The remaking of Downtown Hartford is a decade-old project that needs new residents to succeed. Its highest-profile building is Hartford 21, an apartment tower that boasts luxury as a selling point. But just blocks away is the Hollander, a rent-controlled apartment building in an old bank just across the street from Bushnell Park. WNPR’s Jeff Cohen has this report.
While downtown's residential resurgence has been bet in large part on wealthy empty nesters and folks who can afford high-end rents, the Hollander is a little different. Beneath the building’s roof are 70 apartments – 56 of them are reserved for people who make 60 percent or less of the Hartford county median income. That means, for instance, an individual wanting to live alone in a rent-restricted unit can make no more than about $36,000.
"This is a one-bedroom, tax-credit unit. It's 533 square feet, it rents for $769..."
Sharon Gowen works for Common Ground, the organization that runs the building.
“I’ve someone who works at an insurance company, I have someone who for the bus company, I have a nurse's aide, truck driver...”
Common Ground got the building in 2003 from owners who threatened to demolish it. The project was funded with local, state, and federal money, as well as with housing and historic tax credits.
Kate Sidley is 28, works at Hartford Stage, and has lived in the building since it opened. She’s from Cleveland.
“The response that I get when people say, “Oh, you live in downtown Hartford is very similar to the response that I always got saying, you’re from Cleveland? Like, actually from Cleveland?”
But she's not embarrassed to live downtown. It's close to work, she can walk her dog in Bushnell Park, and the old building is kind of cool.
“It’s sort of like a close knit, small town community disguised as a big city. You know, any day walking to work, I walk past people that I know, that I say hi to. And there is that other population of people who just come here to work – they go to their office, they go to the parking garage, and they leave. And I think that they unfortunately sort of don’t get to see this other small town that exists in this big city.”
And Sharon Gowen says there's something else about the Asylum Street building that commuters may not see.
“We have the first green roof in Hartford, and it’s not going to be real green right now…The first row here and the first row there are all edible herbs…tarragon, thyme, sage, a whole bunch of…”
The roof soaks in half of the rainwater that falls, it absorbs heat the roof would otherwise give off, and it makes it easier to control the building’s temperature. All of this contributes to the building’s status as an environmentally-friendly project. That’s something Gowen and the people at Common Ground boast.
They're also hoping to boast a new food store in their first-floor retail space.
Larry Gottesdiener is downtown’s largest landowner and he’s spent years trying to get a grocery off the ground with no luck. Gowen is trying the same, and originally hoped to have something that offers food delivery open in her building’s retail space this summer. For now, it won't be a grocery store -- it will be a food buying club.
“One of the things that we’ve done is asked people what do you need? And curiously enough what most people asked for when we surveyed are fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, herbs, spices. Those kinds of things. Nobody was saying, 'Gee, you know, I don’t have enough yo yos and ding dongs in my life.'”
And, Gowen says, once people get used to the idea of buying food downtown, a grocery store will follow.
For WNPR, I’m Jeff Cohen.