Wednesday, July 18, 2018

XL Center area development needs discussion — not eminent domain threat

Photo from CT Viewpoints, where this first appeared on April 12.

It seems that Sen. Len Fasano and his Republican caucus prevented the Capitol Region Development Authority from pulling a fast one last month. Word surfaced on Tuesday the 22nd (May) that the CRDA planned to initiate action at its meeting later that week to seize by eminent domain the section of the XL Center owned by Northland Investment Corp.  A letter from Fasano and other Senate Republicans led the CRDA to remove the proposal from its agenda.

The CRDA had already indicated that it would use state bonding money intended for arena renovations to acquire the facility’s atrium and office space, known as the Trumbull Block. The decision to invoke eminent domain while discussions on the purchase were still underway suggests that application of this extraordinary state power was intended not as a last resort but as a negotiating position.

Such casual use of eminent domain shows how little some leaders have learned in the state that was home to the outrage of Kelo v. New London. That case, which destroyed a close-knit neighborhood for the supposed benefit of a large corporation, made the misuse of eminent domain a national scandal –yet here in Connecticut, the abuse of this dangerous power continues.

It’s worth remembering that Northland Investment became involved with the Hartford civic center as part of a public-private partnership. Northland held up its side of the bargain, constructing and operating the 36- story Hartford 21 tower —the tallest residential facility between New York and Boston— on the southeast corner of the civic center block.

Such housing is exactly what Hartford needs. Until a critical mass of residents is achieved, the services people require for proper downtown living —not just restaurants and clubs, but markets and stores— cannot be sustained.  Instead of attracting visitors for an evening, the city must appeal to a permanent population.

Bringing jobs back downtown by making Hartford business-friendly should be a priority, but the threat aimed at Northland Investment shows that municipal leaders still don’t get it. Heavy-handed attempts to coerce corporations —such as this eminent domain threat–will only scare off potential investors.

And the goal of this particular attempt at coercion is questionable at best. It may be hard for Gov. Dannel Malloy and the political establishment to imagine Hartford without a downtown arena, but they ought to make the effort.

Mixed-use development at the site of the XL Center —expanding the residential housing begun with Hartford 21, providing retail to serve the new population, and opening access through the block to the transit center at Union Station — would do much more for our capitol city than further spending on a failed arena, and strong-arm tactics applied in a hopeless cause.

Future development of the XL Center site, which sits at the very heart of Hartford, is a critical decision that ought to have input from the entire community and all interested parties. The CRDA could do the city and state a favor by initiating that discussion before spending another dime on renovations or on lawsuits.

State Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, is a candidate for lieutenant governor.

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