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New garage first step in redeveloping Hartford neighborhood

January 7, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A new parking garage for state office workers near The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts is nearing completion and could be the first piece of a puzzle giving rise to a neighborhood that has been envisioned for the area for decades.

The 1,007-space garage, is more than double the capacity of the one that it is replacing, at the corner of Washington and Buckingham streets and will help free up vast swaths of paved parking lots nearby for mixed-use redevelopment. The garage, expected to be open this spring, also has about 4,000 square feet of retail space that has yet to be leased.

The $39 million garage, which will not be generally open to the public, is part of the $205 million, state taxpayer-funded renovation of the 87-year-old State Office Building on nearby Capitol Avenue across from The Bushnell. The renovation of the State Office Building — an imposing edifice of Indiana limestone — has been underway for more than a year. The top-to-bottom makeover is expected to be completed by the end of this year and more than 1,000 workers relocated by mid-January of 2020.

During a tour of the building Friday, state officials said the renovation hinges on transforming office space from what was designed for the 1930s to one that suits the 21st century.

“The state is trying to turn more towards an open floor plan,” Carol O’Shea, manager of facilities planning at the state Department of Administrative Services, which is overseeing the project. “It’s a smarter use of space and more collaborative.”

The project was controversial for its price tag, given the state’s troubled finances. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy justified the expense as part of a larger vision for saving money by consolidating state offices from leased space to buildings the state owns and operates.

For instance, state employees now working at the privately-owned 55 Elm St., which include the attorney general and the state treasurer, will move to the State Office Building. The move is expected to save the state $5 million a year in rental costs.

Drew Grillo, project executive for construction manager Gilbane Building Co., said the project is now about 44 percent complete, with floors slated for completion beginning with the top floors.

On Friday, the building buzzed with the activity of dozens of workers. New office spaces were being framed, pipes were cut to run water and new, energy efficient windows were laid in place.

The windows facing the street have been deemed historically significant with intricate, cast-iron details and are being refurbished — many of them rusted and crumbling — with the help of the original manufacturer.

“There’s a lot of detail to them, detail that you don’t normally see when you drive by on the street,” Grillo said.

The glass won’t hearken back to the 1930s, however, meeting modern energy efficient standards instead.

“We had to put up plastic over it in the wintertime because it leaked like a son-of-a-gun, with the heat,” said Jeffrey Beckham, a DAS spokesman, whose office was once in the building.

The renovations — the first major rehabilitation of the 1931 structure — includes the replacement of old-style ribbed radiators and 750 window air conditioners with a modern heating and cooling system linked to a centralized system serving downtown state office buildings.

A major change on the exterior involves moving the front entrance to the east side of the building facing a new landscaped plaza. The entrance will be enclosed in glass, opening into a new two-story foyer outfitted in imported marble and terrazzo floors. The structure’s two, little-used interior courtyards are being raised 6 feet, connecting the foyer visually and making it accessible to the building’s cafeteria and beyond, all with ample use of glass.

Planners see the big-ticket investment by the state as the long-sought catalyst for redeveloping the vast expanse of parking lots around The Bushnell into housing, business and storefront space, morphing a wasteland of parking into a neighborhood that extends downtown south from Bushnell Park.

The Capital Region Development Authority expects to seek redevelopment proposals for state-owned parking lots in the area early this year. Construction of a second parking garage of up to 500 spaces on the site of the former, state laboratory on Clinton Street also in expected to get underway by the end of the year.

This second parking garage — also headed up by CRDA — is seen as the first step in creating “district parking” that would be shared by state office workers, future residents of the area and patrons of The Bushnell. The $16 million garage makes it possible to redevelop the parking lots.

State officials say the two garages are needed to accommodate the large number of state office workers in the area, the second primarily for state office workers in buildings along Elm Street.

Redeveloping the area still faces obstacles because key parking lots are privately owned by partnerships that include West Hartford-based Simon Konover Co. Konover has said it is open to proposals for those lots but, so far, nothing has emerged. Konover and its partners also are trying to sell 55 Elm.


Online: https://cour.at/2FgxjeD


Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com

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