Noble Hartford mixed-use development in South Downtown Hartford

Opportunities & Challenges

Noble Gas Inc. sought to fulfill a longstanding vision to build a flagship store in a prominent location. They found a neglected automotive repair shop and refueling station at the corner of Buckingham and Hudson Street in an area of Hartford that was in desperate need of redevelopment. In addition, four smaller, vacant surrounding lots were combined into one parcel to make way for a three-story mixed-use building known as Noble Hartford. The combined corner lot was ideal and provided frontage on multiple streets, giving the building good visibility.

Meeting the developer’s desire to construct a unique gas station at a high-profile location, the City’s goals to offer more housing in the area, local zoning regulations, the objectives of the South Downtown Neighborhood  Revitalization Zone, and the requirements of Hartford’s Historic Commission were challenges that quickly transformed into an ideal merging of purposes that afforded the opportunity to respond to the needs of the neighborhood. This opportunity created a unique building typology that was inspired by the building use and architectural character of the neighborhood.

The necessary space for vehicular circulation around the gas pumps required a large portion of the site to be dedicated site use, which left a narrow sliver of land available for the building. The narrow building form was initially seen as a constraint in the design, but it turned out to be an advantage that necessitated a single-loaded corridor and allowed for the units to face the streets and the corridor to face the pumps.

Highlights

This project is the product of extraordinary private and public entities working together to strengthen the sense of place in South Downtown (SODO). Noble Hartford offers eight apartments — four one-bedroom and four two-bedroom — with street-facing bay windows in the living rooms and Juliet balconies in the bedrooms; an automobile fueling station and electric recharging stations; a market-style convenience store with a fruit and salad bar; bicycle racks and an outdoor corner plaza area. These are much needed amenities that encourage and promote the health, safety, and welfare of the residents living in the neighborhood. Collectively, their existence is a major step toward the development of the southern fringes of downtown Hartford as the city pushes forward in its pedestrian-oriented urban renewal.

Local zoning regulations were a major contributor to the design of this project. The building utilizes storefront windows at the ground floor level and has a high degree of transparency. While the gas pumps and parking area occupy a large portion of the site, careful consideration was given to their placement as it relates to important pedestrian viewsheds. Not only were they placed behind the building, atypical of gas station design, but also side and rear yards were screened with natural buffering.

Funding

This undertaking was financed by approximately $4.5 million in private funds. There was no public subsidy in the financing.

Outcome & Impact

Noble Hartford is an important undertaking that responds to all the goals outlined in the City of Hartford’s Plan of Conservation and Development. The building respects the historic nature of the area; the development is seen as a catalyst that will encourage the conversion of the surface parking lots to more mixed-use development, as well as the implementation of the streetscape between Main and Washington Streets; it added eight residential units to the neighborhoods; it certainly fosters a growing sense of community; and at the City’s direction, can participate in the facilitation of creating 24/7 activity.

Robin Zaleski, Chairman of the South Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, said in a letter to developer Michael Frisbie, “We appreciate your commitment to the historic look and feel of the neighborhood as you and your architect have developed your proposed design. It is our hope that this private development will motivate other development along Hudson and Buckingham Streets and Capitol Avenue.”

This project serves as a source of inspiration for other developers interested in developing surrounding parcels now that there is an anchor in the neighborhood. Renovations have been underway at the State Office Building at the corner of Washington Street and Capitol Avenue and key stakeholders are discussing how the empty lots might be redeveloped.