A Norwalk real estate developer’s purchase of a historic building opposite downtown Hartford’s Bushnell Park and three nearby parking lots signals a major step forward in plans to redevelop a a barren expanse near The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
Spinnaker Real Estate Partners closed its purchase of 55 Elm St., the former offices of the state attorney general, comptroller and others, late Wednesday for $5.8 million, according to documents filed in Hartford City Hall.
The three parking lots, at 71 Elm St., 94 Hudson St. and 108-110 Capitol Ave, sold for a combined $967,360, records show.
Planners envision a transformation of the parking lots into mixed-use development, creating housing, shops, restaurant and offices, creating a link between Bushnell Park and neighborhoods to the south. The area has come to be known as “Bushnell Park South.”
On Thursday, Spinnaker said it hopes to begin renovations at the five-story 55 Elm St. — built in 1926 — and has tentative plans to transform the building into a combination of rentals and a hotel with ground floor retail. An annex on the south side of the building could become office space, Spinnaker said.
The three lots, which provided parking for 55 Elm, also are ripe for mixed-use redevelopment, Spinnaker said.
“We’re excited about it,” Matt Edvardsen, director of asset management and acquisitions at Spinnaker, said Wednesday. “The area has been a relatively large barrier or scar on downtown because the sea of surface parking. We’re excited because of the potential, long-term for expanding downtown into this area and connect this neighborhood to the hospital district.”
The renovations on 55 Elm St. could begin with a year, Edvardsen said. but he declined to speculate on the cost of those renovations, which he said would be as “extensive.”
The properties were sold by a partnership of Simon Konover Co., the family of the late developer Philip A. Schonberger and the Gersten family.
“The sellers have other priorities, and Spinnaker made a timely and fair offer, and we we wish them well,” Eliot B. Gersten, a Hartford lawyer and spokesman for the partnership, said.
Spinnaker’s purchase Wednesday marks its second major investment in the city. The developer and a partner, Hartford-based Freeman Cos., recently signed an agreement to redevelop blighted lots at the corner of Park and Main streets into apartments. Spinnaker expects to break ground this spring on that project.
Spinnaker also has been active in New Haven in recent years and is embarking on the redevelopment of the former Coliseum site, another project that seeks to fill in a major gap, between Union Station and downtown.
The state is nearly completion of a $205 million renovation of the historic, 1931 State Office Building at 165 Capitol Ave., which along with The Bushnell, now anchors the area. The state is beginning the construction of a $16 million parking garage in the area, the first step in a “district parking” plan.
It is expected that Spinnaker will seek funding for any housing development from the Capital Region Development Authority. Through loans and equity investments, CRDA has added 1,500 rentals in and around down in the past five years. Demand, so far, has held up, with occupancy in most new rental projects, largely conversions of old, vacant office buildings, 90% or better.
How quickly CRDA loans can be secured will depend on the state’s appetite for borrowing funds through the sale of bonds. Gov. Ned Lamont has clamped down on borrowing, but he has signaled commitment to the state’s cities, with a goal of doubling their population in the next quarter century or so. Housing is a key component for encouraging population growth.