By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — The Claw. Aaargh. Who-ooh! Yeaah.
Those were the audible sounds heard as city officials gathered Thursday to say goodbye to the H.B. Davis building, a symbol of Hartford’s stagnant and scandalous past.
The now infamous building, otherwise known as the “Butt Ugly Building,” is one of the many blighted buildings that will soon be banished from sight and–what city officials hope–memory.
Flanked by city Councilmembers, staff and other interested parties, Mayor Pedro Segarra’s opening statements pronounced the claw crunching ceremony part of an ongoing effort to prepare for Hartford’s future.
“By demolishing this dilapidated building” Segarra said. “We connect the progress of our downtown to our neighborhoods, enhance our arts and heritages venues, and provide better scenery for our residents and visitors. This will be very inviting for future developers.”
One city developer agreed.
“This is yet another important step in the economic development of Hartford and in enhancing the beauty of the City,” said Mark Wolman, Principal of Waterford Group. Wolman is one of the chief developers in championing development in downtown Hartford, including the Six Pillars development that includes the Convention Center and the Sheraton Hotel.
City officials plan to have the building demolished by Nov. 15.
Segarra said his preference for the now vacant 100 acres of land on prime real estate acquired by the city is to see it filled with mixed-use buildings with apartments, shopping centers and businesses.
The former department store building at 1161-63 Main St., now with a decrepit façade and cracked windows, was built in the 1920s. About 10 years ago, Chapel Equities, LLC and Edwards Development, LLC bought the building and has been “sitting on it” for years, officials said.
But recently, the city negotiated a price and the owner apparently agreed to release his grip.
But why now?
Well, the building is the centerpiece in the corruption trial of former Mayor Eddie Perez. In the summer, city developer Joseph Citino testified for the state prosecutors that Perez asked him to “take care” of North End politico, former state Rep. Abraham Giles. The deal, according to Citino, was for Giles to get a $100,000 payment from him to vacate the parking lot adjoining the building, so he could begin a commercial and residential complex. That plan faltered.
After a jury in June found Perez guilty of five felony corruption charges, including extortion and coercion, he resigned. Prosecutors charged Giles with first-degree attempted larceny and first-degree conspiracy to commit larceny.
The city’s redevelopment in August secured a deal with Chapel Equities and Edwards Development for $625, 000, officials said. It cost another $312,000 to demolish it.
The city has been trying to negotiate with the owner for about 10 years, said project developer Mark Swiatowitec.
It’s unclear why the owner agreed to sell the property. But if he didn’t agree, the city was prepared to move to the next phase: eminent domain.
That’s because the building is sitting on prime real estate, the gateway to downtown Hartford and right next to I-84. And it was blocking progress on the city’s plan for the “Downtown North Project,” officials said. The project includes development in the Clay Arsenal neighborhood that abuts the north side of downtown.
Indeed, it was a joyous moment for many who were present on a gray and drizzly day in Hartford, said one onlooker as she watched the orange Manafort claw clutched the mangled steel frames that held dilapidated walls together. The sound of the iron creaking above traffic zooming by was the culmination of a “monumental task.”
Segarra basked in that moment.
“There’s a lot of pessimism in the city,” Segarra said. “This is a way to move toward optimism.”