Avenue after a $205 million state-taxpayer financed renovation. The renovation included the construction of a 1,007 space garage.
Bushnell South includes wide swaths parking lots to the east of The Bushnell that are envisioned for new apartments, restaurants, shops and other commercial space. The parking lots have a mix of owners, including the state and private investors.
In November, The Michael’s Organization, based in Camden, N.J, was selected by CRDA as the preferred developer of a $130 million, mixed use project on the largest of the state-owned parking lots. The planning for the 3-acre lot is still in the early stages, but preliminary plans calls for 360 rentals, including 20% “affordable,” primarily in two larger buildings over 2,500 square feet of storefront space, likely including performance space tied to the arts.
At Bushnell South’s northeast corner, the $67 million rental conversion of 55 Elm St. — the former offices of the state’s Constitutional officer, including Attorney General — is now underway. Plans by Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners call for 160 apartments overlooking Pulaski Circle and Bushnell Park.
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.