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CT Construction Digest Tuesday June 21, 2022

City leaders recently toured sites of future transportation projects


BRISTOL – City leaders recently toured sites of future transportation projects with Deputy Commissioner from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Garrett Eucalito and discussed future development prospects.

On June 15, Deputy Commissioner from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, Garrett Eucalito joined Mayor Jeff Caggiano, Justin Malley, economic development director and Dawn Nielsen, marketing and public relations specialist, for a tour around several key areas of the city.

Caggiano said that the tour focused on the corridor between Route 229, Interstate 84 and Route 6 as well as Route 72 and downtown. The city recently completed a study of this area, aiming to address safety and traffic flow concerns and provide improved pedestrian, bicycle and public transit accessibility in this area.

“We had an excellent meeting with Garrett,” said Caggiano. “He was very attentive, interested and excited to see our projects coming together and moving forward. We are working on re-maneuvering many of our streets to better link our community and create a safe, walk-able downtown.”

Caggiano said that he and economic development staff spoke with Eucalito about IAAJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) funding which cities will be able to apply for through a competitive grant process.

“There is about $6 billion in IAAJA funding available through a bill that the Biden administration passed in November,” said Caggiano. “These are competitive grants which can possibly provide matching grants to communities investing in infrastructure. I was told that they will be looking for ‘shovel ready’ projects when awarding these grants. The DOT doesn’t necessarily have the resources to do design work for all of these projects. The fact that we have recently completed our corridor study will put us in a good position to help Bristol get grants.”

Caggiano said that many of these projects take several years to begin construction. But, he said that Eucalito suggested they may begin moving along quicker in the future.

“The Route 72, Route 69 Intersection improvements were approved in 2012 and will just start breaking ground this fall,” said Caggiano. “Typically, these larger DOT projects do take 7 to 8 years. But, Garrett indicated that they have a new model where they want to move projects along in 2 to 3 years.”

One of the options discussed for transportation in Bristol was “micro-bussing”, which Caggiano said could resemble the on-demand services provided by Uber.

“In Bristol, bussing hasn’t really caught on,” he said. “The commuter busses to Hartford just started up again and there aren’t usually more than five people on them at any given time. We may be looking into alternatives similar to the Dial-A-Ride transportation services used for seniors.”

Caggiano thanked Eucalito for being “very responsive” and said that he “immediately followed up” as their conversations continue to move forward.

Ambitious $280M expansion plan to reshape CT Children’s Hartford campus

Robert Storace

Connecticut Children’s is undertaking the largest-ever expansion of its Hartford campus, as it prepares to grow existing services and launch new ones, including an effort to become a national center for fetal care.

Connecticut Children’s — which began operating in 1996 as the successor to Newington Children’s Hospital — is planning a $280-million expansion anchored by a new 190,000-square-foot, eight-story patient tower on its Washington Street campus.

The tower will connect to Connecticut Children’s main Hartford building and feature an array of services, including 50 private neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) beds, expanded behavioral health and cancer treatment services, and a new comprehensive fetal care center, hospital officials confirmed to the Hartford Business Journal.

The ambitious project will create upwards of 500 new jobs — including temporary construction positions as well as the hiring of about 25 new physicians and more than 130 nurses. It is being driven by increased demand for surgical and other children’s care and a lack of available space within the hospital’s main campus building, Connecticut Children’s officials said.

It also entails service expansion in Fairfield County. Despite being known as a Hartford-based hospital, Connecticut Children’s, over the years, has grown its footprint across the state and into Massachusetts and New York, with more than 40 different care center locations.

Its biggest competition in Connecticut is Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

“This is part of our overall strategy, as we are experiencing significant growth throughout Connecticut, as well as throughout the region,” said Connecticut Children’s President and CEO Jim Shmerling in an exclusive interview with the Hartford Business Journal.

A centerpiece of the expansion is the new fetal care center. Only a handful exist throughout the U.S., and having one in Hartford will be a boon for the region, Shmerling said. It will allow for early intervention of birth defects, including ailments that impact a newborn’s heart, nervous system, ear, face or neck.

“This will save lives,” Shmerling said. “We believe a program like this that is so comprehensive will attract patients from all over the country and will make Connecticut a destination center for these types of illnesses.”

Safe to proceed

Connecticut Children’s earlier this month outlined its expansion plans in a Certificate of Need (CON) application filed with the Office of Health Strategy, which must ultimately approve the project.

That could take upwards of six months, according to Ryan Calhoun, Connecticut Children’s vice president of strategy and business development. The tower expansion will also go before Hartford’s Planning & Zoning Commission later in the fall, Calhoun said.

The hope is construction could begin by April 2023, and the tower completed by the end of 2025.

Shmerling is not new to major expansions. He previously oversaw hospital construction at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Colorado.

In 2017, Shmerling also led the relocation of about 400 Connecticut Children’s non-clinical employees to the Candy Cane building in downtown Hartford, a move that freed up clinical space at the hospital’s main campus.

However, space constraints remain an issue and have pressed the need for a new patient tower, Shmerling said.

The expansion blueprint was first presented to the hospital’s board of directors about three years ago, he said.

“COVID detoured us and we were forced to delay this,” Shmerling said. “We are still experiencing the ramifications of COVID, but we are at a point where it is now safe to proceed.”

In addition to the NICU and fetal care center, the proposed tower will also house new advanced cellular and gene therapy and bone marrow units. The gene therapy unit, Calhoun said, will allow children to stay in Hartford to receive more advanced cancer treatment.

“We are now sending children to Boston, but with this new gene therapy unit, those same children will be able to get the care they need right here in Hartford,” said Calhoun, who has been with Connecticut Children’s for five years. “This will entail providing cancer-curing treatments, as well as other advanced cellular gene therapy in trial.”

With the expansion, Connecticut Children’s will be able to perform about 12 bone marrow transplants a year, as opposed to sending those children to neighboring states as well, hospital officials said.

The new tower will also create more space for behavioral health patients, allowing dozens of additional children to get care on a more timely basis, Calhoun said.

“The demand will continue to increase and we have to start planning for that and expand now,” he said.

The pandemic spurred a children’s mental health crisis, and from 2018 to 2021, Connecticut Children’s said it experienced a 127% increase in behavioral health visits from patients who spent more than 72 hours in its emergency room.

Connecticut Children’s earlier this year outlined plans to build a new $9.7 million, 12-bed inpatient medical/psychiatric unit at its main campus on Washington Street. That project is separate from the $280 million expansion plan.

Financing growth

Connecticut Children’s is also adding to its Fairfield County footprint, where it currently has six different locations.

Its flagship 16,000-square-foot outpatient center in Westport is expected to double in size and will soon be providing 20 specialty and ancillary services such as clinical support, occupational therapy and behavioral health, among others, hospital officials said.

Connecticut Children’s said it plans to pay for the $280 million project by utilizing a number of different funding opportunities including philanthropy and structured loans. It didn’t provide further details.

Connecticut Children’s has performed well financially in recent years. In fiscal year 2020, the latest data available through the Office of Health Strategy, the not-for-profit hospital recorded an operating surplus of $27.1 million on $399 million in operating revenue. Its overall surplus was $41.3 million.

Over a five-year period from 2016 to 2020, Connecticut Children’s had a 10.25% overall profit margin, making it one of the best-performing hospitals in Connecticut, OHS data shows.

In Hartford’s Upper Albany, will a critical redevelopment project see shovels in the ground this time?

Kenneth R. Gosselin

HARTFORD — A 2-acre patch of green in the heart of Hartford’s Upper Albany neighborhood could hold the key to the long-held dream of making the area a destination rather than a pass-through route between the suburbs and downtown.

The city’s $15 million development plan for land it owns at the corner of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street includes what could become the long-sought after the visitor attraction: a 2-level, sit-down restaurant with rooftop dining.

The restaurant would help anchor a redevelopment with more storefront space, including an as-yet unnamed national retailer, a sorely-needed bank branch, a community room, and a relocated city health department and WIC offices.

The city’s hope is that the 40,000-square-foot project will spur other neighborhood redevelopment along Albany Avenue, stretching roughly one mile from the intersection of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street east to the Arrowhead development on the edge of downtown. The project would also build on $30 million in recent streetscape improvements.

Neighborhood leaders say they are listening to these latest plans for the corner, but there is still skepticism because they have been here before.

For almost two decades — some say longer — redevelopment on the property, which is near The Artists Collective and a branch of the Hartford Public Library, has gone nowhere. A 2005 consultant’s study recommended creating a “Town Center” that would not only keep residents and businesses in the area but attract visitors.

Last year, the city pulled the plug on a $22.5 million, mixed-use project because it focused too much on housing given other nearby projects. The neighborhood thought was a done deal, leaving them again frustrated.

Marilyn Risi, executive director of Upper Albany Main Street Inc., a community development organization, said there are still too many moving pieces and unknowns about the latest plans, which are still evolving.

“It’s confusing to give your support to a project that is not complete,” Risi said.

City officials say they are still gathering ideas from the neighborhood and the placement of structures could change. But they acknowledge the neighborhood’s past disappointments.

I. Charles Mathews, the city’s director of development services, said the project — simply referred to as “Albany-Woodland” — has the highest priority and city hall is 100% behind it.

“We’ve made a number of presentations of what is going to happen on this site, but at the end of the day, presentations are no longer sufficient. We have to move bulldozers,” Mathews said. “The community has made that clear, and the mayor is committed to that.”

Mathews said he also has encountered the skepticism.

“As some of my friends in the community would say to me, ‘Yeah, I. Charles. I get it. It’s all talk. Where’s the bulldozer?’“ Mathews said. “I think they are waiting to see if we can deliver.”

Even with a renewed push, construction isn’t likely to get underway until the summer or fall of 2023.

‘Pretty much a clean slate’

A development on the site, including a sit-down restaurant in an area known for take-out food, would be a big step in helping turn around an image tarnished by years of drug activity and more recently, gun violence, neighborhood leaders have said.

The project is complex. The plans include selling off a portion on the rear property off Woodland to a separate developer for retail development. The city would essentially act as the developer of the larger portion facing Albany Avenue, including the health department, restaurant and 130 parking spaces.

The development has attracted the strong attention of a restaurant in Stamford, so much so that the restaurant’s name — La Perle Restaurant & Bar — is on the latest set of renderings. The restaurant would still have to sign a development agreement with the city.

Cousins Smith St. Juste and Peter Medoit opened La Perle in 2019, offering an American fusion menu with a Caribbean twist, particularly Haiti, where the restaurateurs were born.

In Hartford’s Upper Albany — though far different from downtown Stamford — they said they see similarities, particularly in the cultural diversity.

“That’s the kind of market that we like to immerse ourselves in, so when that kind of opportunity presents itself, we try to make sure we find a way to get into that and blend ourselves into it,” Medoit said.

La Perle, a name taken from their homeland’s moniker, “The Pearl of the Islands,” would be the partners’ second restaurant.

But St. Juste, La Perle’s executive chef, said he has 15 years experience in the industry, including at hotel chains such as the Marriott and The Westin. Medoit is an architect who worked for a decade in New York and now has his own firm in Greenwich.

“It’s pretty much a clean slate, and Peter will really get to flex his muscles in the design,” St. Juste said. “We want to keep everything true to concept we have in Stamford right now, the color scheme, the aesthetics and everything else.”

The partners say they believe the restaurant will become the destination desired by the neighborhood.

“Our space in Stamford is pretty big,” Medoit said. “So we wanted people to have options and to feel like, ‘Hey, I just want to go out for a drink, or I want to go out for dinner whether it’s for two or it’s 30, we’re able to provide that kind of service to people.”

Looking for the ‘Wow’

The current plans call for the rear portion of the property to be sold to a developer. The tentative developer is Atlanta-based Genesis Development Partners, which focuses on retail and mixed-use projects.

Maranda Walker-Dowell, a principal in the firm, said she became aware of the project when a retail client became interested in the area. She later helped recruit St. Juste and Medoit.

Walker-Dowell, who has a background as a commercial real estate broker and entrepreneur, wouldn’t name her retail client. The firm’s website lists Walgreen’s and Starbucks as among the firm’s clients, with projects primarily in the South.

“As I started working on the project, what was unique to me is the residents’ desire and commitment to make things work here,” Walker-Dowell said, “how involved they are, how emotionally invested they were in the corridor. For our retailers, it really stands out that the neighborhood will support them.”

So far, the city has secured $10 million of about $12 million needed for its part of the project, including $5 million from the Capital Region Development Authority and $5 million from federal COVID-19 relief, city officials say.

Some neighborhood leaders say they’d like to see the city health department on the Woodland Street side and an overall project that makes a bigger statement.

“You want something that when a person is coming, they say, ‘Wow, that building is magnificent,’” said Hortense Ross, owner of Uniforms N Stuff on Albany Avenue and a member of Upper Albany Main Street. “I just don’t get that.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the city’s architect is continuing to refine building designs.

“The precise placement of different uses within that design may change as we go along,” Bronin said. “But what is important and what we have clearly heard from the community. We want a style that is consistent with what exists on Albany Avenue. And that’s our goal.”