If you were anywhere near downtown New Britain over the last few years, you couldn’t help but notice the many changes taking place. Clearly there’s the state’s huge investment in CTfastrak, the new bus rapid transit system, but there’s also the initiation of a Complete Streets plan to make the streets more accessible for everyone, not just cars; an expansion of Central Connecticut State University and a Bike Connectivity Plan.
But what good are all of these if there are no people living here to take advantage of them?
A proposed sweep of Community Investment Act (CIA) funds threatens several valuable programs, including one aimed at bringing more housing downtown. This program is enabling me to build apartments that can bring more vitality to downtown New Britain, not to mention additional revenue to local stores and businesses.
A brief recap: under the CIA, funds are collected through a recording fee on all real estate transactions, then distributed in support of 1) preserving farmland, 2) protecting open spaces, 3) historic preservation and 4) creating affordable housing.
As a downtown building owner, I became aware of the impact these funds can have when I participated in Come Home to Downtown, a program offered by Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC) through a contract with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) using CIA funds.
While I’ve redeveloped other buildings with housing over first floor commercial space, I did not think it was financially possible at 99 West Main Street, even though housing would be ideal for a building so close to the CTfastrak station.
The Come Home to Downtown team showed me build-out options (including how I could add two additional apartments) along with realistic financing models that described the financing gap between what it would cost to renovate the building and what could be financed through a traditional loan (which is typical when renovating buildings of this age).
They then provided financing options, including the use of historic rehabilitation tax credits, which was a game-changer in making the rehabilitation affordable. Meanwhile, the city benefited from guidance on how to manage the downtown while the Come Home to Downtown team engaged the community, educating them about the program and seeking input on the demand for housing downtown.
Because of this CIA-funded program, I expect to convert the upper floors of 99 West Main – which sat mostly vacant for nearly five years – into 16 apartments within the next 24 months. This is not only good for me as a developer, but for the city and state as new residents visit local shops and restaurants, and take advantage of amenities like CTfastrak.
A study by economist Donovan Rypkema cited in the Come Home Downtown report calculated that every new unit of downtown housing spent $20,000-$39,000 in the downtown annually. Imagine the impact on our downtowns if other building owners could take advantage of the Come Home to Downtown program like I did!
Yet, the state’s proposed sweep of Community Investment Act funds threatens to stunt the revitalization of downtowns like New Britain – a clear step backward after all the progress we’ve made so far. I hope the successful redevelopment of my building will inspire other property owners and everyone who wants to see our downtowns flourish to support this valuable program by opposing any cuts to the Community Investment Act.
Avner S. Krohn is president of Jasko Development and owner of 99 West Main Street, New Britain.