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Economic Development ‘Tour’ Through West Hartford Highlights Chamber Luncheon

Community Development Director Mark McGovern (left) and Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski give the town's annual Economic Development Update at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on April 26, 2018. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Director of Community Development Mark McGovern and Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski teamed up for the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Development Update on Thursday, taking the audience on a tour through town.

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s future is bright – with new shops, offices, restaurants, and residential development that have recently opened and with more on the horizon – was the message delivered Thursday by Director of Community Development Mark McGovern and Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski in a presentation to more than 100 guests at the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Economic Development Update” luncheon at Wampanoag Country Club.

The economic development update is like a “Business Buzz” column on a monumental scale, covering the past year, and McGovern and Gorski provided a tour through West Hartford focused on “new businesses, new developments, and new opportunities.”

“We’re going to take a drive through town,” McGovern said, as he kicked off the presentation.

Corbin’s Corner

“I’m sure everyone has seen the news of late. The Corbin Collection is opening presently, as we speak,” McGovern said. Saks OFF 5th opened last week, REI opened on Tuesday, and Shake Shack opens on Friday, he said. “Shake Shack opens tomorrow. I know a lot of people are really excited about that.”

Other stores, buy buy Baby and Cost Plus World Market will be opening this summer, McGovern said. There are other spaces to rent as well, he said.

Gorski noted that the rest of Corbin’s Corner is also home to new businesses like PM Pediatrics, The Tile Shop, and The Simple Greek. National chain Dress Barn has been rebranded as Roz and Ali, she added.

Leaving Corbin’s Corner and heading east on New Britain Avenue, McGovern said there is a proposed development at the intersection of Berkshire Road. “This is a brand new application from Berkshire West,” McGovern said, for six lots on which there is currently a single-family home. The zoning is single-family, and a housing subdivision that was approved for the site several years ago was never constructed. A zoning change would be needed for the new development proposed by 47 Pratt Street LLC for 26 apartments in three, two-story buildings.

Elmwood

Proposed changes for Elmwood include the relocation this summer of Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins, currently on the southwest corner of New Britain Avenue and South Main Street, diagonally across the street to the northeast corner of that intersection, Gorski said. The current businesses in that shopping plaza will remain, with Jake’s Wayback Burger moving to the rear of the plaza and South Main Wine & Spirits reducing its footprint.

Further down into Elmwood Center, the Asian fusion restaurant Nummy is set to open next month in the space that New Asia vacated when it moved across the street. The Hungry Crab will also be opening. HB Seafood has already transformed into Noodie, Gorski said.

At 902 South Quaker, Futures Inc. purchased one of West Hartford’s oldest buildings, a property constructed in 1865, Gorski said. The organization provides educational services to individuals with disabilities and moved its corporate headquarters to West Hartford from Middletown.

“One of the questions I get all the time is ‘What is happening with Bally’s?'” McGovern said. That property, which has been vacant for years, is being renovated for self storage.

New Park Avenue

“We’re working hard to secure funding to rebuild the street, really from Talcott down to New Britain Avenue,” McGovern said. “We really want to see traffic slowed, more pedestrian amenities, and the opportunities for more investments.”

The Hartford Line railroad service will open in June, and West Hartford is slated to get a station at some point, although the funding has been delayed.

The New Park corridor has been nominated by the state to the U.S. Department of Treasury as an “Opportunity Zone,” which will allow investors tax advantages for certain types of investment in that zone, including transit-oriented development.

McGovern noted that 616 New Park, a mixed-use development andWest Hartford’s first transit-oriented development project, is just weeks away from receiving its certificates of occupancy.

New Park Avenue has also seen new businesses like Revival Home, and VMart International Market has “really transformed this property” that had been a manufacturer and distributor. “It’s been a long build-out but ownership confirmed last week that they will open this summer,” Gorski said.

Another highlight of New Park Avenue highlighted by Gorski included 485 New Park, where Amber Jones Photography has just expanded her studio to double the space and bring DirectLine Media in house. New Park Brewing also recently opened in that building.

Manufacturer EB Carports recently relocated to Reed Avenue from North Carolina. “We are  really excited to have new industry to add to our portfolio of businesses,” Gorski said.

Uberdog purchased the building and will be moving to 121 Talcott Rd., Gorski said, and Jitae Taekwondo will also open in that building.

McGovern noted that two new buildings are being constructed at the corner of Talcott Road and South Quaker. The complex of eight townhomes will be called Talcott Corners.

Park Road

McGovern highlighted Ringgold Estates, a town development by Ringgold Crescent Partners, which was approved recently. “They are looking to start construction next month,” McGovern said.

At 74 Park Rd. there’s a brand new business, “so new in fact that we had to revise our presentation yesterday,” Gorski said. Essential Health, which includes Talcott Family Chiropractic as well as TFC Health Foods, will rebrand and move to West Hartford from Farmington sometime this year.

Zaytoon’s Bistro, Zero Degree, Hair Gods, Serenity Hair Salon, White Rabbit Antiques, Farmers Insurance, European Tailors, and Lucky 7 Tattoo are all all either new businesses, or businesses that are new to Park Road, Gorski said.

Gorski also highlighted the marketing that Journey Communications has been doing for the Home Design District – which is featured in a commercial on NBC Connecticut – and Park Road Association which had a gift guide for the holidays and has launched a series of small business workshops.

Blue Back Square

“Yes, the hotel is open. I’ve had this slide for a few years,” McGovern said, pointing at an image of the Delamar West Hartford Hotel on the screen. Included in the hotel is ARTISAN, Connecticut Custom Clothing, and Lane & Lenge Florists.

Gorski noted the openings of Cook and the Bear and Flora in the past year, and said that Skeleton Key (escape room) and Deadbolt (restaurant) are coming soon. “Both I’ve been told should open by Memorial Day weekend for some food and fun,” she said.

SPoT Coffee opened last week, and PokeWorld, featuring fresh seafood bowls, will open right next door on Memorial Road.

There has been “lots of shifting of businesses” in Blue Back Square, Gorski said, and Tempurpedic will be opening Memorial Day weekend in the Memorial Road space vacated by NoRA Cupcake as well as Kennedy’s Barber Club, which is relocating next to INDIA on Memorial Road. The Green Teahouse has moved, and T-Mobile has taken its former space on Isham.

Gorski also noted the very recent news that Greek restaurant Balos Estiatorio, owned and operated by Simple Greek and Chips Family Restaurant owner George Chatzopoulos, will take over the vacant Besito space on South Main Street.

Many West Hartford restaurants now have outdoor dining, and McGovern challenged the audience to guess the total number of seats. Guesses ranged from 125 to 400, but the answer is 1,434. “And we have another 100 or so in the pipeline,” McGovern said, adding that he was surprised as well when he realized how large the number is.

Before heading into the Center, the “tour” took a turn down South Main Street, where Beachland Group is renovating the restaurant at Rockledge Golf Club. The town is completing work on the renovated deck, and Gorski said that Rockledge Tavern is slated to open Memorial Day weekend, said Gorski.

North Atlantic Business Advisors recently opened, and work is also beginning on Pho 135, a Vietnamese restaurant which will open at 135 South Main St., Gorski said.

The Center

Along Farmington Avenue, new businesses in the past year included Milkcraft and Vaughan’s Pies & Pints, Gorski said. Workstation for Hair will be opening soon in the Farmington Avenue parking lot, and The Fix, an IV infusion salon, will open in the former Connecticut Custom Clothiers spot on upper Farmington Avenue.

Across Farmington Avenue, Zohara opened last summer, and the long-anticipated Donut Crazy has been engaged in a lengthy build-out phase. “I am told that they will open this summer,” Gorski said.

Prai Kitchen, Icy Rolls, and Mission Escape Games have opened in the past year on LaSalle Road, Gorski said. “The walls came down” in front of Harvest Wine Bar, which will open next month, and Song will open in the next couple of months, she said.

There is also residential development taking place west of the Center, at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Arlington Road where a former home and doctor’s office is being replaced by eight condominiums. The project should be completed in the next year or so, he said.

“It was really difficult to develop property in the Center because of our former zoning,” McGovern said, noting that the vision statement developed by a working group and the change to “incentive zoning” should have an impact.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to get an application soon. We haven’t gotten one yet,” McGovern said.

Bishops Corner

The new building at 312 North Main St., constructed on a formerly vacant wooded lot by Companions for Living, is “a good example of how commercial development should transition to neighborhoods.”

Ocho Cafe and GoHealth are two new businesses in Bishops Corner, and SDSS Martial Arts will soon open. “West Hartford was really excited to ‘welcome back Moe’s,'” Gorski added.

East of Bishops Corner, a seventh building was recently approved for 243 Steele Road, McGovern said. West of Bishops Corner, the model home is now under construction for Gledhill Estates.

UConn

“Okay, what about UConn? I haven’t changed this slide in about four years,” McGovern said.

Following a community engagement process that included survey responses from more than 2,700 people and forums attended by more than 300, a vision statement was approved for the property. “Similar to the Center, the message we heard was ‘not too big,'” McGovern said.

“I’m hoping that next year that slide will be different and we’ll have development applications,” he said.

In response to audience questions, McGovern said that while there are no plans for a dog park on the UConn property, “A dog park is a possible amenity for that site.”

The Children’s Museum relocating to the UConn site is a possibility, McGovern said in response to a question, but would need to partner with a private developer that would purchase the parcel from UConn.

On an overall basis, the town has attracted a greater variety of businesses in the past year, McGovern said, as well as a greater variety of housing.

“All the districts are doing well,” he said, although there remain some tough properties.

“Overall we are very pleased with the state of economic development in the Town of West Hartford,” McGovern said, echoing what he has said in the past that this is a “great place to be a community development officer.”

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