With more than 436 upscale apartments planned nearby, East Hartford plans to use part of a $10 million state grant to buy and demolish a decaying, long-blighted shopping plaza on Silver Lane.
Town officials argue that redeveloping the haggard and mostly empty plaza and its roughly 20 acres is a key component to reviving the entire Silver Lane corridor.
“East Hartford is at a crossroads, Silver Lane is at a crossroads — what do we want to be, how do we want to get there?,” Mayor Mike Walsh told this town council this week. “The Silver Lane plaza is a linchpin of Silver Lane.”
The state Bond Commission on Thursday took less than a minute to unanimously approve $10 million in aid to rejuvenate the Silver Lane and the streets that branch off from it.
“The Silver Lane corridor is not so much overbuilt as it is under-demolished,” said Don Poland, a senior planner and managing director at Goman+York, a development consulting firm working with East Hartford.
“That’s kind of a statement of the functional obsolescence of some of the properties,” Poland told the council at a presentation Thursday night. “There needs to be a reduction in the total retail square footage in the corridor.”
The current focus is on the stretch between Pratt & Whitney’s complex and Forbes Lane, an area where once-successful stores, a supermarket, restaurants and a multiplex movie house all fell on bad times in recent decades.
Showcase Cinemas shut down more than 15 years ago, and was demolished in 2019. The J.M. Fields discount department store chain shut down in the late 1970s, wiping out what had been the anchor tenant in the Silver Lane Plaza.
And the Charter Oak Mall has struggled for years, ultimately losing its once-popular Stop & Shop supermarket at the end of last year.
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This week, the the Bond Commission approved $10 million to help acquire the Silver Lane Plaza as well as Applegate Lane, a roughly 52,000-square-foot former nursing home that sits empty just to the west of the plaza’s three buildings.
“All projects will be redeveloped to attract new development, improve pedestrian movement, and support existing projects,” according to the state budget office’s description of the grant.
Developer Avner Krohn’s Jasko Development is partnering with Zelman Real Estate to redevelop the Showcase Cinemas site into more than 360 market-rate apartments. The town is also working with the owners of the Crossroads Plaza to find new retail tenants and most importantly another supermarket to take Stop & Shop’s place.
But Walsh cautioned that the decaying plaza and its massive swath of cracked, crumbling parking spaces would be a significant drag on both of those efforts.
“The plaza has been this way for the better part of 30 years, with an accelerated deterioration over the last six,” Walsh said. “To me these three properties have to be looked at holistically. You need to drive through and drive by the (Silver Lane) plaza before you see the amenity-rich apartments that are planned for the Jasko development.”
The town has a roughly $4.6 million appraisal for the Silver Lane Plaza, which includes the main building as well as two smaller ones on each side of it. Walsh said he wants to reach a deal with the owner, East Hartford Venture LLC, by mid-summer.
Walsh said the town’s plan is to raze the buildings and then seek buyers to redevelop it, possibly with a view toward an entertainment and dining complex. He said the town wouldn’t want the site used exclusively for more housing, but might be receptive to proposals for mixed-use development.