While the convention center at Adriaen’s Landing (above) in downtown Hartford is currently under construction, plans for the Front Street portion of the project have stalled.

Plans for a centerpiece of Hartford’s downtown revitalization continue to stumble after the state agency overseeing the Front Street portion of Adriaen’s Landing decided not to accept four proposals for the space.

The Front Street predicament began at the end of August when the Capital City Economic Development Authority – the agency overseeing state investment in Hartford’s revitalization – parted ways with the developer originally slated to develop the Front Street project. The developer and CCEDA had a disagreement over how much money the state would provide for the project, said CCEDA spokesman Dean Pagani.

State officials hoped the Front Street development of Adriaen’s Landing would include entertainment, apartments or condominiums and retail. The main component of the Adriaen’s Landing development, a convention center, is 80 percent complete.

The state began its search for new Front Street developers last month and four developers responded – far less than the state had been hoping for. The four proposals submitted also had shortcomings, Pagani said. Officials hoped the Request for Proposals would attract more variety and choice, he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell met last week with CCEDA officials to try to keep the development on track. She expressed her disappointment in the lack of proposals in a letter to CCEDA Chairman William McCue.

“I know you and I both feel the [RFP] for the retail/residential/entertainment district at Adriaen’s Landing should have generated more excitement and interest than it did,” Rell wrote. “The state and the city have invested a great deal of time, money and energy in making this project the success I believe it ultimately will be.”

Rell asked CCEDA to put the process on hold for a while to make sure the agency has the most up-to-date data on Hartford’s market.

“She did ask the chair of CCEDA to direct staff to complete an updated marketing study and [to hire a retail consultant],” said spokesman Dennis Schain.

Front Street has so far generated positive momentum, Schain said, and the governor continues to believe it will be a success.

“It’s important we take the time to do it right,” he said.

Picture Imperfect

Rell suspected that developers across the country don’t have an accurate understanding of Hartford’s economic picture, she wrote in her letter.

“The response makes it clear the market does not have enough information about the recent dramatic and positive changes in Hartford,” Rell wrote. “The story of the economic development improvements since the inception of CCEDA needs to be told before we can proceed with the retail/residential/entertainment district development.

“I am asking the CCEDA board to direct staff to complete an updated market study and engage a retail consultant to assist [the Office of Policy and Management] and CCEDA in telling that story, with an eye toward attracting the development partners needed to complete this project. I also ask that you continue your efforts to work with Mayor Eddie Perez and the city government to make sure the Adriaen’s Landing project is consistent with city development goals.”

Of the four proposals, none fulfilled all of the state’s requirements, Pagani said. The one that came closest to meeting the state’s goal of having an entertainment, housing and retail district that would include an ESPN attraction was West Hartford-based Simons Real Estate Group. But that proposal was not “finely tuned,” Pagani said.

“There was just more work to be done with the fourth group [Simons],” he said.

Bruce Simons of Simons Real Estate Group had no comment.

Although the other proposals did not fit the needs of the development, CCEDA will continue working with them, Pagani said. The agency does not want to discourage any developers.

The Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund – a California-based development group that includes basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson as a partner – also submitted a proposal. That proposal was mainly for the financial side of the project and did not include development plans, Pagani said.

But the lack of detail was partially because of the tight deadline CCEDA imposed after putting out the Request for Proposals, according to Canyon-Johnson Managing Partner Bobby Turner.

“We felt that the size of the land parcel could support the state’s objectives but that we would need sufficient time to better understand the demand drivers and economic viability of what the state hoped could be built,” Turner wrote in an e-mail. “Respondents were given three weeks from the date of the [RFP] from which to respond.”

Canyon-Johnson’s proposal focused on describing the group’s experience building urban mixed-use projects and stressed the group’s “financial capacity and experience in negotiating the proposed state and city incentive,” according to Turner.

“That said, we made it clear that at the appropriate time, we would look to bring in a local development partner to oversee the day-to-day development of the project,” he wrote.

Canyon-Johnson will try to stay involved, but is now concentrating on other projects, according to Turner.

“At this time, we are not doing anything and have reallocated our resources to other opportunities,” Turner wrote. “We spent a significant amount of time and resources to respond and are a bit disappointed at the outcome.”

Another developer, New York City-based Project for Public Spaces, submitted a proposal for an interim use of the space. The group, which offered itself as a consultant for a market that could either be outdoors or under a tent, has been involved with projects such as City Market in Kansas City, which is Missouri’s largest open-air farmers’ market; and Eastern Market, a sprawling market district of open-air sheds and adjacent retail and wholesale food businesses in Detroit.

“It is not a development proposal as requested in the [RFP], but rather a proposal for an interim use of the six-acre [entertainment/retail/residential] site in the case that no acceptable development proposal can be negotiated,” according to the proposal. “The project that we are proposing would complement the convention center and the Marriott hotel, and could open in the fall of 2005 … The market would function as an attractive, high-quality “filler” for the short-to-medium term, while CCEDA considers an appropriate permanent use for the site. As such, it is a ‘Plan B’ that hopefully you will not need to consider. However, should that become necessary, we believe that a public market will be a fine addition to the overall project and could be developed with funds already available to CCEDA. Once established, the market should generate sufficient revenues to cover its operating costs.”

According to its proposal, PPS – which also has organized several successful public markets in other cities besides Detroit and Kansas City – submitted its Front Street plan because it anticipated the state’s request wouldn’t attract more than a handful of proposals. Although the project has been denied, the organization will try to spark public discussion about the possibility, said Toni Gold of PPS.

There is no downside to the project, she said.

“We’ve made our proposal and I’m not sure they looked at it very closely,” Gold said.