Welcome to Hartford

Last Thursday evening I attended one of Mayor Luke Bronin’s Town Hall Meetings. The topic which is of keen interest to me was Public Safety. It is impossible to convey just how excited I am to have a mayor with Luke’s vision, capability, intelligence and vigor (love the Kennedy-esque term because it fits!). My great concern for this meeting is the total misconception of personal safety in Hartford.

For decades in mentioning that I live here I am greeted with shock and surprise that I am somehow vulnerable to rampant crime and bodily harm. Just this past weekend I was at a dinner where someone who does not nor has ever lived in Hartford explained to the table that Hartford teems with crime. I politely pointed out that his opinion was one of perception based in absolutely no reality.

The Mayor was candid about the pressing financial burdens which the city will shoulder for the near future. He acknowledged that the police force is not staffed to the level which would be advisable. However, we surely benefit from the great management of Chiefs Ravella and Freeman of the Police and Fire Departments, respectively. These leaders are doing a fine job of keeping us safe. We are an urban center so there will be crime yet the statistics do not bear out any form of reality that we exist on mean streets.

Rather than carry on I want to pin a blog to this post written by Kevin Brookman. His blog “We The People” has become for me the must-read for what is happening in Hartford. Please take a look at his blog representing the town hall meeting regarding Public Safety:

Perception, regardless of how false, is something we here live with. As Mayor Bronin asked, it is incumbent on all of us to push back and talk about the reality of safety in our city. Just as I did at dinner. I politely asked my fellow guest to prove his words or simply stop bashing Hartford. He fell silent.

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16 Harvard: Every Property has a Story to Tell

On Sunday, February 14, Valentine’s Day we announced a list of what we believe are the Ten Most Endangered historic properties in Hartford. Not to our surprise with the media attention of our HARTBomb event, the Preservation Alliance heard from people with truly interesting stories to tell about properties with which they are connected. One such email came from Jim Newton who grew up in the house located at 16 Harvard Street. 6. 16 Harvard yesterday & today collage

We were delighted to see 16 Harvard St. on the Hartford Endangered Property list. My parents Flora and Bob Newton bought the house in 1964 and moved to Simsbury in the late 1970’s.Bob Newton was a Chief in the Hartford Fire Department and a descendent of Thomas Hooker.

The house was moved from the Batchelor School property to Harvard St. The house was remodeled in the early 1960’s and the original handrail and balusters were removed much to the dismay of the neighbors the Flamio’s. During the renovation there was a fire caused by a spark from the plumber that went up the balloon framed walls to the attic and scorched the original timbers. There is still evidence of the fire today. Bob had a woodworking shop in the basement and made many pieces of furniture there. We have been observing the property and feel sad that the house looks empty and that someone removed the two front ceiling to floor windows. The front attic had the original lead glass window, we don’t know if it is still there. It will be wonderful to see the house preserved and hopefully restored.

Jim and Mary Ann Newton

We are really pleased that attention has been focused on historic buildings which live throughout the City. Often we drive by without paying any attention to the historic significance of the properties or their important contribution to the historic fabric we cherish about Hartford. Our work is not only to draw attention to these properties but provide technical assistance to advise and guide realistic strategies of restoration and renovation. Our office welcomes inquiries and we are available to anyone. Please consider exploring our website and definitely like us on Facebook. We want to help because we believe that Historic Preservation Matters!

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A Vision, A Commitment . . . and Patience

Cargill Mills

Last week I visited one of the quiet corners of Connecticut, Putnam.  Honestly I had skirted he city many times on my way between Hartford and Providence but never actually driven into the city. My purpose was to visit the Cargill Falls Mill. This project represents “a renaissance of America’s oldest mill site merging environmental sustainability with historic character.”  I met with the visionary couple, Greg Renshaw and Leanne Parker, to walk the site and discuss a minor role which we might play in the Lofts at Cargill Falls Mill.

What I discovered is perhaps one of the most exciting and transformative projects in Connecticut. Take a site containing the oldest extant mill laying along the Quinnebaug River (which is lovely!) in various forms of decay and in need of lots of money to renovate and reuse, add the commitment to harness the River to produce hydroelectric energy and the vision to produce 82 units of housing and you have a dream defining wizardry or insanity.

Over many decades I have learned that truly good developers of historic places have the power to see vacant and abandoned buildings alive and thriving once again.  The successful projects ignore reality and see the finished development, always keeping in sight that it can happen and never losing the belief that with time and patience it will happen.  What most impresses me is the determination to bring hydroelectric power to the Mill Lofts as if the complete and total renovation of fours dilapidated buildings is not a sufficient challenge.  Think about the additional hurdles of dealing with the environmental and regulatory roadblocks inherent in fooling with a river and adding electric production to the grid!  By the way, there was an attempt to build a new bridge over the river but that’s a story for another day.

Lofts at Cargill Falls Mills

The mill buildings, there are four, date from the 1800’s to 1950’s and each has a distinct architectural style.  Visually engaging, the four buildings follow the banks of the river.  As Greg and Leanne point out, this is most fortunate in that the complex has a very strategic southern exposure.  All the residential units will enjoy amazing light.  We typically see mill buildings as monoliths.  Cargill Mills appears as a village of different materials and styles due to the eras in which each addition was added.  Yet practically speaking imagine the process simply to gain approval of the National Park Service for plans to complete an historic restoration.  Oh, do not forget that a river runs through it!  Actually the flow does in fact run under parts of the site and is channeled to produce energy.  The wisdom of the Yankee mill developers in harnessing the power of water is now to be re-purposed to produce electricity.

There is more to write about and tell of this exciting project.  Pictures are to follow as a series of before images.  The Lofts at Cargill Falls Mill is to be an interesting work in progress.  Our role is minor but strategic in a financial collaboration to bring more resources, generated through the State of Connecticut Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, to aid in producing greater equity for the development.  Stay tuned for more information and to be a witness to this amazing project.

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By No Measure a Bureaucrat

59-61 Magnolia Street

59-61 Magnolia Street

On entering a room one first notices the impeccable attire of the person with whom we have been asked to meet.  Recently he joined the meeting, well over 6 feet,  wearing a hat, brown felt with a feather in the hat band having come in from being outside.  A medium brown suit, blue shirt, yellow tie and a caramel, what appeared to be cashmere, sweater.  Most striking were the purple polka dot socks!  I do not for a minute think this a costume as I remind myself that perhaps I am underdressed for the meeting.  Next you realize that he has commanded the meeting and assuming the role of host he takes charge with his usual enthusiasm thanking all of us for taking the time to meet because he has a project specifically, requiring a team to work together on a city-owned blighted building.  His hope is to introduce a young, eager brother and sister development team Stoneyhill Properties to the Preservation Alliance in hopes of renovating a ten-year vacant and abandoned residential property in the Promise Zone (North End) which lies in an historic district.  He know the Alliance can offer the financial opportunity of utilizing the State’s Historic Homes Rehabilitation Credit and bring additional funds to a complicated restoration plan.  More to the point this property, 59-61 Magnolia Street, holds the potential of sparking neighborhood revitalization.  The developers are committed to offering an affordable homeownership opportunity and to bring new life to Magnolia Street.  Our host is doing what he always does and does well – get people together to improve the City he loves.  He is Glenn Geathers, Neighborhood Project Manager!

Over the past several years I have come to know Glenn, typically by a voicemail summons:  “Frank, I have something important to talk about. Call me back right away on my cell”. He is the big picture guy who wrestles with Hartford’s portfolio of vacant, abandoned and blighted properties. He is also the mother hen of the churches which struggle to maintain their historic sanctuaries.   Glenn is the guy with vision.  He has worked for years to bring life back to the Northwest School at 1240 Albany Avenue, long-abandoned, and soon to be reused for a multi-purpose center.  A multi-million dollar renovation which will soon break ground has had Glenn hard at work for many years to cobble together the funds for a community asset. Glenn presents at many Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ) as an advocate on behalf of the City for neighborhood investment.  Perhaps introducing a potential developer or maybe representing Hartford itself about properties which are in great need of vision, money and effort to become vital once again.

The Magnolia Street residence is a perfect example of Glenn getting people around a table to encourage a reusing properties which is the key to redevelopment in neighborhoods.  Our role is to bring historic preservation resources -money and technical assistance – to develops.  We bring tax credit equity to the project, help to navigate the process to win approval for the renovations with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and to teach this model for other development to follow. Glenn understands the benefit of assembling a team to make a success of a project.  In the end we all benefit as communities are re-established in Hartford.

Glenn prefers to be known as the guy who makes things happen.  He revels in his role and seeks to continue to be a much-needed advisor choosing to work behind the scenes.  One wonders how he can do this wearing purple polka dot socks but…..….  We who work on behalf of the city we love need to acknowledge and cherish such dedication.  So Glenn we will always take your call!

Bureaucrat? Not by any measure.  I wish to thank him for his clever wizardry on behalf of Hartford.

Frog Hollow: Neighborhood Planning at Its Finest

(map courtesy Frog Hollow NRZ)

(map courtesy Frog Hollow NRZ)

Frog Hollow Neighborhood where I lived for 15 years is alive and thrives when viewed through the lens of the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. Many good things are happening all of which involve preservation and restoration of historic buildings. Yet the buildings are a physical reminder of the vigilant community effort to make the community one in which to live and work. 390 Capitol Avenue is under construction and will bring in excess of 100 new apartments to Frog Hollow. Billings Forge is undergoing an $8 million renovation to update and improve the residence long associated with stability in the neighborhood. Although still a struggle after many years, the library is dedicated to creating a new Frog Hollow Branch along Park Street (adaptive reuse of the historic Lyric Theater remains the pivotal argument) which will bring vitality to the boisterous neighborhood. Plans are in motion for an improvement to the Zion Hill Cemetery.

3. Frog HollowPositive community activity does not simply happen in a vacuum witnessed by the vigorous agenda of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. For many years the NRZ has initiated and fought for positive change. It has remained the organization whose voice matters when the City determines action steps, investment and direction. Under the leadership of New chair Aaron Gill, the organization is alive and well. Consideration has been given to five key priorities, strategies to continue the focus on curing neighborhood challenges. Witness to a monthly meeting assures this writer that dedication and the willingness to volunteer is alive and will ultimately cause positive change. Neighborhood problem properties (including the future of the Lyric), youth engagement, community outreach around the City plans for the future, employment and public transportation (particularly circulation around the several neighborhood schools) are the strategic activities adopted last evening. Far more encouraging were several new residents who came to add their voices and their willingness to participate in the work to be accomplished. There were no lack of volunteers to execute committee work on behalf of the identified priorities.

Hartford is well-represented by active and robust organizations such as Frog Hollow. This neighborhood organization embodies all the best qualities envisioned when the Connecticut Legislature created these urban Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ) in Hartford. Some have been effective; others have struggled to gain their identity. It is all too apparent that Frog Hollow has gotten it right for many years. Again, as the baton has been passed along, it remains as a shining example of a community taking care of itself. Bringing together people to address problems and opportunities is exactly what our new Mayor, Luke Bronin, has committed his administration to – to sustain and support as the work horse through which we all will witness a better city.

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