Creating a Kinder, Gentler Civic Center
by Andy Hart
Renovation Plan Goes to City Council
Since opening its doors in 1975, the Hartford Civic Center
has presented pedestrians passing by with a bleak exterior of
blank concrete, dark glass and recessed storefronts. A plan created
by LaSalle Partners, Inc. and presented to City Council members
yesterday is designed to change all that by concentrating all
retail stores on the first floor and lower level of the complex
and making them accessible from the street.
City Council is expected to vote on the LaSalle plan in the next
few weeks and Council Majority Leader John B. Stewart, Jr. said
he expects it to pass. The plan must be approved by the city
because it owns the land beneath the mall. The mall itself is
currently owned by Aetna, Inc., which picked LaSalle to come
up with a renovation plan.
About a month ago, a preliminary plan that LaSalle presented
to council drew a less than enthusiastic response from some council
members. One of them, Councilman Mike McGarry, said he has reviewed
the final proposal and is planning to vote for it. "This
is much better than when I first saw it...nothing's perfect but
I'll go for it," said McGarry. He added that he especially
likes the fact that the LaSalle plan has provisions for converting
the Civic Center's Center Court into a temporary venue for entertainment
acts and other activities.
Andrew Nadler, Vice-President of LaSalle and General Manager
of the Civic Center Mall, confirmed that the Center Court would
be used for such events but all seating, stages and other facilities
must be temporary because the Fire code requires that egress
must be maintain from the Civic Center Coliseum. The Center Court
could not be used for events while the Coliseum is in use, he
Stewart called the final LaSalle plan "very positive"
and said it will "restore the faith and commitment of the
merchants who have been hanging in there for such a long time."
Stewart added that he would like to see the new food court at
the Civic Center, which would be moved up to the first floor
and have a large glassed-in seating area looking out on the street,
include vendors that reflect Hartford's multi-ethnic nature.
He also said he would like to see the shops and restaurants at
the Civic Center stay open a little longer.
LaSalle Vice President John Germanno said the company's final
plan incorporates ideas from a wide variety of sources, including
Urban Planner Ken Greenberg, who has said that downtown can be
rejuvenated by making it more pedestrian friendly and accessible.
When the Civic Center Mall was originally built in 1975, it was
designed to compete with the suburban malls that were then challenging
downtown Hartford's position as the retail mecca of the region.
Like the suburban malls, the civic center has most store entrances
facing an inside court, rather than fronting on the street in
the traditional urban manner.
Although he declined to go into all the details of the LaSalle
plan, Nadler confirmed that it calls for extensive interior and
exterior renovations. The concrete exterior face of the second
floor of the structure would be replaced by glass. A new floor
would be installed in the mall, possibly of marble or granite.
Other improvements would include new graphics for the interior
and exterior of the building, plants, benches and other customer
The new food court would have more seating than the current one
and would be located in a glassed in area along Asylum Street,
near the site of the old Luettgen's Limited. The site of the
old food court would be available for retail space, said Nadler.
Nadler also said the plan calls for enlarging the Asylum and
Trumbull Streets entrances and moving them closer to the street.
The parking entrance on Asylum Street would possibly be moved
to Ann Street and a new entrance created on Ann Street.
The mall's current skywalk entrances on Church, Ann and Asylum
streets would be kept with an escalator running down to the first
floor retail center.
Nadler added that by converting the entire second floor of the
Civic Center into office space and possibly opening up more room
on the third floor, the facility could accommodate from 600-700
more workers. These new workers would be "built-in customers"
for the mall's shops and restaurants.
LaSalle is planning to invest from $8-15 million in the Civic
Center rejuvenation, Nadler said. In addition, the company is
hoping to get the $15 million in state money that has been earmarked
for improving the Civic Center. The Capital City Economic Development
Authority is overseeing the distribution of those funds.
As to the possible creation of a large-scale sports technology
center in the Civic Center, Nadler said negotiations are still
going on and the center is still a "viable opportunity."
For now, however, Stewart said the LaSalle plan "will do
the basic things that need to be done right now for these people
[the Civic Center merchants] aren't going to wait forever."
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