owntown Hartford, until recent years, was bustling from nine to five. Not so much when the office workers headed back to the suburbs from the banks, insurance companies and other places of businesses after work. Some would stay and take in a show at The Hartford Stage Company or the XL Center arena, but then it was back to the ’burbs.
That’s quickly changing. Connecticut’s capital city is becoming a magnet for companies and their employees relocating from other parts of the country, particularly for young adults preferring an urban lifestyle.
“Over the past 10 years or so, downtown has changed,” says Mike Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA). “It’s evolving from just being a nine to five business community to something more like an urban neighborhood. We’ve built some 3,300 housing units downtown in the last 10 years. A lot of that is conversion of old office buildings to residential uses. Some second-tier office buildings needed a refresh, and a lot of them went residential.”
A good example is downtown’s 179 Allyn Street, a commercial building dating to 1883 that was converted into a mixed-used property in 2015 with 63 apartment units, a fitness center and community room. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is steps from dining and entertainment options. Dakota Partners LLC, based in Massachusetts, was the developer. Freimuth says downtown Hartford increasingly is seeing interest from out-of-state developers in refurbishing such properties.
“People new to the area are finding their way downtown,” he says. “Most are 25 to 40, single, and they’re not ready to invest in suburban living just yet, or they don’t want to. The city has been able to capitalize on that, and we’re doing new construction and using vacant sites. We’ve built about 270 units on what was vacant land, and another 240 are in the pipeline — and another 300 or so are behind that. This is attracting national investors now where it initially was local and regional investors. There is now demand, and Hartford’s quality of life is starting to be recognized.”
As for housing costs, Freimuth says the real estate coming online is about 80% market rate and 20% affordable. “Price points vary, but the target is the young professionals getting started.”
“In the wake of the shift to remote and hybrid work, we’ve tripled down on building residential density in and around the downtown, and the demand has stayed tremendously strong,” notes Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. “Turning the central business district into a genuine neighborhood, rather than just a place where people commute to work, makes for a much stronger, healthier city center. And having people living in and around the city’s core 24/7 rather than just working nine to five goes hand in hand with supporting and sustaining the growth of restaurants, coffee shops, bars and retail that we’ve seen.”
To the Nth Degree
In 2017, the University of Connecticut opened its UConn Hartford campus in the historic Hartford Times building that was completed in 1920. Space in two other buildings, including the Hartford Public Library, completes the downtown campus. More than 3,100 students and nearly 300 faculty and staff add energy to the district and proximity to Hartford’s businesses, where some of the students may one day work. The campus offers 11 undergraduate degree programs, six graduate programs and 10 non-degree and certificate programs.
A former newspaper headquarters is the home of the University of Connecticut’s downtown Hartford campus.
Photo courtesy of the City of Hartford
The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Photo courtesy of The Bushnell
Mayor Bronin: “Between the UConn Hartford campus, the School of Business, the Law School, UConn games at the XL Center, and more, UConn has an enormous impact in Hartford, and it continues to grow. That makes a big difference for our small businesses, our arts and culture scene, our talent pool, and just the energy that you can feel.”
Similarly, the Capital campus of Connecticut State Community College has occupied 11 floors in the former G. Fox department store building in downtown Hartford for the past several years. It has an enrollment of about 3,300 and offers more than 60 degree and certificate programs.
Though not in downtown Hartford, other colleges and universities in the metro area include Trinity College, UConn School of Law, the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State University, the University of St. Joseph and Tunxis Community College. Yale University in New Haven is a 40-minute drive south of Hartford; the University of Connecticut’s main campus is a half hour east, in Storrs.
Students, residents moving into the real estate coming online in Hartford and others in search of entertainment options have several to choose from. XL Center, known as the Hartford Civic Center back when it was the home of the Hartford Whalers NHL team, is set to undergo $100 million in upgrades. Other downtown venues include the Hartford Stage, the Xfinity Theatre Hartford — an outdoor arena that can accommodate 30,000 people — the Infinity Music Hall that seats 500 and the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
“Central business districts in the U.S. are becoming more arts and entertainment districts,” notes CRDA’s Freimuth. “Residential development, cultural, arts and education are as critical to downtowns’ futures as the corporate headquarters was. Downtowns must evolve, and that is happening in Hartford.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the City of Hartford. For more information, visit www.hartfordct.gov.