It is hard to argue with UConn's choice of the former Hartford Times building on Prospect Street as the site of its downtown Hartford campus.
The location means about 2,200 students and 300 faculty members will be in the center of downtown, close to business, cultural and entertainment opportunities. It also will preserve one of the great facades in the city; one that is not just iconic, but Ionic: The facade includes a recessed porch with six green granite Ionic columns that was a popular site for presidential campaign speeches for many years. Plus, restoring the Times building will help complete the Front Street development connecting Adriaen's Landing to downtown.
The only issue with the site concerns access. Is there enough parking, and if not, will some of the housing proposed there be sacrificed for parking? Or can it be planned artfully enough to have both?
When the university announced last year that it would move its Greater Hartford campus from aging buildings in West Hartford to downtown Hartford, officials considered more than a dozen possible sites. The Times building emerged as a finalist along with One Talcott Plaza, just north of Capital Community College, and Allyn Street land now used for surface parking.
There are arguments for all the sites. Talcott Plaza could jump-start development north of I-84. Allyn Street has the advantage of being near the new bus and rail connections to the city, which will begin about the same time — 2015-16 — that the downtown campus opens. But officials deemed the Times site the best, apparently for its central location. That's fine; who could not be happy to see the 1920 Beaux Arts building, home to an afternoon newspaper that closed in 1976, come to life again?
The tricky part may be getting people in and out. There is a lot of rush-hour traffic in the area already and, though there is unused space in nearby garages, it's not clear that they can accommodate 2,500 more people. So it may take some imagination — satellite parking, buses, bike lanes, perhaps use of the rail line that runs along the river — to create the needed access.
We should note that we are happy for the Arch Street Tavern a block away. The popular eatery endured some hard years with Front Street construction all around it — a resilience for which it now may be rewarded.