It Used to be a Hilton
Hartford Connecticut while perhaps not the wealthiest city in the US during the Gilded Age, came close to the ideal of the American City and the American Dream: a city where wealth was created, work was plentiful, public amenities dotted the city landscape and optimism never ran dry.
Now, in the year 2016, the Hartford paradox – one of the nation’s poorest cities surrounded by the nation’s wealthiest state – is flirting with municipal insolvency. It limits the city’s ability to act independently to revive itself. Very recently, the state of Connecticut itself has teetered on the edge of its own structural and fiscal deficits. Suggestions and support for regionalization are popping up, but face the reality of suburban towns outside of Hartford reacting with fear to the notion of hitching its cart to a weakened horse.
The hard charging new city Council and Mayor are working hard to move forward and shed old ways of thinking. Yet, the burden of history weighs heavily on Hartford. Like the successful state capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Hartford has an unsustainable amount of land and property that is not on the real estate rolls. The primary culprit is the state government itself, and also myriad not for profits that do essential work in trying to alleviate the social and demographic problems of the city. Unlike Harrisburg, Hartford does not have all the tools needed to make sure that what land IS taxable is used. Until now.
Land Value Taxation Pilot Program
Luckily, state of Connecticut saw fit to pass a remodeled version of 2013’s LVT pilot program. This law will not sunset until the year 2020, providing Connecticut municipalities with more than enough time to examine, study, and implement LVT on a neighborhood level or citywide.
Originally sponsored by the Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven legislative delegation to the Connecticut General Assembly, Hartford is now seriously considering the introduction of a pilot program and the reaction has been positive. UrbanTools was pleased to meet with the City Council subcommittee charged with examining the merits of various programs that could help the city. In particular, Hartford is looking at a PILOT for a defined part of downtown which is inherently valuable and developable.
A fair and balanced presentation of the issue was published in the Hartford Courant in November, (including UrbanTools Executive Director Josh Vincent), including the objections of a vacant parking lot owner who believes that subsidies were the only way to put up a building in downtown Hartford. (Hartford History has it that the property, which was a Hilton was demolished to avoid taxes back in 1990.)
Happily, the Hartford Courant soon followed up with an editorial supporting the self-evident observation that vast sheets of asphalt do not a healthy or fiscally stable city make, using the colorful headline “Fill Hartford’s Parking Craters with Buildings.” We could not agree more.
We are confident that Hartford will take the time and care to create a program that fits the needs of the city of Hartford as well as potential investors, builders and citizens. We stand to assist every step of the way in helping Hartford become a magnet for capital investment and job creation, rather than expansion of vacancy and blight.