The Adriaen’s Landing convention center in downtown Hartford (above), which is being developed by the Capital City Economic Development Authority, is only one of several components of the city’s retail renaissance. A new retail plaza, the Charter Oak Marketplace, is expected to break ground this summer.

A new retail plaza, which will add to nearly $2 billion in commercial investments that are part of downtown Hartford’s retail renaissance, will break ground later in the year.

The Charter Oak Marketplace is scheduled for a groundbreaking ceremony at some point this summer. While no specific date has been agreed upon, many of the particulars of the development already have been settled.

The project will include a 350,000-square-foot retail plaza anchored by Wal-Mart and will be located on Flatbush Avenue in the western area of the city’s downtown, close to West Hartford. Formerly, the property was home to a public housing project on land just off Route 84.

According to Harry Freeman, executive director of the Hartford Economic Development Commission, the land is still owned by the Hartford Housing Authority, which used to maintain the 1,000-unit Charter Oak Terrace housing project. The land is currently vacant.

Wal-Mart has signed on for 150,000 square feet, and roughly 20 other retailers and restaurants will fill in the rest of the space. CBL and Assoc., a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based retail development firm, is in charge of the development of the Charter Oak Marketplace.

‘The Whole Gamut’

Traditionally, Wal-Mart locates its stores outside of city limits in suburban areas, and Freeman said it is a special circumstance to have a Wal-Mart retail store located in an area such as the one including Flatbush Avenue.

Freeman explained that about eight years ago, the Housing Authority “realized that their former strategy of dealing with public housing wasn’t appropriate. So they began an endeavor to de-densify the projects and move away from public housing warehouses.”

He added, “The Charter Oak site was one of the locations where they had previously built some homeownership opportunities that have been very successful.” The Housing Authority oversees 55 acres in the area, some of which were devoted to smaller, less-crowded housing units.

“They decided that they need to give people good jobs, good places to work and good services. This project is working toward the services and jobs, and is a realization of a dream and plan that was developed many years ago,” said Freeman.

The development will be built from the ground up and will include such national retailers as Marshalls, Fashion Bug and Sleepy’s mattress store.

“The Charter Oak Marketplace will have a lot of green space and is aimed at being a pedestrian-friendly plaza. We want it to be geared toward public transportation so that it will be easily accessed by driving, walking or taking mass transit,” said Freeman.

Right now, the Charter Oak Marketplace is one of several new developments in Hartford as part of the city’s retail renaissance. More than $1.7 billion has been invested in new developments that will see completion over the next three years.

The list includes some high-profile projects, including Adriaen’s Landing, a 30-acre development along the waterfront that includes a Marriott Hotel and convention center and is being built with $770 million in public money.

Meeting House Square eventually will be a 150,000-square-foot facility with ground-floor retail space and 200 townhouse units alongside 1,150 parking spaces and a skating rink. There are two more residential projects in downtown, the first at 55 Trumbull St., which will be 110 housing units in the old SNET (Southern New England Telephone) property; and another at the former Cutter site, which will be a 600-car parking garage and 88 housing units.

A new Riverwalk that opened yesterday connects the waterfront developments as part of an effort to rejoin the city with the Connecticut River.

“You hear about these projects all the time, but we also have the Capital Community College that moved into town recently, about 1,200 units of residential [housing] moving into downtown and several corporate investments into buildings,” said Freeman. “Hartford currently runs the whole gamut of developments.”

Freeman said there is currently a commitment to make Hartford a “24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week city.” In 1998, Gov. John G. Rowland promoted the “Six Pillars of Progress” plan to redevelop downtown Hartford. The “six pillars” were a rejuvenated civic center, a highly developed waterfront, a downtown higher education center, a convention center and sports megaplex, the demolition or redevelopment of vacant buildings and the creation of downtown housing units, and an increase in the number of parking spaces.

According to Freeman, most of those pillars have been addressed. The college has moved into the city’s downtown, the University of Connecticut is opening the new Rentschler Field football stadium, several buildings are being redeveloped for residential use and the waterfront is getting a facelift with all of the new retail space.

“In order to get this city up and running, we needed 24-hour residents in [the] downtown, and we’re getting that with the college and the new apartments,” said Freeman. “There’s definitely a buzz developing about Hartford. People know that we’re up to something.”

“This development couldn’t help but be a shot in the arm for that area of the city,” said Larry Levere, director of office leasing for Sentry Commercial Real Estate in Hartford. “It’s not a great area, and this should economically add to its vitality.”

Levere also noted that things are on the upswing for downtown Hartford, citing the hotels, convention centers and retail shops that soon will be opening up.

“There are a number of residential developments going on as well, which is something that, in my best estimation, Hartford hasn’t seen in 20 years and probably more,” he said.

Matt Fleury, director of marketing and communications for the Capital City Economic Development Authority, said the city is well on its way to turning around economically. His group is developing the Adriaen’s Landing project along the waterfront and sponsored $1.8 million toward the Riverwalk.

“From an economic development standpoint, reconnecting [the] downtown with the Connecticut River fits right in with the whole project,” he said. “Access to the river is a major asset to new development, and by the same token, an existing property like Constitution Plaza has increased its value through the development of the riverfront to which to it is attached.

“Before the reconnection with the Connecticut River, you really could not view real estate that was close to the river as being connected to the river. But that’s all changed now. Real estate that previously was just another downtown location is now part of the riverfront complex. That’s helped generate not only increased values but new development in that area as well.”

Adriaen’s Landing and the surrounding developments already have broken ground, preceding the highly anticipated opening of the Charter Oak Marketplace.

“We’re all very anxious for the [Charter Oak] groundbreaking, and it’s my understanding that it’s supposed to be sometime in July,” said John Wardlaw, executive director of the Hartford Housing Authority.

Greg Lickwola, special assistant to the executive director, detailed the site’s history as the Charter Oak Terrace, a public housing family development constructed in 1942.

“It basically used to be temporary housing and through the years became outdated and overused, so we decided it was time to knock it down,” said Lickwola. A grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was used to raze the site.

“The original plan was to replace the housing,” added Wardlaw. “We were working very closely with the neighborhood at the time, and some suggestions came up that we turn it into an economic development area.”

Based on the fact that there weren’t many jobs for people in Hartford, and that the unemployment rate for those living in public housing was roughly 85 percent, the Housing Authority came to the conclusion that it should build a large retail center.

“We wanted to bring in a development that would be focused on hiring people who live in public housing in the city of Hartford,” said Wardlaw. “We are sincere in our belief that if a person had a job they wouldn’t need to be in public housing, so we put the emphasis on the creation of economic development targeting the employment of Hartford public housing residents.”

On the site, 33 acres will be taken up by retail, and remaining space will be utilized for a job training center.

“Building a training center right next door to an employer is not a bad idea,” said Wardlaw. The job center broke ground in late March.

The Housing Authority is now in the process of finding replacement housing, but Wardlaw said land is very difficult to find in the city of Hartford.