This Opinion piece originally appeared in The Hartford Courant September 3, 2016.
I’ve watched Hartford grow and decline, boom and bust, since the 1970s. Running for mayor as a Republican, serving on the city council and on multiple city boards gives me a good perspective. At this point, I’m encouraged that, finally, the city is making solid progress.
During the last mayoral campaign, Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat, stressed that development and investment must be citywide. He said that benefits to neighborhoods and all dozen or so commercial strips must be a high priority, without neglecting the important, grand-list-building, larger projects downtown.
Well, throughout the city, by design and, in some cases, just good fortune, we are starting to see this hopeful policy direction yield significant results.
Private investment, nonprofit and public infrastructure efforts, years of planning, fundraising, and zoning decisions are really starting to show fruit—construction — citywide.
High-profile projects that will have major effects on our business climate and overall economy are just over the horizon. The best example is the new a travel center being built by Pride Travel Center Hartford along I-91 in the North Meadows. In construction for the last year or so, this five-acre development will provide close to 50 jobs (mostly Hartford residents), 16 pumps for fuel, a concourse with several fast-food restaurants, and plenty of parking for trucks and autos. A visitor center is included. Also, along I-91, a new building is going up just north of the I-91/I-84 interchange. This large, extended-stay hotel on Windsor Street will be a true billboard of progress.
Other additions to the hospitality and convention offerings in the city are the Red Roof Plus+ Hartford Downtown across from Union Station and the soon-to-be-reopened Goodwin Hotel, next to the XL Center. Union Station is being revived with improved bus routes and work completed to service the increased rail service coming in 2018. By mid-autumn, station patrons, area residents, employees, and Union Station tenants will have new retail options in the station. Bear’s Smokehouse Barbecue, for example, will open a cafe and ice cream stand in the Great Hall.
Other small businesses are popping up all over the neighborhoods and downtown. After more than 50 years without a brewery, Hartford now has two. The first to come online was the Hanging Hills Brewery in the South Meadows on Ledyard Street. After a packed grand opening, many local bars and restaurants picked up this refreshing Hartford beer. Quickly following, and just opened, is the Hog River Brewery on Bartholomew Avenue in Parkville, a thriving neighborhood with a multi-ethnic mix of shops and restaurants drawing from the whole state. A brewery certainly fits well.
Credit must be given to Hartford’s old established brew pub, City Steam. This downtown landmark has encouraged craft beer for years.
Other new small businesses just opened include a spanking new laundry on Wethersfield Avenue, Top Hat Laundry. A big investment with all kinds of related services, it joins a similar facility on New Britain Avenue. Another fairly new shop, the Shine Laundry on Albany Avenue, is now operating.
New restaurants and food purveyors include the Republic at the Linden on Capitol Avenue, the Han Restaurant on Prospect Avenue, The Sweet Shop on Albany Avenue, and the long-awaited Greenway Market on Asylum Street downtown.
As UConn finishes its new campus downtown, as Front Street gets completed and 2,100 state employees move to 450 Columbus Boulevard, the pieces are really coming together. Complementing these developments are housing units nearing completion at Capewell Lofts and on Capitol Avenue. State offices being emptied around the city will offer additional opportunities for housing.
The 1,100 residential units created or in the works with investment by the Capital Region Development Authority are coming along well. In the heart of downtown, 777 Main Street has had great success with a new, large CVS planned for its first floor (along with Blue State Coffee, a real hit). Coltsville is another example of ongoing success with new commercial tenants matching its residential fill-ups.
Along with this commercial activity, major public and non-profit investments are coming online. The Cathedral of Saint Joseph at 140 Farmington Avenue has built a $5 million addition and Hartford Hospital is in a major expansion.
Lastly, streetscape projects are giving the city a facelift. After years of planning and construction, the results are coming in: Farmington Avenue, Pratt Street, I-Quilt, and improvements to the flood control system (among dozens of smaller efforts) are nearing completion. The Hartford Parking Authority has improved parking all over the city.
So, even as Hartford struggles with its budgets and finishing the baseball stadium, these bright spots need emphasis. In the next few years, a new, modern Hartford will emerge.
About the Author
Mike McGarry lives in Hartford and was on the city council from 1993 to 1999.