Hartford’s Downtown Revival: Iconic Office Tower Being Converted to Housing and Retail Using Historic Credits

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In Hartford, Conn., nicknamed the insurance capital of the world, work has begun on redeveloping a vacant, iconic 26-story office tower in the city’s central business district into housing, retail outlets, and parking.

Going by the name 777 Main Street, the venture is being undertaken by Becker + Becker Associates, a Fairfield, Conn.-based real estate development, planning, and architectural firm that is the project developer and architect.

When completed, the renovated historic skyscraper will contain 286 market-rate and affordable apartments, six ground floor retail shops, a full floor of resident amenities (gym, club room, library), and a 250-car parking garage.

Major funding elements for the $80 million project are $19 million in equity generated by federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits and a $37.2 million Section 221(d)(4) first mortgage insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that was originated by Walker & Dunlop. State and regional authorities also provided capital.

The project’s design is intended to achieve LEED Silver certification for the building and incorporates a hydrogen fuel cell to power the site. The fuel cell enabled the development to qualify for low emissions renewable energy tax credits (LRECs) that have generated part of the financing. According to Walker & Dunlop, the transaction marks the first time that HUD has agreed to recognize LRECs in its FHA mortgage insurance program.

The glass-covered office building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Welton Becket, a mid-20th century Los Angeles architect whose portfolio also includes the Los Angeles Performing Art Center, the Capital Records building in Hollywood, and the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The 400,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1967 and the city’s second tallest at the time, was originally the headquarters for Hartford National Bank & Trust. Over the following decades, though, the property mirrored the tremors and consolidation that swept through the American banking system and was occupied at various times by Shawmut Bank, Fleet Bank, and finally Bank of America. The latter moved out in 2011 to a newer building a block away, leaving 777 Main Street vacant. New York-based Grunberg Realty sold the property for $7 million to a Becker + Becker Associates entity for the new project.

The new development will help to achieve two objectives of local and state officials: reducing the downtown Hartford office vacancy rate, which has been 30%, and creating additional housing units in the central business district. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been a big advocate for affordable housing in Connecticut, most recently pledging a large sum of additional state funding for this purpose.

In the past two years, the Capital Region Development Authority has agreed to provide low-interest loans and equity investments to help finance a handful of downtown Hartford apartment projects, including several converting commercial properties to residential use.

In mid-January, in addressing an annual local business breakfast, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said, “The next time I talk to you…several downtown buildings will have converted to housing, families will be living at 777 Main Street, and the revitalization of downtown north will have begun.”