November 5, 2018
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

'Hartford Encounters' tours give newbies, employers a glimpse into downtown

Photo | contributed
Jackie Mandyck, managing director of the iQuilt Partnership, shows off her organizationís LEGO map of Hartford to Leadership Greater Hartford tourgoers.

For a few hours on a recent brisk, October day, downtown Hartford was the star attraction for about a dozen corporate staffers and professionals, some of them newcomers to the region.

Organized by Leadership Greater Hartford, with backing from the MetroHartford Alliance and the Capital Region Development Authority, the "Hartford Encounters" event led tourgoers on a four-hour, riding-walking tour of six of downtown's best and lesser-known commercial and cultural venues.

The purpose was to show off the city as a vibrant home to employers and their workers at a time when companies are trying to recruit a future workforce, particularly Millennials.

Tourgoers visited Upward Hartford, housed in the Stilts Building, 20 Church St., where a variety of high-tech business startups occupy airy, colorful shared office spaces and amenities.

Next, it was on to Sea Tea Improv in the basement of 15 Asylum St., where three Sea Tea performers acted out a brief sketch, showcasing their improvisational comedy skills in their 80-seat theater.

"Sea Tea Improv loves introducing newcomers to our space,'' said Julia Pistell, its founding member-actor. "There are so many entrenched, outdated beliefs about Hartford — it's important for people to see with their very own eyes all of the great stuff that's going on here."

Then it was off to the offices of iQuilt, a public-private collaboration aimed at increasing downtown's scenic and walkability attributes.

A stop at Coltsville National Park, occupying much of the former Colt gun-manufacturing complex on downtown's southern edge, gave LGH visitors a first-hand glimpse inside and outside the complex's historic buildings.

Nearly all have been converted to house employers, like JCJ Architecture, which showed off to visitors its living "green wall,'' and other design elements aimed at making its open workspaces bright, energy efficient and comfortable.

The final stop was The Spectra Plaza apartments, a former hotel on Constitution Plaza that is one of the city's first and most successful commercial-to-residential conversions. After that, LGH tourists walked across the street to the Spectra Wired Cafe, a popular respite and networking spot for downtown's Millennials.

Leadership Greater Hartford thinks it may be onto something with its tours, which it has offered for years as part of its executive-development program for high-level corporate executives and professionals who were new to the region.

Now, LGH is opening its tours — for a fee — to any corporation, small business, nonprofit or public agency eager to leverage Hartford's commercial, cultural and leisure assets as recruiting tools.

The tours aren't just about sightseeing, officials said. Participants also meet face-to-face with influential figures from business, civic organizations and local government.

"Our hope,'' said LGH CEO Ted Carroll, who rode along, "is that tours such as these will inform area employers about the entertainment, housing and educational opportunities that make the Capital City great and how employees can get involved to make it greater still."

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