Redevelopment study underway for old Kmart property
Brownfield grant, Equitable Bank paying costs for project

By Joe VanDeLaarschot

Oct. 4, 2019

A lone truck is parked outside the former Kmart building along Highway 60 in Hartford.
Daily News file photo

HARTFORD — Since Kmart closed its Hartford Plaza location along Highway 60 in the city, less than a handful of businesses still operate in the complex and very little activity appears to be going on at the site.

But despite that appearance, city officials and community business leaders have remained active in trying to find a new use for the declining property.

Within the last few months the city applied for and received grant money from the state’s Brownfield Grants Program, which is coordinated by Washington County.

“The grant was for about $24,000 and other remaining  costs are to be paid by Equitable Bank, who has taken over the property,” said Hartford Area Development Corp. Executive Director Tom Hostad. “We are all hoping a site redevelopment study can show other possible uses for the land so a developer can be enticed into redeveloping the location.”

City officials and business leaders are concerned about having any large piece of property vacant in the city, but this property, because it is located along Highway 60 on one of the city’s main entrances, is especially concerning to them. Vandewalle and Associates, who has done previous work for the city successfully, was awarded the contract for the study.

“We want to determine the best way to move forward to market this property and we feel this study should be able to make the correct decision,” said Mayor Tim Michalak. “The bank has been helpful in stepping forward and working with us on this. The bank currently has a company working to sell the property.”

Michalak said those involved want to see what is the property’s best use.

“We certainly have had thoughts about we feel that property could sustain for the betterment of the entire community, but you have to have a developer that’s willing to step up with you and partner with you on that,” Michalak said. “I’m very optimistic. It is a prime location. Conducting the study is showing that the community is willing to marshal its resources to work with a developer that has the imagination to move forward with something the city believes is something profitable for a developer and a real benefit to the city.”

Michalak said Hartford is not the only community that’s been dealing with what some are calling “big box blight” when they leave the community.

“We don’t want to get someone in there for just for the sake of filling it for the short term; we want to have a plan that will be a long-term solution that we won’t have to worry about the property for a long time,” Michalak said.

City Administrator Steve Volkert said through the study they are also looking at the statistical information “on where our market lacks or has a surplus of different properties, commercial, residential, warehousing, etc.”

Volkert said the study will be completed by the end of November and will be used again to help market the different aspects of the property for the bank and realtor. City Planner Justin Drew said the study is only in draft form and needs more work before it can be completed and released.

With Kmart’s closing, there is about 135,000-square-feet of vacant space — nearly 86,500 square-feet from the former Kmart location. That includes the 38,000 square feet left vacant when Sentry Foods closed. Kmart opened at the Hartford location in November 1991. There are three other smaller businesses spaces available for lease that were formerly occupied by Dollar Express, Little Caesars and Radio Shack.

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