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.

Historic Preservation Matters

On Tuesday night (September 9) the Preservation Alliance hosted its Annual Meeting and Awards Ceremony at the Old State House. The room was filled with greater than 150 people all of whom came together to celebrate historic preservation in Hartford. Let’s face it an evening of food, drinks and people getting awards might be reason enough to join the party however the vibe was far greater than a decent chardonnay and bruschetta. People really care about the rich historic fabric of this city and truly want to celebrate when buildings are revitalized and neighborhoods improve. Psychologically the renovation of a vacant and abandoned building is vastly better than creating a parking lot where once stood a building which witnessed many events in this city founded in 1637!

Mayor's Award Recipient Helen Higgins

Mayor’s Award Recipient Helen Higgins


Laura Knott-Twine Award Recipient Melissa Thom

Laura Knott-Twine Award Recipient Melissa Thom

Two award recipients need to have special mention: Melissa Thom and Helen Higgins. Melissa teaches at the Renzulli Academy in the Blue Hills Neighborhood. She engages her class to “adopt” an historic building and asks the students to make the building live. Often her students produce a movie where the narrator is the building so it can give witness to what it has seen during its lifetime. Way cool. And Helen Higgins, the longtime director of the CT Trust for Historic Preservation, was given the Mayor’s Award for outstanding contribution to preservation in Hartford. Helen’s work on behalf of State Historic Tax Credits and the Community Investment Fund are without parallel. She is a leader who makes so much happen in Hartford and throughout Connecticut.

Do continue to follow us on Facebook and on our website to conspire with the Preservation Alliance as we make preservation matter in Hartford. And come out next year to celebrate with us, everyone is most cordially invited.


12 Things A City Needs To Do To Be Vibrant

 DSCF1268Social media is that challenge with which I grapple with daily in my quest to be relevant.  “Too much information” is my mantra as I link up to humor, rants and politics.  Yet every now and again I find a nugget like John Karras’ Resources for Vibrant Cities blog on

I’ll admit that when I started reading through his 12 Strategies That Will Transform Your City’s Downtown, my intent was to see how few of these strategies have been embraced by Hartford.  

To my ultimate surprise and delight we score extremely well on many of the biggest strategies, including:

Envisionfest 2013

Envisionfest 2013

#2: Establish a regularly occurring public event showcasing downtown merchants, music and food
Envisionfest and First Night Hartford  (celebrating 25 years mind you).  These only name two of many events found downtown.  Take the time to see how many you can name – better yet how many do you participate in annually?

#4:  Make under-utilized public land available for private sector development
Fingers crossed on a smart master plan to repurpose the land north of I-84 – can you say professional hockey……..?

#7: Open a downtown satellite campus of a local universityHartford Times building Sep 21 2013
Hartford Has It! –  University of St. Joseph’s School of Pharmacy, RPI,  Capital Community College and UCONN’s Graduate Business Learning Center and the upcoming reuse of the Hartford Times Building for UCONN’s Hartford campus (repeat after me: “Go Huskies!”).


Bushnell Park carousel#9: Create an awesome downtown playground to make your downtown more kid-friendly and family-friendly
Bushnell Park (the oldest publicly-funded park in the nation) with its playground, antique carousel and Winterfest activities and the ever-expanding Riverfront Recapture.

Okay, you get the picture.  So my cynicism was promptly dispelled in the realization that much exists or is being planned for Hartford. 

Now I want to feel the vibe in vibrancy. Let’s celebrate everything great in Hartford and support the plans currently in the works to make it greater.

 How does historic preservation play a role in contributing to the City’s vibrancy?  As we reshape the Hartford Preservation Alliance we want your ideas –  how can HPA contribute, where can we collaborate, how can we be the best possible partner? Give us a shout out on Facebook, leave your comment below or send me an email

Keep those cards and letters (and Facebook Likes) coming!

297 Fairfield Avenue: Is There Anything Right With This Picture?

297 Fairfield southview

The Situation:

  • Fairfield Avenue National Historic District is established in 2011
  • Three-family is purchased in August 2013; owner looks up and down the street to determine that most all properties have been re-sided with vinyl or aluminum
  • Hires a contractor who claims to have obtained permits to replace original windows and doors and to re-side the residence – sadly not the case
  • Work begins with inexpensive materials with no thought to preserving and retaining the architectural details of the house.
  • Stop-Work order issued by the City with 1/3 of the house sided
  • Owner meets with city staff to discuss options and no agreement can be reached
  • Case brought before Hartford Historic Commission with recommendation that owner begin again and restore wood siding and replace current doors with ones which are appropriate
  • At hearing owner is required to listen, practically with hat in hand, while commission discusses their feelings on what should happen.  (Owner is literally standing during the entire lengthy discussion)
  • Commission is unable to decide what it feels best to require so denies owner any option to proceed other than restoration, the cost of which no one knows.  Owner claims to have already spent money and has no access to sufficient funds to restore exterior as desired.
  • Owner is dismissed297 Fairfield front
  • House remains in limbo with no direction on how to proceed
  • Neighborhood “on fire” about the issue

Why write about this?  Hartford Preservation Alliance was created to protect the historic fabric of the city and has done a fine job to date.  HPA is working on a new strategic plan, one which holds promise to mitigate the standoff on Fairfield Avenue.  With broad-based consensus, the plan brings relevance to historic preservation in addressing practical situations as described here.

Join us next time for 297 Fairfield Avenue: The Solution

Keystone Property on Asylum Hill: 293 Farmington Avenue

293 Farmington Ave,

For several years the signature building on the corner of Farmington Avenue and Marshall Street has been abandoned.  According to the assessor’s records, it was purchased by Farmington Hari LLC in August 2009.  Since then any remaining tenants were evicted and according to rumors the building was to have been demolished.  Unfortunately for the buyers, 293 is a contributing building in the Asylum Hill (Laurel & Marshall) Historic District.  Since that time, although maintained, no activity has been evident.

The Farmington Avenue Alliance, concerned about the future of Farmington Avenue, has worked for a decade to prevent the evident decline of a major artery linking Hartford to points west.  Plans call for a holistic improvement of the corridor from Asylum Hill to the West End with a comprehensive set of activities aimed at stimulating the historic quality of the Avenue.  What cannot be lost in the great work is the preservation of key properties which make up the community fabric.  For Asylum Hill the historic building at 293 is critical to maintaining the streetscape of residences.  It was developed to mimic the townhouses of Columbia Street.  For Asylum Hill to restore such residences would be a distinct and important redevelopment activity.

What to do:

  • Ask the Hartford Preservation Alliance to seek contact with the current owners to determine what they have planned for the use of the property
  • Focus a joint task force of Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association (suggest Transportation & Economic Development Committee) and the Farmington Avenue Alliance to discuss potential reuse of the property
  • Seek an arsenal of potential financial resources which the owner might utilize in a redevelopment/reuse strategy.
  • Engage the City to become an ally in the preservation of this signature property.
  • Raise the profile of preserving keystone properties along Farmington Avenue