Work on the Front Street section of the Adriaen’s Landing project near downtown Hartford, which also includes the Connecticut Convention Center (above), is set to begin by the end of October.

About a year and a half after a Greenwich developer was picked as the state’s top choice to develop the Front Street section of Adriaen’s Landing, a $22 million agreement to begin the first phase of development has been reached, and construction is expected to begin by the end of the month.

“We really worked hard to do it right, and sometimes it takes time,” said Bradley Nitkin, president of HB Nitkin Group, the company that will develop the residential, entertainment and retail district near downtown Hartford.

Since April 2005, when HB Nitkin was identified as the potential developer, plans for the district have expanded. Original plans called for 60 residential units and 43,000 square feet of restaurant and entertainment space, but the first phase has now been expanded to include 115 residential units and 60,000 square feet of restaurant and entertainment space.

Tenants are lined up, Nitkin said, although he would not reveal them. Hartford’s local CBS station earlier this week identified ESPN as one of the tenants. ESPN long has had a firm commitment to Front Street, and likely will create a partnership with a restaurant and open a venue as part of the project.

“This larger project will guarantee the critical mass that is essential to ensuring a vibrant and successful development,” said Gov. M. Jodi Rell in a prepared statement.

In April, Nitkin told The Commercial Record he hoped negotiations would take 60 to 90 days, but changes to the plans and participation in the negotiations of city, state and federal governments have all had an effect on timing. Working under the governor’s direction, the parties involved – the Capital City Economic Development Agency, the state Office of Policy and Management and developer Bradley Nitkin of the H.B. Nitkin Group – came to an agreement on the scope of the project and the state funding necessary for completion.

“Finally, we have a deal,” Rell said in a prepared statement. “This is an exciting and crucial step forward in the revitalization of our capital city, and underscores my administration’s commitment to investing in our urban centers. It is also another boost for new jobs and long-term economic development for Hartford.

“A project like Front Street will attract people from around Connecticut and beyond, and that will pay dividends for years to come. I am delighted that we were able to make this breakthrough deal.”

The Final Piece

Under the agreement, the Capital City Economic Development Authority – the quasi-public agency that oversees some parts of downtown Hartford’s revitalization – will provide a $12 million housing subsidy, of which $2.25 million will be a loan, and the state will provide another $9.75 million in grants.

The city of Hartford agreed in negotiations to dedicate funds from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to Front Street, and to provide the project with a tax abatement incentive.

The Front Street district is the final piece of the Adriaen’s Landing development. That $656 million, 28-acre multi-use, public-private development is along the Connecticut River and includes the Connecticut Convention Center, the Marriott Hartford Downtown Hotel, the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration and parking facilities.

Nitkin, who has worked with the internationally recognized architect Robert A.M. Stern on this project, is a Greenwich-based developer with a large real estate portfolio that includes Somerset Square in Glastonbury.

“I am excited to be a part of the city’s revitalization and I know that this project will put more feet on the street in downtown Hartford,” Nitkin said in a prepared statement.

CCEDA began searching for a new developer in 2004 after Front Street’s original developer pulled out of the project.

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

That experience helped land Nitkin the job. Most of the other developers who expressed interest focused more on the housing aspect of Front Street than the retail part, CCEDA representatives said last year. But HB Nitkin is approaching the project from a retail perspective.

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 when his company was first considered. But HB Nitkin also is experienced with housing, he added.

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.

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, developer of the Hartford 21 project.