A Connecticut developer that has extensive experience with retail properties has been named the favorite to develop the Front Street project in Hartford. A working group trying to strike a deal to build stores, restaurants and housing in the Front Street section of Adriaen’s Landing selected a development team that includes a Greenwich real estate investment company.

The working group chose a team that pairs HB Nitkin Group of Greenwich and Realty Resources of Rockport, Maine, as its No. 1 choice to develop the project last week.

The Capital City Economic Development Authority, the state agency that oversees parts of Hartford’s downtown revitalization, has been seeking a new developer since Front Street’s original developer pulled out of the project last August after disagreements over how much money the state would contribute.

“It was a process that began last fall,” said Dean Pagani, spokesman for CCEDA.

Forty developers expressed interest in the project at that time, but HB Nitkin’s retail experience, professional presentations and enthusiasm propelled the firm to the coveted No. 1 spot.

“HB Nitkin just came out on top,” Pagani said.

‘Exciting Ideas’

The selection is not yet final. HB Nitkin and Realty Resources must reach a development agreement, which would then go through the state Office of Policy and Management, CCEDA and the city of Hartford for approval.

“It’s not a done deal, but they are the main group,” Pagani said.

Bradley Nitkin, president of HB Nitkin, said he expects it to take 60 to 90 days to reach a development agreement.

HB Nitkin owns several shopping centers around Hartford, including Cromwell Square in Cromwell and the Shops at Somerset Square in Glastonbury.

“We have very deep experience in retail,” Nitkin said.

That experience is what – if an acceptable development agreement is reached – will land the job for HB Nitkin. Most of the other developers who expressed interest focused more on the housing aspect of Front Street than the retail part, Pagani said. But HB Nitkin is approaching the project from a retail perspective.

“We’ve learned that the hardest part of this project is the retail part,” Pagani.

Because HB Nitkin owns shopping centers in the area, the company already has relationships with many retailers. Some of its tenants already have expressed interest in Front Street, Nitkin said.

But HB Nitkin is also experienced with housing. Because the company is focusing on the retail aspect of the project now, Nitkin didn’t want to delve into the subject of the company’s housing experience. But it won’t present a problem, he said.

“We’re very comfortable on the housing side,” he said.

The state wants the Front Street development to include an entertainment and retail district as well as residential units, with a probable focus on entertainment. ESPN has a firm commitment to the project, and likely will create a partnership with a restaurant and open a venue as part of the project.

“The thinking is that it’s going to be smaller-scale retail, probably more entertainment-based,” Pagani said in a previous interview.

HB Nitkin has some ideas for the space and is working with a predominant architect. Robert Stern – dean of the Yale School of Architecture – is working on the project. Nitkin isn’t revealing much yet, but said there are some plans in the works.

“We have preliminary designs,” he said. “There will be some very exciting ideas.”

Nitkin decided to get his company involved with downtown Hartford’s revitalization because of the opportunities there.

“We think Hartford is a town with a lot of opportunities,” he said. “We want to be a part of what’s happening in Hartford.”

Adriaen’s Landing – including the Front Street project – is part of former Gov. John Rowland’s “Six Pillars of Progress” that are intended to revitalize downtown Hartford.

Adriaen’s Landing includes one of the biggest parts of the revitalization. The Connecticut Convention Center is being developed on the easternmost edge of downtown Hartford and will overlook the Connecticut River. It will be the largest convention facility between New York and Boston, with more than 145,000 square feet of exhibition space, according to CCEDA’s Web site.

A complex known as Hartford 21, which is taking the place of the city’s old Civic Center, is another major component of the city’s downtown revitalization. In addition to the retail and residential components of the project, there will be 93,000 square feet of office space, 800 parking spaces and a 35,000-square-foot public space with a 50-foot-high atrium and entrance to the 16,600-seat Veterans Memorial Coliseum, according to documents from Northland Investments.