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CT Construction Digest Monday October 21, 2019

High-speed ferry service from CT doomed to capsize: Getting There
Jim Cameron
Just when I thought Gov. Ned Lamont was getting it together to launch a thoughtful, considered “take two” on his transportation vision, bam — along comes another nonsensical idea.
It wasn’t enough that he tried to sell us on the zany, physically/fiscally impossible 30-30-30 vision of faster train speeds, now he is (literally) refloating the idea of “high-speed” ferry service from Bridgeport and Stamford to New York City.
Such ferry service wouldn’t take cars off of Interstate 95. Those drivers aren’t going where the ferry does. And if they haven’t already opted for the train, why would they ever take a ferry?
The lure of federal funding is driving the Lamont team to revisit the often studied, always rejected, idea of aquatic commutation. Since 2006, I have written about why ferries will never work here. But let me remind you of the high points:

“High-speed” ferries are not fast. They can only go 29 mph in open waters, half the speed of a Metro-North train. Speeds in excess of 30 mph mean higher operating costs for additional highly skilled crew.
They only carry 149 passengers — compared to 1,000 on a train — and are gas-guzzling polluters (vs. clean electric trains).
A fleet of two such ferries might make two round-trips a day (vs. every 20 minutes for rush-hour trains).
They can’t operate in all weather.
The fares would be at least double those of the train and they’d still need huge subsidies to attract operators.
New York state and federal subsidies of $4.7 million were wasted on a ferry from Yonkers to New York City, which ran for four years. At its peak, it carried just 90 passengers a day, paying $8 each way — subsidized at $50 per ride.
Or consider Glen Cove’s experience with failed ferries on Long Island.
In 2001, that bedroom community just 28 miles from New York City on the Long Island Railroad, began ferry service to the city at fares pretty close to those charged on the train. It failed after a year due to low ridership even though it received a $1 million subsidy from the MTA.
In the “summer of hell” in 2017 when track work at Penn Station delayed trains, the service resumed with two boats each rush hour carrying a total of fewer than 80 passengers. The subsidies for the July-to-September runs totaled more than $1.5 million. That’s a $257 subsidy per passenger per trip.

In 2016, Glen Cove used a federal grant to build a $16.6 million stylish new ferry terminal and dock. But aside from the summer of 2017, the city has been unable to find a ferry operator to resume service.
So guess what: the feds asked for their money back.
Glen Cove had until last January to resume ferry service or refund Washington its money. After an extension, the city council voted 4-3 to hire a new, heavily subsidized ferry operator — not because they liked the proposal, but because the alternative of paying back $16 million was even worse.
So if the Lamont transportation team is so excited about using federal money to study, build or even start a private-public partnership for ferry service from Connecticut, they should consider the consequences. Federal money may seem “free,” but if it locks you into a money-losing, heavily subsidized, under-utilized fast ferry for Fat Cats going to Wall Street, the long-term cost could be huge.

Construction to start soon on $24 million renovation of Palmer Auditorium at Connecticut College
Erica Moser           
New London — Connecticut College on Saturday held a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony for its roughly $24 million renovation of Palmer Auditorium, the first major renovation since the Art Deco building opened in 1939.
College President Katherine Bergeron said that, come next semester, students of music, theater and dance will be relocated to the building that used to be the science center on Gallows Lane. The actual groundbreaking will be this winter, but the college wanted a ceremony while the weather was nice, and construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
Bergeron said the total project cost will be about $24 million, with $10 million from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and $10 million from Nancy Marshall Athey, Class of 1972, and her husband, Preston Athey. The college announced the $20 million funding in April 2018.
The Atheys were at the ceremony Saturday, and Nancy Athey explained that she probably wouldn’t have been there if New London Hall hadn’t been torn down. It was the first old building on campus to undergo a major redo, and with the dedication in 2012, Athey was “so impressed” with what had been done.
Deciding to specifically support the renovation of Palmer Auditorium makes sense for the Atheys, who have long been financial supporters of music. Their 2012 gift of $855,000 enabled the purchase of 16 pianos and led to the official designation of Connecticut College as an All-Steinway School.
Bergeron explained that the plans include bringing daylight into the hall, installing an elevator, adding comfortable seats, improving sight lines and fine-tuning the acoustics. The school has contracted with the New York-based Ennead Architects and is currently going out to bid for construction. The size of the building will remain the same.
Bergeron said part of the renovated building will be named for the Atheys, something like the Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium. She envisions the new Palmer Auditorium as a social convening space equally as important as the Crozier-Williams Student Center, or Cro.
“Spaces like these, like Palmer, welcome the entire community, just like how they welcomed me,” said junior Kiara Rivera, a theater major at Connecticut College.
Another goal is to better connect Palmer Auditorium with the adjacent Cummings Art Center, where the music department is housed.
“Even though the project isn’t touching Cummings Art Center, it feels like it’s touching Cummings Art Center,” department Chair Midge Thomas said. Theater department Chair Ken Prestininzi added that the courtyard between the two will become more of a gathering place after the renovation, rather than just a place where people just pass through, as it is now.
Both Thomas and Prestininzi indicated the renovation will enable better collaboration between departments.
“The renovation is in the spirit of openness, and easy access, and places for these creative encounters,” Prestininzi told The Day. He added, “So much art is created by proximity and sparking off each other.”
During the ceremony, Bergeron pointed to multiple instances of Connecticut College taking the arts seriously.
It was the first college in the country to offer music and art as full-fledged academic majors. It has brought in famed dancer Martha Graham, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. It is the home of David Dorfman Dance, and a biennial symposium on arts and technology.

CRDA approves financing for $100M Pratt St. redevelopment
Joe Cooper
he developers pitching an ambitious $100 million mixed-use project to transform Hartford’s Pratt Street retail corridor into a vibrant 24/7 live, work and play neighborhood, have received backing for $12 million in loans from the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA).
CRDA’s board of directors on Thursday voted unanimously to authorize the state taxpayer-backed loans for the project’s first phase, which will include construction of new apartments and retail space.
The CRDA-approved financing includes a historic credit bridge loan of up to $5.5 million and a traditional construction mortgage of $6.5 million. All financing still must be approved by the State Bond Commission. In all, the first phase budget also includes $14 million in bank financing and $3.8 million in developer equity.
At a cost of $29.8 million, the first phase at 196 Trumbull and 99 Pratt streets aims to convert two former commercial properties into 129 apartment units. Plans call for 91 studios, six one-bedroom and 32 “micro” units, which would be housed by entrepreneurs in Upward Hartford’s newly minted Upward Labs program. It would also include 18,800 square feet of retail space.
The proposal, first presented to CRDA in June, calls for three components: Redevelopment on Pratt and Trumbull streets; repairing and reopening the Talcott Plaza garage; and acquisition and redevelopment of The Lofts at Main and Temple property into more apartments.
Upon completion, the redevelopment would count 375 apartments, including 275 new units, and 45,058 square feet of retail space on Trumbull/Pratt/Main streets. There would also be 1,308 parking spaces for residents and shoppers.
The developers are currently working to finalize plans and obtain financing to purchase The Lofts at Main and Temple apartment property, which has been in foreclosure.
Read more about the $100 million redevelopment plan here

Torrington releases proposal for Franklin Street development
BRUNO MATARAZZO JR
TORRINGTON — The city on Friday released details of a proposed agreement with the developers looking to build a 60-unit apartment complex on Franklin Street that calls for a 15-year tax abatement and the company paying approximately $30,000 in real estate taxes to the city the first year with increases of 3% for the remaining 14 years.
The city is projecting $1.5 million in revenue from the project over 15 years when factoring motor vehicle taxes from residents, an increase in property taxes from abutting properties seeing its value increase and personal property taxes. That number includes $500,000 for the construction of a portion of the Naugatuck River Greenway.
Of the 60 one-, two– and three-bedroom apartments, 80% would be affordable with 12 of those units being for Section 8 housing.
The City Council is expected to discuss the memorandum of understanding with Pennrose on Monday and possibly vote.
The high number of affordable units is necessary, developers have said, is because of the competitiveness for funding from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
The higher number of affordable units, the higher the project scores with the quasi-public authority.
Funding would cover 80% of the construction costs.
The next round of applicants for financing are due next month. If approved, Pennrose hopes to prepare the project for groundbreaking in the fall of 2020, with completion 14 months later.
Mayor Elinor C. Carbone said the city had to be creative in how it packages a deal but also get the biggest return.
Torrington’s population, which hovers in the mid-30,000s, doesn’t have access to federal housing funding like larger municipalities.
“We want to make sure there is a return to us. What is that return? We dictate what that development looks like. We dictate what the developer puts in the Naugatuck River Greenway. So there are ways for us to make sure that there’s a balance and what’s being offered by taxpayer support and what we actually get in return,” Carbone said.
The project, says Mayor Elinor C. Carbone, is a proposal that will develop a vacant piece of property valued at $184,000 that requires more than $2 million in contamination cleanup for residential standards into a property that will eventually be added to the city’s grand list.
Developers said the high amount of affordable rates are needed to make the project successful in receiving funding from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. Without the financing, the project can’t go forward.
The addition of 48 affordable units, including the 12 Section 8 units, is prompting concern by some Board of Education members who worry about the impact it would have to enrollment as the funding levels from the city are continuously lower than what the school board requests.
“We’re at a point in Torrington where we’re told there’s no more money and that we can’t raise the mill rate and we can’t spend any more money on the education for our children,” said school board member Gary Eucalitto.
Eucalitto said an increase in students from the project can’t be supported by the $30,000 a year in property taxes.
According to the proposal, less than 29 students is projected with the project and that some of those students may relocate from other apartments in the city.
“There will be additional costs (to the Board of Education),” Eucalitto said. “There’s no denying it.”
Carbone said there will only be 12 vouchers for Section 8 housing and that other possible contenders for the space include Prime Time House, local veterans, LARC and artists from Five Points Gallery’s Launchpad program.
“This is a real, comprehensive approach to meeting that 20%,” Carbone said.
The property is in the incentive housing overlay district downtown. To meet the city’s incentive housing development threshold, 20% of the apartments must be affordable for a period of at least 30 years.
A majority of the units will be for people earning between $35,000 to $70,000 a year.
For affordable units that are not Section 8 housing, the rent is based on a percentage of the area median income for Litchfield County. The area median income for a two-person household in the county is $80,720.

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