Urban blight is a pervasive problem in many cities. Planners, developers, and municipal governments have launched many successful efforts to revitalize vacant or brownfield properties through tax incentives and new construction developments. However, some cities can’t afford to upgrade or attract interest from business or residents to revitalize every distressed property. In that case, it’s often better to demolish a building rather than leave it vacant. As the New York Times reported:
Large-scale destruction is well known in Detroit, but it is also underway in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others at a total cost of more than $250 million. Officials are tearing down tens of thousands of vacant buildings, many habitable, as they seek to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and blight, and increase environmental sustainability.
The Capitol West Building: From Architectural Gem to Urban Blight
Hartford, Connecticut found itself in exactly that situation. Hartford is experiencing an economic revival, but previous decades of population loss and economic hardship left a number of buildings vacant and neglected. One such building in the City, known as Capitol West, was originally a two-story car dealership showroom with rooftop parking. Built in 1947, it was architecturally designed to conform to its hillside terrain of solid rock, making it possible to enter any of the three levels directly from one of the bordering streets. In 1974, five stories were added to the building, making it a seven-story, 180,000 square-foot structure with a brick façade.
The vacant Capitol West building was a highly visible eyesore in downtown Hartford.
Twenty five years later, Capitol West was vacant. In 2010, the edifice was deteriorating, the building had been vandalized, and its narrow vertical windows that previously suggested a modernist design had mostly been removed and boarded up with plywood. The building was located immediately adjacent to Interstate 84, and its dilapidated condition was a highly visible eyesore to commuters entering the downtown area. Developer attempts to rejuvenate the property fell short, and Hartford’s Mayor Pedro E. Segarra and The Hartford’s President and CEO Liam E. McGee made concerted efforts to address the situation. The city decided that demolishing the building would provide a cost-effective and creative opportunity to further redevelop the area. The Hartford contributed $2 million to help the City purchase and raze the building.
Building Demolition and Site Revitalization
The City of Hartford chose Woodard & Curran to lead their effort to remove the blighted Capitol West office building and improve the site for future development. The Hartford now maintains the property as a public green space while the City works to determine the best use for the property.
Woodard & Curran’s contributions supported the completion of this complex initiative through the orchestration and engagement of a wide range of public/private stakeholder, contractor, and consultant efforts. In particular, the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association was an essential partner in gathering widespread support for the building removal.
The project was successfully completed in July 2012. The result is a pocket park that affords a hillside view of the city. Art installations have also been proposed for the site.
“Neighborhood revitalization and blight elimination are among my top priorities,” said Mayor Segarra about the project at its inception. “Capitol West has been an eyesore and a barrier between Asylum Hill and downtown for more than ten years, so its removal will create an inviting gateway between the two neighborhoods.”
The completed Asylum Hill park.