Compendium: Mary Falvey

Compendium: A collection of concise but detailed information about a particular subject.

HPA's Mary Falvey (far right in blue jacket) leading an Envisionfest Walking Tour (2013)

HPA’s Mary Falvey (far right in blue jacket) leading an Envisionfest Walking Tour (2013)

“Hartford Preservation Alliance, this is Mary” is the telephone greeting which opens an opportunity to learn about historic property in Hartford.  At the Alliance, our Assistant Director Mary A. Falvey is our compendium, dedicated to helping those who have questions and need to find help.  Historic properties, their historic designation, history, style and type are all at Mary’s fingertips (thank goodness).  I bought a property and have discovered that it is historic, now what do I do? An owner need only to provide her with an address and Mary will open a world of knowledge to help encourage the historic preservation of Hartford’s cherished architectural fabric.

Our strategic plan adopted late in 2014 envisioned the Preservation Alliance as a partner and critical collaborator in community economic development.  Not just by suggesting what color to paint the front porch but a real comprehensive resource for information and guidance.  Our technical assistance team has been successful in providing information and support making the journey far easier.  It is Mary who helps the owner make the first step; she is the foundation upon which we help to build relationships with owners, developers and city planners.  Mary has singularly organized and arranged our website www.hartfordpreservation.org to offer information, references and resources.  It is a tremendously helpful window in which to look for preservation material.  She has linked the property owner to useful references making life easier.  By the same token, she has an encyclopedic knowledge of who and where to search for more help.  Joining us for one of Mary’s walking tours will open your eyes to the vast history of the City’s historic buildings. (BTW she is a Civil War buff and is hard at work documenting the 1,500 veterans buried in Hartford’s cemeteries and blogging about their life and times at www.hartfordinthecivilwar.com)

So, give us a call and if you are lucky, you too will be greeted by “this is Mary”.  Understand that for Mary historic preservation matters yet to the Preservation Alliance, Mary matters most to Hartford’s historic preservation.

What Will It Take?

farmington-avenue-corridor-banner-picture-collage

Early in 2015 the Hartford Preservation Alliance and the Hartford Business Improvement District joined together to address the question posed by a desire to improve the Farmington Avenue corridor between Sigourney and Woodland Streets.  What is necessary to bring about a change along the corridor and contribute to community economic development for Asylum Hill?  Our determination to gather many collaborators allowed us to seek wide-ranging opinions and to encourage a diverse mix of ideas.  With the help of a consultant our collaboration produced “The Farmington Avenue Comprehensive Community Plan, A Framework for Action.”  Our challenge was to create a vibrant, pedestrian friendly and safe Farmington Avenue corridor between Sigourney and Woodland Streets with a high quality and diverse mix of commercial, cultural and residential offerings. We wished to create a cohesive identity where commercial and residential buildings complement the rich and architectural heritage. Along the corridor sit six vacant and abandoned historic properties which, among other sites, posed tremendous opportunity for revitalization.

Among the signature properties is the Comet Diner.  Built, or rather delivered, in 1948 the classic stainless steel diner has been a destination and a beacon on Farmington Avenue providing food, drink and hospitality since it opened as the Aetna Diner. Times and urban demographics changed ultimately causing the diner to close its doors ten years ago.  The owners have been frustrated with a reuse of the property and therefore recently determined that the building needs to be demolished.  Unfortunately their strategy is to invite a reuse involving big box retail.  Perhaps the destruction of the Comet Diner would drive a spike into any hope for a revitalization of the Farmington Avenue corridor.  For decades the diner has been a destination even when sitting vacant and abandoned.  There exists an architectural cohesion while it sits empty.  Yet to destroy this bit of history takes away one more icon from Hartford and therefore eliminates more of the historic fabric of Hartford.

The Comprehensive Community Plan pivots on the preservation and adaptive reuse of the Comet Diner.

A recent application to demolish the Comet was withdrawn by the owners to be considered at a Hartford Historic Preservation Commission hearing.  Within days the Hartford Preservation Alliance worked diligently to alert the public that such an action was being taken.  Within two days we had marshaled the public to protest the demolition request.  We won the skirmish but the battle is far from done.  It is now incumbent for Hartford and the preservation community to find an adaptive reuse this needs to be a practical solution for community economic development.

Please keep in touch with our effort to “Save the Icon”.  We would welcome any suggestions of a reuse or ideas of what might be done with the Comet.

“People need to believe it’s a great place . . . We need a positive campaign. Then perceptions and perspective will change. Begin by taking the randomness out of the neighborhood and then gradually adding resources; whether a bike or walking trail, new vendors or creating the same look and feel . . .

When we do this folks will believe in the potential, have a sense of pride and invest in the area’s future.”

Floyd Green, Vice President, Aetna, Inc.

Community Relations and Urban Marketing

We Shouldn’t Ignore Small

This week we welcome guest blogger Jonathan Cabral. Mr. Cabral is a Multifamily Operations Officer at the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and is a Director on Hartford Preservation Alliance’s Board .

We Shouldn't Ignore Small

For many of us who have lived in Connecticut most of our lives, we often take for granted some of the most charming aspects of New England. In a time where development, particularly economic development, is about going big (did someone say Go Goats!) we overlook the importance of smaller developments. Many of our downtowns are made up of small mixed-use buildings with warm brick façades and unique architectural design left behind by our New England forefathers. In some of our oldest commercial corridors, you will find small multifamily buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These buildings generally have less than 20 housing units but are larger than a three or four family home, and were designed to be practical, aesthetically pleasing, and long lasting. Small multifamily and mixed-use buildings can provide the type of housing density and affordability that is oftentimes lacking in many of our communities. It is also the type of development that can be conducive to creating more walkable neighborhoods.

Small properties make up a sizable portion of our current housing stock. Nearly 10% of Connecticut’s total housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. When you calculate small properties as a proportion to just multifamily structures (2 or more units), over 26% of Connecticut’s multifamily housing units are found in structures with 5–19 units. [1] Most of this housing is located in our urban centers, like Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford. In addition, small multifamily buildings contribute significantly to the economy. According to the Joint Center of Housing Studies of Harvard University, a quarter of the nation’s affordable housing stock is in multifamily properties with 5–19 units. Typically owned by individuals who often perform their own administrative and maintenance functions, these properties are not only an asset to their owners but are their livelihood.

The unfortunate reality is that these properties do not have easily accessible capital that many larger properties have. Older small properties have become neglected over time and many require significant funds to rehabilitate, while small infill developments can often require as much time and effort as larger deals to put together. Small property development requires entrepreneurial thinking by both owners/developers and lending institutions for them to work.

Over the years CHFA has worked to try and come up with the right funding and formula to make small multifamily projects financeable through its relationships with the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs). For example, in 2014 CHFA launched its Small Multifamily CDFI Loan Pool which provides participating CDFIs a funding source to offer short- and long-term financing to properties with 3 to 20 units. Since its inception, the loan pool has helped finance 27 once blighted or vacant properties, resulting in 100 units of housing. It is this small development “incremental” approach that can result in the development of more affordable rental housing in smaller communities, and help revitalize weak real-estate markets that have limited growth but significant need.

[1] – 2010 – 2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

This article first appeared in the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s newsletter. 

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Is It a Convertible?

97 Willians assessor pixAs you review the staff proposal of work to be approved by the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission at 97 Williams Street, it is somewhat puzzling.  There are several pictures of a two-family house, quite attractive, surrounded but large, mature trees.  It is a picture taken in the summer so the trees have their leaves and the property looks really good.  Well, maybe the porches could use some attention because they look as if someone has kind of knocked them around and columns and rails are somewhat askew.  The property is attractive with nice porches set on either side of the building and are painted a nice color.  Then the reality sets in as you read the request for approval.

150706 06

The applicant, 97 Williams Street. LLC, headed by Sohodra Dilchard , is requesting permission to complete a total renovation and repair of the building which has been significantly damaged by fire.  On closer inspection we realize that a fire has basically eliminated the third floor.  (link to images). Damage has been extensive throughout the property and will require a significant investment to return this two-family to a productive homeownership opportunity.  Yet Sohodra, who has good experience in renovating properties in Upper Albany Avenue, has stepped up to bring a team to make the house whole once again.  She has done several similar projects and is convinced that 97 Williams Street is a keeper.  (Unfortunately this includes asking the homeless person who lives on the damaged porch to move along.)    Her team has experience with tackling properties in such dire straits and they have been successful in turning these around.  She hired Bob Hurd, The Architects, our neighbor here at 56 Arbor Street, to guide her through the process of restoring the original exterior fabric of the house to include wood shingles, wood windows and the front porches which are truly nice.  She intends to utilize the State’s Homeowner Historic Tax Credit.  Our role has been to review the plans and to give our blessing as the project is put before the Historic Commission.  I am happy to say that the petition passed with unanimous support!

In writing I want to once again give a shout out to the City’s Department of Development Services for engaging and supporting entrepreneurs like 97 Williams Street, LLC who are dedicated to improving our neighborhoods.  Step-by-step renovation projects which attempt to preserve and protect neighborhoods are critical actions that contribute to the future of Hartford.  Their commitment needs our collective admiration and support.

Please continue to follow the progress that we will witness at 97 Williams Street.  We at the Preservation Alliance invite property owners to seek out our technical assistance to offer advice and guidance as they tackle their properties.

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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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