August 19 - 26, 1998

Southside Media Homepage

This Week's Hartford News

Hartford News: 8/19 - 8/26

Hartford News ARCHIVES

El Reportero

Hartford Tonite!

Advertising Information


Creating a Kinder, Gentler Civic Center
Renovation Plan Goes to City Council

by Andy Hart

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 added.

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 amenities.

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."

Top of Page

The Southside Media Web Site is a creation of...

Town USA Eagle

"Your One Stop Source for Community and Business Information"