CRDA: No eminent domain in East Hartford

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Thu., Jan. 17, 2013
CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth answers questions from the Town Council at its Jan. 15 meeting. Photos by Evan Pajer.
CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth answers questions from the Town Council at its Jan. 15 meeting. Photos by Evan Pajer.

On Jan. 15, representatives from the Connecticut Regional Development Authority met with East Hartford's Town Council to answer questions about the authority's purpose and what powers it had in the town of East Hartford. The CRDA was founded last year under a bill in the state legislature known as SB22.

CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth said that CRDA is tasked with improving tourism in the city of Hartford and constructing 3,000 new housing units in the city, a third of which were constructed under a predecessor to the organization. The authority also oversees the operation and management of three major state attractions - the Connecticut Convention Center, XL Center and Rentschler Field. Freimuth said the CRDA is currently authorized to operate in an area that is entirely within the city of Hartford.

"The powers of CRDA, including eminent domain, are in the city of Hartford and nowhere else," Freimuth said. Freimuth said that CRDA's reach in East Hartford extends only to the management of the Rentschler Field complex. "Rentschler Field is the reason the mayor of East Hartford is on the board of CRDA," Freimuth said.

Freimuth said the CRDA is also allowed to provide project assistance in a "regional area" consisting of the seven towns that share borders with Hartford - including East Hartford - if the town's legislature approves. "It's an attempt to combine some regional economies," Freimuth said. "How we can link these together is the focus of CRDA."

Freimuth used Founder's Plaza as an example of how CRDA could help the town. "Repositioning Founder's Plaza should be a priority for East Hartford. There's a lot of opportunity in there," he said. Freimuth said that money from CRDA could also potentially be used to develop housing in East Hartford. "I would like to be able to use that $60 million in East Hartford. Some properties could use a shot in the arm," Freimuth said.

Town Council Chair Rich Kehoe agreed with the idea of potentially re-developing the plaza. "I would like to see that kind of progress made on our side of the river, specifically in Founder's Plaza. It's been a 9 to 5 area for too long and should be a 24/7 area," he said.

Several of East Hartford's representatives in the state legislature, including state Sen. Gary LeBeau (D-3), state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-9), and state Rep. Timothy Larson (D-11), attended the meeting to show their support for CRDA. Rojas was one of the co-sponsors of SB22, along with current House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D-88).

"I see it as a positive bill and a very positive program," LeBeau said. "We heard a lot of negatives about eminent domain, which is not part of this bill, and fears that are not part of this program. I think we have a lot to gain from CRDA."

Rojas echoed Freimuth's statements that although the CRDA does have the ability to use eminent domain, it can only do so within its main operating region inside Hartford. "We're addressing problems on a regional basis that cannot be handled by the towns," Rojas said. "The CRDA provides an important middle layer for economic development."

Council member Eric Thompson said he felt his questions about CRDA had been answered. "I was glad to hear eminent domain is not a part of this," Thompson said. Kehoe said that the council now fully understood what CRDA's purpose was. "We were concerned about a regional entity opposing things in our town. That is not something we want here," Kehoe said. "At the end of the day, I think it's the best of both worlds."

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