Suburban Hartford apartments sprout along I-91 corridor

BY Gregory Seay

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Bloomfield's newest luxury apartment, Heirloom Flats, recently opened with 215 units and laden with amenities, including a pool, a golf driving simulator and clubhouse. Proximity to the town's center shops and restaurants was a bonus, the developer says.
Housing developer-landlord Roberto Arista struck gold converting a pair of derelict Hartford commercial buildings, 179 Allyn St. downtown and the former Hartford Office Supply in the shadow of the state Capitol, into 175 apartment units now in high demand. Both are close to full occupancy.

Now, Arista, principal of Massachusetts-based Dakota Partners, is bringing his Midas touch to a suburban apartment development underway in Suffield, called Brook Hill Village. The first 36 of 84 units for the estimated $40 million, twin-phase development will be ready for occupancy by summer, Arista said. Dakota Partners is also involved with the $58 million mixed-use "Columbus Commons" development in New Britain that will include 160 residential units.

Both projects are part of a fresh apartment construction wave underway in Greater Hartford that will add over the next 18 months at least 500 new "lifestyle'' apartments in a region in need of replacements for its aging inventory of approximately 40,000 units, according to developer-landlords and realty advisers.

Some of those new units will debut just as a fresh crop of job-seekers, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in tow, begin looking for what is perhaps their first full-time jobs — and their initial places to rent. May, June, July and August tend to be prime time for apartment leasing, landlords say.

In Glastonbury, Continental Properties is nearing completion of the first units of its planned 145-unit Glastonbury Mews, at the corner of Hebron Avenue and House Street. In the last five years, Continental has built nearly 500 apartment units in Rocky Hill and South Windsor.

In Bloomfield, Heirloom Flats, the town's first luxury-apartment development in decades, recently began leasing its first 215 units, located between Bloomfield and Jerome avenues, in the town center. Fairfield developer Andrew Montelli says demand is such that construction of Heirloom's 200-unit second phase could start by yearsend.

In Windsor Locks, the $62 million redevelopment of the former J. R. Montgomery Co. mill into 160 apartments is underway in the shadow of what will be the town's relocated rail station. Leaseup is due to start in summer 2019.

In Windsor, developer-landlord Martin Kenny watched his $23 million, 130-unit Windsor Station Apartments, across the street from the town's train station, fill up eight months after opening doors in March 2017. Kenny says Windsor Station appeals to Millennials and empty-nesters, as well as commuters into Springfield, Mass., to work at MGM Resorts' downtown casino set to open in September.

Kenny, one of downtown Hartford's earliest apartment developers who built Trumbull On The Park and who last spring opened the 230-unit The Tannery in Glastonbury, has another development brewing — The Borden, a $34 million, 150-unit apartment community at 1160-1178 Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield.

Driving suburban apartment development, Kenny and other developers say, is the overwhelming response they have gotten to their newly built, well-appointed units brimming with amenities like large community rooms, pet-grooming stations, walking trails, fitness centers and concierge services such as package and delivery reception, and doorside trash pickup.

Brisk demand cut the Hartford region's apartment vacancy rate to 3.5 percent at the end of 2017 vs. 3.9 percent a year earlier, according to the latest quarterly Connecticut apartment survey from commercial realty brokers-advisers Marcus & Millichap.

In return, apartment landlords have no trouble raising rents — 3 percent on average in the past year, observers say. Yet, Hartford's average effective multifamily monthly rent of $1,315 is far less than Fairfield's average of $2,235, and $1,407 in New Haven, according to the Marcus & Millichap survey.

As new, Class A apartment space fills up, older Class B and C units, many of which pre-date the '80s and '70s, too, are finding it easy to pass along rent hikes, said Eric Pentore, first vice president of Marcus & Millichap's Institutional Property Advisers division.

New inventory

The last major wave of suburban Hartford apartment construction occurred in the 1980s, with the buildup of hundreds of units in Middletown's Westlake District, Pentore said.

This time, the suburban apartment buildup is happening along a stretch of the I-91 corridor, from Rocky Hill northward to the Massachusetts border. That same corridor also is attracting a slew of distribution-warehouse facilities and other employers in search of talent, observers say.

Mattress giant Serta Simmons Bedding LLC, for example, recently relocated production from Agawam-Springfield to a larger plant in Windsor Locks, where many of its more than 240 workers transferred from its Massachusetts facility.

More employers generates more demand for suitable housing.

According to the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which tracks the Census Bureau's monthly survey of homebuilding permits issued in 104 cities and towns, multifamily housing — apartments, condominiums and townhomes — continues to pace housing construction of all types dating back at least the past three years.

Manchester, Vernon and West Hartford, too, are among Hartford suburban communities experiencing an uptick in new apartment construction. For example, the 54-unit 616 New Park apartment complex in West Hartford is set to debut in May.

Walkability was on the minds of Heirloom Flat's developers when they chose to redevelop a Bloomfield tract of previously derelict homes along Tunxis Avenue into apartments, said Montelli, who has built multifamily housing along the Atlantic seaboard, including in Boston, Providence, and Washington D.C.

"That site has some urban aspects to it that we really love,'' he said of Heirloom. "You're within a five-minute walk to seven or eight restaurants. There's a movie theater. The library is within a five-minute walk. There's a CVS and a Rite Aid. There are a lot of conveniences within walking distance.''

Stalls and starts

Not all suburban multifamily development has gone as planned. The long-anticipated construction of at least 100 apartments within the 600-acre, master-planned Great Pond Village development off Day Hill Road in Windsor, announced in Dec. 2010, has yet to break ground.

In New Britain, the planned $35 million conversion of a former brass millworks and appliance factory on Ellis Street into 150 loft condominiums, broached in Oct. 2015 by a New Jersey investor, has been delayed, a city economic-development official said.

Meantime, downtown Hartford continues to undergo conversions of surplus office space into apartments, including the 60-unit "Teacher's Corner'' development at Asylum and High streets. Hartford developer Jose Ramirez is creating eight condominiums atop the former Mayor Mike's Restaurant space at 283 Asylum St. And New York's Girona Ventures and Wonder Works Development and Construction Corp. are doing a $50-million conversion of long-vacant buildings at 101-111 Pearl St. into 258 apartment units.

Kenny, who in April sold his 100-unit Trumbull On The Park and 610-slot parking garage next door to 101-111 Pearl to the Girona-Wonder Works partnership, says his suburban apartments satisfy two important tenant demographics: young Millennials who covet the financial and personal flexibility from renting rather than owning. The other is Baby Boomers at or close to retirement, who no longer relish mowing, raking and snow clearing, he said.

"There are so many people out there who are renters by choice,'' Kenny said.