Ignored for years, the dilapidated Hartford Regional Market — the largest food distribution terminal between New York and Boston — is finally headed for sorely needed repairs and possible future redevelopment that could spur new growth.
The Capital Region Development Authority has hired a consultant to evaluate the current conditions at the market, its tenants and their concerns and repairs that quickly need to be made.
The consultant, Goman + York of East Hartford, also will analyze redevelopment alternatives, options for expansion and the outlook for attracting private investment — all of which could boost job growth and economic development in the area.
Goman + York will consider the findings of previous redevelopment studies. In 2014, a $413,500 study commissioned by the state Department of Agriculture envisioned a $100 million revitalization. But the plan went nowhere, some say, because of the state’s fiscal troubles.
R. Michael Goman, a principal of the firm, said Friday the success of a redevelopment plan depends, right from the start, on being financially feasible.
“There’s no point in drawing up a plan that you’d never be able to find the money for,” Goman said.
Controversy erupted earlier this year over the rundown market in Hartford’s South Meadows, a major food distribution hub that is perhaps most well known to the public for its plant sales on spring weekends. In the final hours of the legislative session, the General Assembly decided to transfer ownership of the market from the agriculture department to CRDA.
That move publicly stirred up fears from tenants about the market’s future that have been festering for years under the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Tenants complained they have been operating without leases and the transfer of the 32-acre property from agriculture department to CRDA compounded their worries.
Unable to sign leases, major tenants who employ hundreds of workers held back from investing in their businesses, some of them not being able to expand into space that has stood vacant for years.
Since the outcry from tenants, there have been some month-to-month and short-term leases signed to fill vacant space and assist existing tenants to expand or meet seasonal needs, Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of CRDA, said.
Freimuth said it is likely that much needed repairs, such as paving and better containing stormwater could get underway early this fall. Goman + York will work with the agriculture department to prioritize the repairs.
In July, the State Bond Commission approved $750,000 for immediate repairs and other upgrades for the 70-year-old market. Goman + York is being paid $39,000 for its study.
Looking to future redevelopment, Goman said it is possible that private investment could play a role in helping to offset redevelopment costs. There also may be the potential for combining the historical agriculture focus of the market with other compatible businesses.
Freimuth said the major focus is likely to remain agriculture.
“It is our understanding that this will continue to be the use of the facility, the land and any improvements or expansions,” Freimuth said.
Goman said the market is starting with a strong base of tenants, some of them family-run such as Capitol Sausage & Provisions Inc and Musto Wine Grape Co. The market also is ideally located near two major highways, I-91 and I-84, Goman said.
Goman said he expects to issue a report around Thanksgiving.
The transfer of the market’s ownership to CRDA must still be approved by the State Properties Review Board. The approval is expected, but until it is secured, CRDA cannot push forward with any redevelopment plan.
The day-to-day operations of the market will still be controlled by the agricultural department. But both CRDA and the Office of Policy and Management now have seats on the Connecticut Marketing Authority, which oversees the market’s operations, to connect all state agencies involved in the market.
Freimuth said a redevelopment plan could be adopted by the middle of 2019. CRDA’s board would have to adopt the plan, and if state funding is needed, the legislature would have to weigh in on the plan, too.
“Any major development that will require funding — whether CRDA funds or other sources — will have to run the legislative and administrative gauntlet next year,” Freimuth said.