Thursday
May052011

Historic city building gets new life as first-floor retail space, apartments

By Scott Whipple

NEW BRITAIN — The long-vacant New Britain National Bank building at 51 W. Main St. has found new life.

Anvil Place is a newly renovated 38,500-square-foot mixed-use building. There’s 6,500 square feet available for lease on the ground floor — open space with a mezzanine overlooking what was once a spacious bank lobby.

The building’s new name dates back to the 1800s when city native Elihu Burritt, a blacksmith, had his home on the site. Burritt designed the city seal (an image of a beehive surrounded by busy bees).

The office building, erected in 1927, housed New Britain National Bank. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style with Gothic flourishes, the building is constructed of limestone and red brick. A row of three tall, round-arched windows gives definition to the facade, while a wealth of ornamental detail enriches the surfaces on both the interior and exterior. The last occupant, Fleet Bank, moved out in 1996.

Michael Hickey of Colliers International, the lead commercial real estate agent, and Gerry Amodio, executive director of New Britain’s Downtown District, believe the lobby can be transformed into a restaurant, an art gallery or a museum.

An open house was held Thursday in the lobby to mark the renovation.

The top three floors of Anvil Place house 28 apartments for seniors aged 55 and over. Rent for the one-bedroom apartments ranges from $340 to $735, and for two bedrooms from $900 to $925. Twenty-one of the apartments have been rented.

“In real estate terms, Anvil Place has great bones,” said Bill Millerick, president of the New Britain Chamber of Commerce. “It’s had a number of starts and stops over the years.”

In 2001, a West Hartford developer considered opening a nightclub in the building. However, the $80,000 needed for a sprinkler system proved prohibitive.

Jim Calciano, former building owner, received approval to designate the structure as a national historic landmark.

“This gives Anvil Place an austere presence,” Amodio said. “It also limits what a project manager can do.”

Brad Schide is the project manager with Anvil Place Limited Partnership. He jokingly noted that because the building is a historic landmark, he couldn’t use windows from Home Depot.

But there are tax benefits. The cost of the renovation was $11.2 million. Because Anvil Place is a landmark, federal and state tax credits covered $3.8 million of the expense.

“Schide has done a great job,” Millerick said. “And Colliers really knows the commercial market.”

Millerick believes “any quality project in downtown New Britain will be successful” and cites C-Town and Trinity-on-Main as examples.

Although he lacks figures on the occupancy rate in downtown New Britain, Amodio said the first floors of most commercial buildings are filled.

“We’re 85 percent leased,” he said. “It’s more difficult to fill second and third floors. Still, we’re seeing a high demand for space. Newbrite Plaza (adjacent to downtown) is completely leased.”

“For those of us who have lived and worked in the community, this project has been a long time coming,” said Bill Carroll, business development director for the city. “The building has been in such poor repair over the years. A number of people have tried to turn it into an opportunity. For one reason or another they failed. But this time downtown has really got something special.”

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