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CT Construction Digest Tuesday January 21, 2020

OPM study: General funds are used for transportation
Eric Bedner
HARTFORD — A recent Office of Policy and Management analysis shows that about $3.7 billion has been transferred to transportation projects over close to two decades, debunking critics who say Democrats have been raiding the targeted funding, Lamont administration officials say.
The analysis shows that almost all budgets since 2003 have taken money out of the general fund and redirected it to the state’s rapidly depleting Special Transportation Fund.
The money diverted from the general fund should have gone toward other spending, including municipal aid, education, and nonprofits, according to the administration.
Instead, the funds were used to shore up transportation funding that had been neglected.
OPM used annual reports from the comptroller’s office for its analysis.
While the analysis shows an influx of $3.7 billion to the transportation fund since 2003, a total of $152 million during the same time period was transferred out of the fund, occurring most recently in 2014 — the only time in the last decade that funds were transferred from transportation, according to the analysis.
Max Reiss, Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesman, said the OPM analysis deflates the Republican argument that Democrats helped create the state’s current transportation funding woes by diverting dollars from the Special Transportation Fund.
“The facts are clear and they continue to be muddied by those with political motives,” Reiss said, adding that the Special Transportation Fund will continue to decrease over time due to insufficient revenues. “If we don’t take action, this is a trend we know will continue in the future.”
He noted that governors from both parties approved budgets that diverted dollars into the transportation fund, rather than using the money for its intended purposes.
“This practice robbed social service providers of needed funds and short-changed our communities,” Reiss said.
He criticized Republican opponents of Lamont’s transportation plan who say Democrats continue to raid transportation funding and now must rely on tolls to make up the difference.
“Connecticut residents should have faith in our government and they must have faith in the information coming from elected officials and those involved in the political process,” Reiss said. “These numbers and this data show what the truth is, and that truth is the reality that Connecticut has neglected its transportation infrastructure for decades, which led funding intended for other services to bail out the transportation fund for nearly two decades.”
He added that he hopes the OPM analysis eliminates a Republican talking point regarding the transportation discussion, a key component of which is tolls.
“Opponents to responsible transportation investment must face the facts, and not parse numbers to fuel a misinformation campaign,” Reiss said.
Democrats argue they have not raided the transportation fund, but rather redistributed the dollars before they were deposited into the fund, which is now protected by a constitutional “lock box.”
The most recent budget called for not depositing revenue from new vehicle sales into the Special Transportation Fund, cutting contributions to the fund by $58.2 million and $113.4 million in the next two years, respectively, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Is the governor’s transportation bill stalled?

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The clock is ticking and there is still no language on a bill to fix Connecticut’s transportation system. 
It’s a pillar in the governor’s policy agenda.
“There will be a public hearing this week, but that’s up to the leaders,” Governor Ned Lamont told News 8. “They’re going to have to come up with a schedule.”
Insiders at the Capital expect a draft transportation bill to be released this week, but the regular legislative session begins Feb. 5, which is less than two weeks away.
Republican leader Sen. Len Fasano said the only reason the Democrats are trying to do it before is to sneak it in.
Despite the lack of a bill, Fasano said the unofficial vote count in the state Senate on the issue of tolls is divided 18 to 18.
Therefore, he’s focusing on options like running the Republican Faster CT plan.
“Absolutely, we’ll not only run the bill but we will run amendments if our bill fails,” Fasano said. “It gives them an alternative at least they can’t walk away from the chamber and say it was the only plan up there.”
The Republican plan relies on funding the nearly $20 billion transportation plan through leveraging a line of credit with some of the rainy day fund.
The Republican plan relies on funding the $20 billion transportation plan through leveraging a line of credit with some of the rainy day fund.
Many Democrats don’t like the idea and are pushing the governor’s trucks only tolls to raise money for low-interest federal government loans to pay for the plan.
Those on the fence like Democratic Senator Matt Lesser need details, “I have to read it before I can commit one way or another. I haven’t seen it yet. What I’ve said to my constituents is it’s really important to see how it affects my district.”
Lamont said no more roadblocks; he wants the transportation bill voted on before the February legislative session begins.

Wesleyan to issue $75 million in bonds to fund expansion project
Laura Rubenstein
MIDDLETOWN — Wesleyan University’s physical campus plays an important role in the distinctive residential liberal arts education it offers students. Facilities planning has been a focus on campus recently, with major upgrades in the works for the academic buildings housing Wesleyan’s art, social science, and science programs.“Our work on campus involves modernizing, upgrading, and, in some cases, expanding our core academic centers. These facilities will be transformed into spaces where courageous faculty and students can activate their ideas to make a difference in the world,” said President Michael Roth ’78. “We are taking steps now to ensure Wesleyan is a high-impact university for decades to come.”
In early 2020, the university is planning for a $75 million bond issue to enable it to accelerate this work, including construction on the Public Affairs Center and planning work for the science facilities. In December, Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency affirmed a AA credit rating for the bond issue, while Moody’s affirmed its Aa3 rating.
“This bond issue will support strategic investment in Wesleyan’s campus, the student experience, and faculty resources,” said Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and Treasurer Andrew Tanaka ’00. “We continue our focus on fiscal prudence and responsible stewardship of the generous donations made to Wesleyan. Our strong track record in this regard has helped Wesleyan build its capacity to borrow.”
Tanaka noted that by borrowing money at this time, Wesleyan is able to take advantage of a historically low interest rate environment as it pursues strategic investments in campus.
The Public Affairs Center, home of Wesleyan’s social sciences, is slated for a major upgrade in the coming years. Located at the heart of campus, the updated building will be nearly 20 percent larger and feature a 75 percent increase in classroom space, as well as a new art gallery space connecting to Olin Library. Classrooms and gathering spaces in the building will be flexible and modern, inspiring interaction among students and faculty across academic disciplines and fostering innovation. Funding from the bond issue will allow construction to begin as early as 2020.
Planning to upgrade Wesleyan’s science facilities, including Shanklin and Hall-Atwater, is in earlier stages, with the university considering multiple options for renovation or replacement. The bond issue will accelerate this planning work.
Wesleyan is also in the midst of a major expansion of the Center for Film Studies, with construction ongoing on a 16,000-square-foot addition, which will include a state-of-the-art production studio, 50-seat screening room, outdoor classroom and filming plaza, and a three-story house to be a dedicated space for on-site film shooting. Construction is expected to wrap up in mid-2020.
The university plans to continue raising funds to support its strategic priorities, as well. While the successful This is Why campaign (which concluded in 2016) focused largely on building the endowment to ensure Wesleyan’s future fiscal stability and support financial aid, “the next decade will be about continuing to build the endowment while also investing in our campus infrastructure to meet the needs of future generations of students,” said Vice President for Advancement Frantz Williams ’99.
“We are on a mission to raise significant funds to invest in the future of a Wesleyan education. We are fortunate to have a loyal and generous donor community to help ensure that our campus remains an incubator of creative ideas that have an impact on our students and the world in which they will live,” he added.

Development agreement inked for $26M Park-Main St. redevelopment
Joe Cooper
The city of Hartford has signed a development agreement with the developers of a long-awaited 126-unit apartment and retail community at the corner of Park and Main streets.
The agreement, signed in late December, lays out various economic, local hiring and affordable-housing requirements that Spinnaker Real Estate Partners, of South Norwalk, and Hartford’s Freeman Cos., must adhere to in constructing two buildings worth $26 million on a pair of vacant, city-owned properties just south of downtown, officials say.
The city council approved the development agreement and ground lease for the project almost a year ago.
Developers hope to break ground on the project by the end of the first quarter or early second quarter, said Matthew Edvardsen, Spinnaker’s director of acquisitions and asset management. Apartments in phase one of the mixed-use project could be completed in just nine months, Edvardsen said.
Edvardsen said the developers are designing the buildings to comply with current zoning regulations. Developers began conducting environmental work at the site earlier this month, he said.
Market demand has encouraged the developers to swap proposed two-bedroom units with more studios and one-bedroom units, Edvardsen said. That change has increased the development’s proposed residential footprint from 108 units to 126 units.
Plans show the two buildings including 90,000 square feet of residential space with 18 studios, 84 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedroom units. Another 20,000 square feet will be used for retail space and a 9,000-square-foot rooftop lounge is also planned for the building fronting Park Street. A surface parking lot with 125 spaces will be located behind the buildings.
The developers say they have not yet marketed the proposed commercial and retail space, which have been pitched as ideal landing spots for restaurants and a convenience store, among other potential uses.
Funding for the redevelopment mainly includes $16 million in bank financing and $8.4 million in loans from the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA). Other financing is expected to come from $1.6 million in equity and a deferred $900,000 developer fee, Edvardsen said.
The city originally selected Hartford nonprofit CIL as the overseer of the redevelopment project.
However, the city and the developer were unable to agree on a construction timeline and other financial terms, and the city in Aug. 2018 ended up selecting Spinnaker and Freeman Cos. to take over the project after a competitive bidding process.