U-Haul redevelopment plan for former Kmart appears ‘dead’
Plan Commission rejected company’s proposal in January

By Joe VanDeLaarschot

Feb. 8, 2019

HARTFORD — The proposed redevelopment of the former Kmart site in Hartford Plaza by U-Haul Moving and Storage appears dead, at least for now.

City Planner Justin Drew said he heard from the company after the Plan Commission on Jan. 14 rejected the company’s proposal to purchase and redevelop the site and it wasn’t good news.

“They said they were not interested in pursuing the matter any further at this time,” Drew said.

City and local redevelopment officials could be forced to move back to square one in trying to find someone to fill and redevelop the vacant space at Hartford Plaza, which is also falling into disrepair. Mayor Tim Michalak said he still hopes to talk more with U-Haul executives.

“That site is 18 acres and it’s a real shame to see nothing happening there yet,” said Hartford Area Development Corp. Executive Director Tom Hostad. “Something needs to be in there. It’s been vacant way too long and it’s in such a prime location.”

Michalak said he plans to contact U-Haul officials again about what could happen next, but wants to wait a while yet so he can “let the issue simmer a while because we don’t want to rush to them seeking a deal.”

Michalak said that would make the city appear weak in negotiations. He said he hopes to reach out to the UHaul management team soon.

In January the commission voted against approving the company’s plan to redevelop the Hartford Plaza into a large U-Haul Neighborhood Store. But the plan also included construction of some controversial storage buildings on part of the property fronting Highway 60, which city officials had problems with.

A motion was approved by the commission after being proposed by Michalak, who is also commission chair, which stated the commission would only approve  the concept plan proposed by the company if they built the 7,800 square feet of storage buildings on the east and northeast corner of the property adjacent to Novak Street — not along the highway.

“There are only three large commercial areas in the city (Hartford Plaza, Walmart site and Piggly Wiggly) and given the existing pattern of development in the city as well as the presence of wetlands and other environmental concerns, it’s difficult to create more. I doubt any more can be created,” said Drew at the commission’s January meeting.

Michalak said it is unfortunate that the U-Haul officials have taken the view that they have on a possible compromise.

“It’s like they feel ‘if we can’t get it all our way we are going to take our ball and our bat and go home.’ We looked through the eight examples of the stores they’ve built elsewhere that they sent us — seven of them didn’t have the storage buildings directly out in front of their buildings,” Michalak said. “So we thought it rather peculiar they are telling us they don’t believe it would be successful without the exterior storage buildings right up front by the street, but then they show us several examples of elsewhere and they weren’t used there.

“We thought the outside storage units could be more perpendicular to the side, more of where the Ponderosa Steakhouse is located rather than right out front,” Michalak said. “They turned almost ‘Pelosiesque’ when it came to negotiating; it’s like they are not going to negotiate at all and ‘either our way or forget it’.”

Michalak said U-Haul representatives have put city officials in a position where they are now willing to examine a broad variety of ideas for possible use of the Hartford Plaza space, something “maybe a little more highbrow.” “They’ve opened the door for other opportunities now and if they don’t want to become a part of Hartford, I think that’s to their detriment because we are a very fast-growing community. We have the type of housing that would benefit from that type of additional storage,” Michalak said.

“If they don’t want to be part of that, I’m sure over time we’ll find someone who is. We need businesses that are willing to work with the community and with the city. Not someone who’s just going to come in, plop down a plan and they give us a take-it-or-leave-it situation.”

Michalak said the city has been flexible in the earlier negotiations with U-Haul about the proposal.

“We’ve actually made three different changes to move toward what they want and they have virtually made none,” Michalak said. “We are not beholden to them.”

The Daily News has repeatedly left phone messages with U-Haul officials and they have not responded.

<<EARLIER: Hartford panel rejects U-Haul development of former Kmart site