A Restored Pratt Street
Through improved and restored retail storefronts, renovated residential spaces, and curated programming, Pratt St is being rediscovered.
For decades, downtown Hartford’s Pratt Street seemed to have all the ingredients for revitalization: cool, historic architecture; a central location across from the XL Center; and, more recently, storefronts along a brick-paved street. But vibrancy didn’t follow.
Downtown supporters now say Pratt Street’s time finally has come, thanks largely to the help of a $6 million city grant program financed with pandemic relief funds aimed at filling vacant storefronts, a chronic problem in downtown.
“This time next year will be so different,” David Griggs, chief executive of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region’s chamber of commerce, said at an event this week showcasing 10 tenants — all but one new the street. “Hartford will have its destination.”
As storefront tenants outfit their spaces, a development partnership is nearing the completion of the first phase of converting old office space above storefronts at 99 Pratt St. into nearly 100 apartments, with the first units available beginning in September. The conversion is part of a larger, rental project planned for the street.
“This is not a pipe dream anymore,” Michael Seidenfeld, chief operating officer at Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC of Brooklyn, N.Y., a partner in the project and downtown’s largest commercial landlord, said at this week’s event.
The hope is the combination of apartment dwellers and a broad variety of storefronts — ranging from restaurants and bars to clothing stores and coffee shops paired with a bakery and a tattoo parlor — will attract visitors from within and outside the city, according to Julio Concepción, executive director of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce.
“Why not Pratt Street?” Michael Gerrity, co-owner of Urban Lodge Brewing Co., which plans to open this winter at 88 Pratt St. in the brewery’s first expansion beyond Manchester. “There are so many places that are going to be opening on the street. We are lucky to be part of it.”
Gerrity and his partner Ryan Fagan are taking on a 6,000 square foot space, with 800 square feet on an upper level for events.
“We have a similar set-up in Manchester where we are part of the fabric of downtown,” Gerrity said. “We’ve always said we’d like to be in Hartford.”
Earlier this spring, Pratt Street was officially restricted to pedestrians, part of a years-long effort to bring more events and foot traffic to the street, said Jordon Polon, executive director of the Hartford Business Improvement District.
Gov. Ned Lamont stopped by the recent event and toured some of the storefronts.
“I can tell you it’s bigger than the sum of the parts,” Lamont said. “That’s the strategy. Each of these guys are going to reinforce each other, and Pratt Street is going to become a destination. I believe it.”
At 80 Pratt St., the owners of the Bloom Bake Shop, sisters Alex Pilon and Monica Beaudoin, told Lamont they were expanding their bakery from incubator space at the former Swift factory in the North End. In addition to their baked goods, they will sell coffee and fresh flowers. Custom seating will encourage patrons to linger.
“You can get your coffee and pastry and have a little informal meeting and hang out,” Beaudoin told Lamont.
The city’s grant program, “Hart Lift,” which is being administered by the Hartford Chamber of Commerce, allows property owners who can qualify for grants up to $50 a square foot — up to $150,000 in total. There must be a signed agreement between the property owner and the tenant.
The grants also must be matched 100% downtown and 50% in the neighborhoods. The match must come from the property owner, the business owner or a a combination of the two. Grants must be returned if a business does not ultimately open.
While Pratt Street is a major beneficiary of Hart Lift, the grants have been approved for elsewhere downtown and in city neighborhoods.
At 54 Pratt St. the owners of liqueur distiller Hartford Flavor Co. plan to bring their organic, all-natural spirits to a long-shuttered restaurant space, combining cocktails mixed from their liqueurs and vodkas with a light, farm-to-table menu in early February.
In the back of the restaurant, the couple hopes to create a parlor with an art deco atmosphere, eclectic furniture around a gas fireplace with an antique mantle The area would encourage parlor games — gin rummy and other card and board games — and hanging out.
“This is a thing that is very much a thing in New York and Boston, but there’s none around here,” Lelaneia Dubay, the distillery’s co-owner said.
Her partner and husband Tom Dubay said” “Folks who are living in small apartments, they need an extended living space, so we will be their extended living space.”
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