Nov. 10--The planned Outlet Shoppes at Rentschler Field will not be built, a surprised and disappointed Mayor Marcia Leclerc told the Courant Friday afternoon.
"It's certainly discouraging," Leclerc said, "but I'm glad it's happening now and not halfway through the project."
Officials had just gathered with golden shovels last month to break ground on the planned 282,000-square-foot project. The shops were to open in November 2018. But Leclerc said the developer, Horizon Group Properties, lacked the finances for the work.
United Technologies Corp., which owns the land where the shops were to be built, released a statement that also mentioned financial problems.
"We regret that Horizon Group Properties appears to have suspended its outlet center project due to financing issues," the company said. "We are disappointed for the town of East Hartford, which has been a strong partner and wonderful home to thousands of UTC and Pratt & Whitney employees for decades."
Town council Minority Leader Esther Clarke said she was shocked by the news.
"I can't believe that it's true," Clarke said. "I hope that they can solve their financial problems and come back and do it."
A representative of Horizon could not be reached immediately.
Covering about 40 acres, the center was to include 70 shops, along with restaurants, a central courtyard with a fireplace and a children's play area. Horizon representatives said there was a potential to expand the shopping center by 140,000 square feet, adding 30 to 35 stores. It was to be the first retail development on the 650-acre Rentschler Field property since Cabela's opened in 2007. Horizon and property owner United Technologies signed an agreement paving the way for the outlet center in August. The initial phase was expected to cost $100 million, and the project promised to create 1,200 construction jobs and 1,300 permanent jobs.
The town council had unanimously approved a tax break of up to $16.86 million for the Rentschler shops, breaks that would come from deferring the increase in the real estate assessment on the property, or the difference between the value of the vacant land and the value of the development. The town still expected to see about $9 million in real estate taxes over the 10 years and an additional $2 million over the same period through personal property tax revenue from each of the 70 retailers. The state had invested $12 million for road, utility and other infrastructure construction at the site.
"I thought that they had everything teed up," a surprised Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, said.
Larson said a Hartford restaurateur recently told him that he was thinking about opening a restaurant in the development.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I was looking forward to this thing taking off."
Trying to find a bright side on Friday, Leclerc noted that the overall retail environment has been dismal, with outlet shops one of the few bright spots.
"I have to believe that maybe it's all for the best," she said. "Maybe there's a better use of the land. Maybe they just weren't the right developers with the right amount of capacity to do this."
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