Downtown’s Front Street, where construction first began in 2008, is now seeing its final piece — apartments and retail space along Arch Street — starting to fall into place.
Construction on the fourth and final phase of Front Street got underway Thursday, a day after the closing on nearly $23 million in financing for the project that will add 53 apartments and nearly 11,000 square feet of shop and restaurant space.
The project — three stories of rental units over street-level retail — is expected to be ready for occupancy in early 2019. The construction follows closely on the August opening of the University of Connecticut’s new downtown campus across Arch Street.
Peter J. Christian, director of development at HB Nitkin Group, Front Street’s developer, said downtown Hartford apartment leasing remains strong, making the developer optimistic about future demand for more rentals.
“We are eager to get going,” Christian said.
Christian said Front Street Lofts, an earlier phase of 121 apartments, is nearly fully leased.
Front Street is part of the larger Adriaen’s Landing project that dates to the late 1990s to provide entertainment options for those attending events at the Connecticut Convention Center and create a neighborhood that would link the riverfront to the rest of downtown.
“This piece will make it go a long way to doing that,” said Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority. “This brings Arch Street into the fold. It’s been more of a service street than a neighborhood street. It will help connect to the Main Street corridor.”
The connection to Main Street and the core of downtown is evolving, but “it’s not quite there yet.”
Since a new wave of apartment construction got underway in 2013 in and around downtown, 881 rentals have been added, with most leased.
Freimuth said he expects another 400 — including the last phase of Front Street — will be ready for occupancy in 2019, a year shaping up as critical for gauging the depth of demand in the downtown market.
“2019 will be test year,” Freimuth said.
Nitkin’s optimistic outlook for more apartments at Front Street comes after what has been a bumpy ride since the developer took over the project in 2006.
The shell of the first phase — the entertainment district — was completed in 2010 but sat empty for two years as the state struggled to emerge from a deep recession. Front Street did land a plum anchor tenant, Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, and the district is now 93 percent leased.
The leasing of the next phase, the 121-unit Front Street Lofts moved more quickly. And UConn, the third phase, opened on time in August.
Financing for the last phase has public funding, including a $5.6 million investment from CRDA and a $1 million Urban Act state grant for environmental cleanup and other site preparation work.
The units will be a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom units.
Christian said it is too early to precisely say what the rents will be, but monthly rents for the studios and one-bedroom units at Front Street Lofts generally range from $1,225 to $1,900, plus parking.
The development will remove parking on land that had been leased from the state and just west of the Arch Street Tavern. Patrons will now be required to park in the garage across the street.
Front Street has turned out differently than first envisioned by developer H. Bradley Nitkin, who co-founded Greenwich-based HB Nitkin Group, with his wife, Helen, but died before the first phase of Front Street was completed.
“It’s satisfying, for sure,” Christian said, to be embarking on the final leg of the project. “We didn’t know how the whole project was going to develop over time. We didn’t know that we would be building a building for the university.”
Initially, the renovated Hartford Times building — the centerpiece of the UConn campus — was supposed to be another phase of housing.