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 ‘drive’ through town highlighting new businesses.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford continues to be a premier destination for businesses, with new shops, offices, restaurants, and residential development in every corner of town, and Director of Community Development Mark McGovern and Economic Development Specialist Kristen Gorski took the more than 140 guests who attended the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Economic Development Update” luncheon Thursday at Wampanoag Country Club on a virtual drive through each neighborhood, pointing out new and expanded businesses along the way.
The overriding message from both McGovern and Gorski is that West Hartford remains successful and a desirable place to do business.
In addition to new business openings and renovations over the past year, the presentation focused on construction updates, and proposals that have been introduced over the past year as well as what can be expected in the town’s bright future.
“We’re going to take a drive through town …” McGovern said as he kicked off the presentation.
“Anybody who has taken a drive through Corbin’s Corner has seen a lot of redevelopment,” Gorski said.
Seritage Growth Properties has developed the Corbin Collection, with REI, buy buy Baby, and Cost Plus World Market opening in over the past year in the former Sears property, and Shake Shack and Hartford HealthCare’s GoHealth Urgent Care opening in the former Sears Automotive Center. Pokéworks is in the build-out phase and will be opened soon by Sonny Chen, owner of Black Bamboo, Gorski noted.
“What could possibly move into the former Toys R Us space?” town officials wondered when the toy retailer closed its 37,000 square foot storefront last year. “Edge Fitness is the answer,” Gorski said, and build-out is underway following plan approval by the Town Council earlier this year.
Bonchon also opened earlier this year.
Also in Corbin’s Corner, Regency Center, which owns a large portion of the shopping center, has approached the town with plans to update all the façades along the strip that includes Old Navy. “It’s incredible, because it’s 100 percent leased,” McGovern said. “They are looking to reinvest in the property to make it more consistent with the district,” he said, and are also looking at making some updates to the parking lot.
Crossing the street to Westfarms, which skirts the border of West Hartford and Farmington, Gorski noted the opening of Texas de Brazil steakhouse and Dough Life – which sells edible cookie dough. “It’s delicious,” Gorski added.
“We’re really going to drive through town,” McGovern said, so on the way to Elmwood he took a detour up South Main Street and made a “stop” at Rockledge Grille, which opened last summer at Rockledge Golf Course and is operated by Beachland Group, which also own Beachland Tavern and Park Tavern. The entire restaurant was renovated, and a new deck was added by the town. “It really presents one of the best outdoor eating opportunities in town,” McGovern said.
Three new businesses have opened in Corporate Center West: Goldberg Larkin, Fuchs Financial, and law firm Costello, Combes and Brown. Across South Main, the owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, who also owns the building, moved diagonally across the street and renovated the building, rearranging but keeping the existing businesses.
Further down New Britain Avenue, Gorski noted the opening of Refresh Vintage Supply Company – which retails vintage clothing and accessories, Elmwood Barber Shop, and CT Organic Pasta which opened recently in the former Noodie spot and offers freshly-made pastas, sauces, and more, made from fresh and organic ingredients.
Showing a rendering of what the former Tapas building at 1050 New Britain Ave. will look like, there was a round of “yums” from the audience as Gorski said that Frida will be opening in that location, offering authentic Mexican cuisine.
Also on New Britain Avenue, PriceRite supermarket, which has been a tenant for 11 years, recently celebrated a grand re-opening after investing in a signifiant renovation, and the Salvation Army Family Store and Kathy’s Urgent Care are also preparing to open in the Shield Street Plaza.
On Jansen Court, McGovern said, Environmental Systems Corporation, a distributor of building systems like HVAC and security systems, is growing. “They are expanding their space and have put on an addition, out and up,” he said.
New Park Avenue
All 54 residential units in the 616 New Park mixed-use development are leased, McGovern said. “We are very close to being able to learn who they will be signing as the tenant for the commercial space,” he said.
Along the remainder of New Park Avenue, the town is awaiting the receipt of $3.5 million in grant money to improve the streetscape so it appears similar to that in front of 616 New Park. He said he is hopeful that the grant agreement will soon be in place, and that will be followed by a year of design with the goal of completing the work in 2021.
New Park Avenue remains a key area for future development, McGovern said.
At 635 New Park, nonprofit A Hand Up has relocated its warehouse, Fabi Elite Fitness has opened, and Wagging Tails has moved into the former Uberdog space. “We had a doggie daycare move out, we had a doggie daycare move in,” Gorski said, noting that Wagging Tails also includes Connecticut’s first indoor dog park.
Fitness with Jonathan opened last spring at 589 New Park, Gorski said.
Value Office Furniture has relocated from Park Road to 22 Andover, Gorski said, almost doubling their space.
At 183 and 195 Dexter Ave., Plimpton & Hills has purchased the buildings and has moved in, opening a West Hartford location for the heating, plumbing and HVAC supply company.
“This should be new to everyone in the room,” Gorski said. Creative design and signage manufacturer AdamsAhern closed in mid-April on a building at 120 Vanderbilt Ave. and will be relocating operations from Hartford to West Hartford in the next several months. “This has been a vacant property for some time and we are excited to welcome them to this property,” Gorski said.
Remaining in the New Park Avenue corridor, the owner of Uberdog purchased 121 Talcott Rd., and moved the doggie daycare business to that location. Spine by Design has also opened a chiropractic business at 121 Talcott.
Driving down Talcott to South Quaker, McGovern said, you arrive at Talcott Corners, a new rental development of townhomes, with four units per building. Certificates of occupancy have been issued, and people are beginning to move in, he said.
A significant number of businesses have opened on Park Road. Starting with the corner of Park and South Main, Gorski noted the opening of Ignite Fitness and Pho 135, as well as Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine (PTSMC), which already has its corporate headquarters in West Hartford but will be opening a clinic at 135 South Main (on the corner) in just a few weeks.
“We braved the Park Road interchange project,” Gorski said, “driving” east on Park, where she noted the opening of Standish Clock & Watch Shoppe, now a father-son business that includes clock and watch repair, as well as Charming Nails.
When Zest 280 moved its operations to the Pond House, Pachanga Empanadas, which was already renting kitchen space, took over the entire location. Total Fit Studio has just opened.
Continuing east, Knights Cigar Lounge will be opening in the former Petals and Paws location, L.A. Vision Family Eyecare will open later this year in the former Max & Lily’s Closet, and Juliana’s Pizzeria took over the Hot Oven Pizza space, Gorski said.
A.J. Masthay, an artist and designer of graphics for musical groups that include the Grateful Dead, has purchased the long-vacant 252 Park Rd. next to Playhouse on Park and relocated Masthay Studios there from Hartford.
Stay on Park has moved from the Walsh building to the former Green Man Tattoo space, and the former Chengdu is being built out by Hecheng Chen, owner of Ichiro and Icy Rolls in West Hartford (as well as the Chosen 1 in Hartford) to be Mr. Chow Asian Fusion.
“We’re going to take a little detour down Oakwood Avenue,” said Gorski, sharing the news that Tidemark has purchased the former Prasanthi Center at 207 Oakwood Ave. Tidemark is a publisher and printer of books, calendars, and puzzles, Gorski said, and relocated from East Hartford just a day ago.
Second Chance Shop recently opened at the corner of Oakwood and Park, and Taqueria la Grande, which already has a location in New Britain, is preparing to open a second location in the space where Los Adobos recently closed.
At 127 Park, three businesses relocated last spring – Dewright Design, 4D Design and Decorating, and K Enterprise, Gorski said. All three are already active members of the Park Road Business Association and its beatification committee, she said.
Infinite Beauty has relocated from Bloomfield to 100 Park Rd., across from Effie’s Place. And at 74 Park Rd., Collaborative Natural Health Partners, Health is Wealth Juice Bar, and Essential Health have recently opened. “This is really a huge transformation of this building into a health and wellness center,” Gorski said.
Across Park Road, McGovern noted that Ringgold Estates is in the process of building five townhome buildings, a total of 25 units. One of the buildings is complete, and a few units have already been sold, he said.
The property at the corner of Park Road and Prospect has been discussed for years, including at many past economic development updates, McGovern said. It’s moving forward now, with the approval by the Town Council earlier this year of amendments to the project for the development by a team led by Marty Kenny and Alan Lazowski of the 294-unit apartment complex, One Park. “They’re working on getting their historic tax credit,” McGovern said, and he hopes to see permit applications soon.
Blue Back Square
En route to Blue Back Square, Gorski “drove” up Prospect to Farmington Avenue, pausing at 527 Prospect where law firm Walsh Woodard is hoping to add to their office space, and at the new location for Max & Lily’s Closet in the former U-Haul space.
Restorative Counseling and Wellness, which opened March 1 at 779 Farmington Ave., offers a variety of therapy services, including art and pet therapy, Gorski said.
Arriving at Blue Back Square, several news businesses have opened, including Deadbolt and Skeleton Key. Spaces, the third collaborative workspace to be located in West Hartford, opened last month in the former REI store and a diverse assortment of businesses are already utilizing the facility.
The opening of Trollbeads, which is relocating from Westfarms, is expected during May, Gorski said, Penwood Real Estate Investment Management has opened in the Lexicon Building, and Kennedy’s Barber Club has moved into a new space. On the opposite side of Memorial Road, CycleBar, Poké-Man, SPoT Coffee, and Tempurpedic have all recently opened.
Balos, serving authentic Greek cuisine, has opened in the former Besito location, Gorski said. And while West Hartford’s movie theater, Cinépolis, is temporarily closed, it will be back open soon. “They are doing a multi-million dollar renovation of the space, and will offer a bar, food, and wait service,” she said, showing a rendering on the screen.
“So what’s new in The Center?”
Beginning at 21 South Main, Gorski noted the opening of Berkley Healthcare Financial Lines in the Town Center building and Trifecta Body BarrePilates at 10 North Main.
Toy Chest will soon be moving next door to its current location, Gorski said, Barb’s Pizza has recently opened in the Brace Road parking lot, and Larsen Ace Hardware has expanded its footprint into a formerly vacant space next door.
Also on Farmington Avenue, Gorski highlighted the long-awaited opening of Donut Crazy, The Fix IV Therapy (where “you can fulfill all your hydration needs), the renovation/expansion of Liberty Travel, and “the great renovation, including the addition of a bar,” at Luna Pizza.
On LaSalle Road, Freshii is beginning build-out at the former Engel and Voeklers space, and will offer fresh salads and soups when it opens this summer. Union Kitchen, owned by Massachusetts-based Bean Restaurant Group, has opened in the former Noble&Co. space, and Bean has also purchased McLadden’s, Gorski said.
Also on LaSalle, Harvest Wine Bar and Song Restaurant have recently opened. Max Burger just completed a a major renovation of their patio, said Gorski, adding 34 seats.
On Ellsworth, Beliza recently opened in the former Nelson Salon space at 8 Ellsworth, and on the second and third floor, eight new residential rental units are now available at 8 Pegasus, following a renovation of the building by owner Robert Udolf, whose offices are on the fourth floor. “It’s a great mix of uses for the Center,” McGovern said.
“Do not take a left on Arapahoe,” McGovern said, getting some laughs when he said that we don’t want cars cutting through our neighborhoods. Traveling back up LaSalle instead, he “turned” left on Farmington Avenue and highlighted 1027 Farmington Ave., recently purchased by Attorney Richard Witt and undergoing renovation to become his office space. Arlington Place, which will feature eight luxury condos, a mix of townhomes and flats, has a model open and should be ready for sale in the next few weeks with occupancy available this summer.
McGovern headed to Bishops Corner via Mountain Road, where he noted that the 15-unit open space development Gledhill Estates is under construction. The project was stalled awaiting approval by FEMA of floodplain amendments, but that is nearly complete and construction will be “ramping up,” he said, with the hope of having the development completed in 2020.
In Bishops Corner itself, Target is working on build-out of the former Walmart Neighborhood Market, with “anticipated opening in the summer of 2019,” Gorski said. Float 41, a flotation therapy spa, will open later this year, and Poké City – our third poké concept – will be opened by the owner of Poké-Man. New office tenants include Ketamine of Greater Boston which offers therapy for depression and Regional Cancer Center Association, Gorski said, and there has been a renovation of Pinnacle Behavioral Health.
Fellowship Housing, a nonprofit that constructed more than 20 buildings of senior housing across from the Bishops Corner Library between 1970 and 1990, is “in need of redevelopment,” McGovern said. Plans are about to be submitted to the Design Review Advisory Commission (DRAC) followed by an application to the Town Council next month. The project will expand the development from 214 to 308 total units. “It’s a great opportunity for seniors, and we need more senior housing in town,” said McGovern, noting that there is currently a waiting list.
“This is the last time we will show Steele Road,” said McGovern, pointing to a slide of the oft-discussed 243 Steele Road. The seventh and final building, which was completely leased before completion, is brining the total number of units to 190.
“Hey Kristen, let’s anticipate a question,” McGovern said, reading the next slide. “What’s going on with Ideanomics?”
Ideanomics purchased the former UConn West Hartford campus in October, and intend to transform it into Fintech Village, the company’s global headquarters for technology and innovation. Plans have not yet been submitted, but McGovern said that the intention is for the campus to be multi-use, including office space, R&D space, and even some housing for those who work at the campus.
Environmental remediation is in progress, and McGovern said that he hopes to see an application for rezoning, in the next month or so. “We are looking forward the next step,” he said, and confirmed that the ballfields will remain on the property.
Plan of Conservation and Development
Development of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) is in progress, McGovern said. The first phase, public outreach, has been completed for the 10-year strategic plan which serves as a guideline for zoning. More than 1,600 people have participated in the process thus far.
As part of the POCD development, the town’s consultant, Fitzgerald and Halliday, undertook a retail analysis of the town’s six commercial centers. “They were surprised at how vibrant all of our districts were,” McGovern said. “We weren’t.”
Issues raised included parking, signage, and pedestrian accessibility in getting to and around commercial districts. “We have to get people out of of their cars and into the doors,” McGovern said.
As part of an online survey, which was completed by about 1,200 people, more than 60 percent indicated that they were pro-growth, but there was also concern with “commercial creep,” McGovern said. Experiential retail is growing as a trend, and the town will continue to work on its zoning to allow for food, drink, and games to be combined.
“Parking. Parking. Parking,” McGovern said. “Parking is going to dominate discussion of the latest development.”
The POCD will be drafted by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, and will be posted again for public input, McGovern said. The goal is to have the document completed this summer.
McGovern and Gorski also responded to a variety of audience questions, including a perennial question about an outdoor dog park. That question was turned over to Town Manger Matt Hart, who responded, “We’re actively working on one in the New Park area.” Hart said he hopes that an announcement can be made in late summer or early fall.
The final question was why people and businesses want to come to West Hartford.
“We are a product of our own success,” Gorski responded. “It pays to be in business in West Hartford.”
“We are a premier destination,” added McGovern.
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