July 31, 2019

CT Construction Digest Wednesday July 31, 2019

Downtown North developer set to walk
By Steven Goode
RMS principal says he’ll pull out of $200 million project if judge won’t lift liens filed by fired developer
A map of the Downtown North parcels. Dunkin’ Donuts Park is located in the center. (City of Hartford ) 
Hartford – The city-approved developer of several parcels of land surrounding Dunkin’ Donuts Park said Tuesday he is prepared to pull out of the more than $200 million redevelopment project unless liens filed by the former developer are lifted so he can begin work immediately.
Randy Salvatore, principal of RMS Companies, testified at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukhawsher, who is considering the city of Hartford’s motion to discharge the liens.
The redevelopment project is key to generating tax revenue that Hartford can use to offset the $4.8 million in debt service it pays each year toward the stadium. It’s also seen as a critical link between downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Salvatore testified that without the removal of the liens he was not willing to invest large amounts of his own money and no bank would finance the first phase of the mixed-use development. He ultimately envisions 800 housing units and 60,000 square feet of retail space — including a grocery store — on the parcels
The removal of the [liens] would unshackle us and allow us to move forward quickly,” Salvatore said.
The city is pressing to remove the liens after a unanimous jury ruling found that the city did not wrongfully terminate Centerplan and DoNo Hartford from construction of the ballpark and from developing the surrounding parcels of land.
Centerplan and DoNo Hartford have appealed the jury’s verdict, which also included an award of $335,000 in damages against the fired developer to the city. The former developers also filed an objection to the city’s motion to have the liens lifted, saying that they should remain in effect until the appeal is heard and ruled on.
Asked by Leslie King, an attorney representing the city, what he would do if the liens are not removed while Centerplan appeals the jury verdict, Salvatore said RMS would not be willing to wait several years for a decision.
“We’re in the business of building, not waiting for court decisions,” he said. “We would walk away.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was also called to testify at the hearing. He said the city has not been able to cover annual debt service payments on the stadium through rent that the Hartford Yard Goats pay and revenue from parking and non-game day events. The city receives all the revenue from parking but must also absorb the cost of police for traffic and crowd control.
Bronin said the original plan for the redevelopment was that revenue from the apartments, retail businesses and eventually a grocery store would offset debt service, but that hasn’t happened yet, and won’t until the liens are lifted and construction can begin.
Until that happens, Bronin said, debt service will continue to be a drain on city finances and hinder efforts to grow the grand list of taxable property and attract more development, such as the grocery store.
“For this effort to be stalled would be a major blow,” he said.
Bronin said he was also concerned that the only developer to respond to the city’s request for proposals for development on the land surrounding the stadium could decide to pull out, setting the project back even further.
“It could be years if we can’t move forward,” he said.
Bronin added that the city’s victory in court should bolster the motion to lift the liens and allow RMS — which has been in discussions with the city for 18 months — to get to work.
“It’s my understanding that the court has the ability to lift the [liens] even as the appeals process moves forward.
Following a recess, Raymond Garcia, an attorney for Centerplan, asked the city to provide parking revenue numbers for the surface lots around the ballpark for four years prior to its construction and three years since.
King told Moukhawsher that the city did not have control of the lots prior to the ballpark construction and has only received revenue for 2017 and 2018 because the team played the entire season on the road in 2016 while the ballpark was being finished.
Moukhawsher continued the hearing to 10 a.m. Thursday to give the city time to provide those numbers to Garcia.

Eversource works to remove or trim dying, dead and hazardous trees in the state
Adam Hushin
BERLIN - Eversource’s increased tree work this summer is a response to address concerns of dying, dead and hazardous trees in the state.
The increased number of trees that must be trimmed or removed altogether is a “rapidly growing problem,” according to Eversource officials.
The energy company’s team of licensed arborists identify weakened or hazardous trees that have been killed or stressed by causes that include ongoing insect infestations and drought.
These at-risk trees can threaten electric reliability for customers.
“With the Connecticut Department of Transportation and local tree wardens around the state, Eversource is addressing the diseased or dead trees that are heightening concern,” Eversource said in a statement.
While local residents might pay little attention to the Eversource teams trimming trees, experts believe this could be a real cause for concern.
“The massive amount of large, standing, dead trees throughout the area presents what could be described as a slow-moving environmental disaster,” said UConn Associate Extension Professor of Forestry, Thomas Worthley.
Eversource say they were able to identify this issue early on, and requested additional funding last year to attempt to combat the problem. The extra funds will be used to hire additional crews to help remove significantly more hazardous trees at a faster rate.
For details on the company’s comprehensive vegetation management program, you can visit Eversource.com.

Contaminated debris from demolished Stonington mill to be removed
Joe Wojtas
Stonington — The town announced Tuesday that work is beginning to remove contaminated debris from the former Connecticut Casting mill site in Pawcatuck.
Town Engineer Scot Deledda said that he expects the majority of the debris, some of which contains lead, PCB and a small amount of asbestos, to be removed within 15 days.
While the town has appropriated $600,000 for the demolition and cleanup of the property, Deledda said the actual cost is still to be determined because the debris has to be sorted and separated and then hauled to landfills as far away as Michigan and Idaho. Each landfill only accepts a certain type of contaminated debris.
Deledda said the town has hired two environmental firms to oversee the sorting of the debris to make sure it goes to the correct landfill, depending on the type of contamination and material. He said this will save the town money, as landfills that accept more hazardous materials and are further away are more costly. For example, he said just sending all the debris to the Idaho landfill would be very expensive.
He said the town will track the costs so there are no surprises at the end.
Deledda said he is happy to see the removal starting. “I know we’re on the right path and we’ll do our best to keep the cost as low as possible,” he said.
He added he also is excited to see what will come of the site once the cleanup is complete.
The abandoned and dilapidated mill began to collapse into the Pawcatuck River after a lightning strike and heavy rain on April 15. That forced the town to quickly hire a firm to tear down the mill before more of it could tumble into the river, which could have created a flooding threat and sent contaminated dust into nearby neighborhoods in Pawcatuck and across the river in Westerly.
The Pawcatuck Fire Department has been spraying water on the pile to keep the dust from spreading since the building was demolished and will continue to do so until the debris is removed, according to Deledda.
The owners of the mill property have refused to address problems on the site and essentially abandoned it, according to town officials. The town already has placed $147,000 in liens on the property and will add the cost of the demolition and cleanup to that. First Selectman Rob Simmons has said the town also will look for reimbursement from its insurance company, as well as state and federal grants, to offset the cost of the work. It is likely the town will end up owning the property.