HARTFORD — The first apartment building in the North Crossing development around Hartford’s Dunkin’ Donuts Park pumps up amenities for city dwellers: a steroid fitness center, rooftop lounge and poolside cabanas.
Yes, cabanas around a pool in downtown Hartford.
A gated courtyard with the pool, grill stations, freestone walkways and an amphitheater built into the property’s sloping grounds forms the heart of the $50 million development of 270 rental homes, the first of what could be as many as 1,000 condos to be built in. around the margin in the coming years.
“This is really our signature place where we expect people to gather,” said developer Randy Salvatore, pointing to the courtyard during a tour of the building.
The apartments, dubbed “The Pennant”, a nod to the fringe across Trumbull Street, are still being completed, with work expected to be completed in November. But the first 19 tenants have moved in and rental has been strong with 104 units – 40% of the total – now leased and demand exceeding leasing projections, said Salvatore of RMS Cos. from Stamford.
“We lease them as soon as we can build them, it’s that simple,” said Salvatore. “If it continues like this, I say six more months and then we’re done.”
Salvatore is already looking ahead to the next phase of mixed-use development, opposite the stadium’s main entrance. But the original developers of the fringe and the land around it — fired from the job in 2016 — are trying in court to regain control of the property that Salvatore subsequently had developed — part of a much larger legal battle over the termination.
“The lawyers are all talking, but as far as I know we’re going ahead,” Salvatore said. “I have no control over what the courts say or do, but unless someone tells us otherwise, we plan to start in September. And it’s clear that the market justifies it. If we were bullish before, we are more bullish now.”
North Crossing marks a new phase in Hartford’s redevelopment. Over the past decade, apartment projects have largely focused on converting older, often vacant, commercial buildings into rental properties. The efforts are aimed at boosting the long-elusive 24/7 vibrancy in the city and giving a much-needed lift to the city’s tax coffers.
Since 2014, 2,800 apartments have been added or under construction in and around downtown Hartford, most funded in part with low-cost, taxpayer-backed loans from the Capital Region Development Authority. Financing for the first phase of North Crossing includes a $12 million low-cost loan from CRDA.
The new, from the ground up, multifunctional construction near the margins is aimed at building a new neighbourhood. North Crossing could be followed by a similar development in “Bushnell South” in parking lots east of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts along Capitol Avenue and elsewhere in the city.
In CRDA-funded apartment projects, occupancy rates have remained resilient after the worst pandemic, following a dip in 2020, according to the quasi-public agency.
Salvatore said 75% of tenants who have signed leases to date are from outside of Hartford or another state, proving, he said, that North Crossing attracts people who are new to the city. Leasing, Salvatore said, isn’t just a musical musical chairs where apartment landlords try to attract tenants who already live in downtown rental properties.
Strong demand for apartments has pushed rents up in Hartford, across Connecticut, and across the country. A recent report from rent.com showed that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hartford rose 14% from a year ago, to $1,747 per month.
Rents at The Pennant range from $1,500 for a studio to $2,200 for a two-bedroom unit. The dimensions range from 537 square meters for the studios to 1,228 square meters for the two bedrooms. There are also two three-bedroom apartments on 1,379 square feet, starting at $3,300 per month.
But those price points don’t include a $50 monthly amenity fee, and parking adds another $100 per month per car in the 328-space parking garage connected to the condo complex.
The City of Hartford has also agreed to support affordable units in the first phase through federal funding, contributing up to $900,000 over 20 years.
In a development where most apartments are in line with the market, the addition of affordable units became crucial for gaining neighborhood support. An agreement calls for a minimum of 10% affordable rent, including 5% for families earning up to 80% of the area’s median income.
Salvatore said he has just started marketing the 3,500-square-foot ground floor retail space.
Salvatore, also a major developer in New Haven and a partner in the conversion of the upper floors of the Hilton in downtown Hartford to rental, is optimistic about long-term rental trends. But Salvatore also said he is keeping a close eye on economic conditions, especially as growth has slowed and concerns about a recession are mounting.
“It would be foolish not to look at what is happening there,” Salvatore said. “So I think we’re probably going to go into a recession, but I’m taking a long-term approach to everything. In past recessions, we’ve built right through it. We need to be a little more careful and make sure the whole thing is financially in order so we can get through it.”
The completion of the first of four phases of North Crossing is also notable as it represents a major step forward in the decades-long hopes of reconnecting downtown Hartford with urban neighborhoods to the north.
The construction of I-84 in the early 1970s tore them apart, eventually becoming an expanse of abandoned parking lots, a physical and psychological barrier. The mixed-use redevelopment planned near Main Street and Albany Avenue also aims to strengthen the connection.
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North Crossing’s second phase on so-called “Parcel B” would have 532 rental homes and a 541-place garage, plus 10,000 square feet of retail space, at a cost of $120 million. The development would be split into two parts. Work will first be carried out on 228 apartments and the parking garage. The balance of the lease would be finalized in the second half.
As Salvatore pushes through, he said he is still actively developing a full-service grocery store. The supermarket is a top priority for the city to tackle the ‘food desert’ in the area, which has been made worse by the recent fire that destroyed Sigourney Market in neighboring Asylum Hill.
“We all believe there is a need for this and a supermarket will do well here, but the grocer needs to see the success and the dynamism of the development,” said Salvatore. “It’s one thing for them to see representations of what we’re doing, and it’s another for them to see the actual building and the people living in the building who will be future customers.”
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And that there will be hundreds more in the next phase, he said.
Salvatore said the most likely location for the supermarket on “Package A” is near the city’s public safety complex. He said it could be built at the same time as the second phase on “Package B” or after.
On a recent tour, Salvatore showed off model apartments and amenities. Dining areas in one-bedroom units that double as home workspaces, separated from kitchens with pocket doors to provide a less distracting background during virtual meetings. In studios, pocket doors can separate beds from living areas.
The pennant will be put on display on October 13, when the building hosts the annual ‘Big Mo’ event. The event is usually held in a development project that is a sign of revitalization in the city, with “Mo'” being short for momentum.
The rooftop lounge has not yet been cleared for visitors, but Salvatore points to the two-lane bowling alley and a multi-sport simulator. Clear garage doors open from the first floor lounge with its billiards and foosball tables to the courtyard, spaces also intended as alternatives for tenants who work in their apartments and want a less formal space than the building’s co-working space.
“Maybe they’ll sit by the pool during the day with a laptop in a lounger and work,” Salvatore said.
Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at [email protected]