Civic Center Mall
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The Civic Center Mall, located in downtown Hartford, was a three level, enclosed shopping mall and office complex built in 1974 as part of a large downtown urban redevelopment project. It was the commercial portion of a four block square megastructure-type development called the Hartford Civic Center complex, which also contained a multi-purpose coliseum, an exhibition and trade show center, structured parking and a 330 room Sheraton (now Hilton) hotel.
The mall featured approximately fifty small shops and restaurants and was initially anchored by a new specialty department store, Luettgen's Ltd, created and operated by William Luettgen, who was previously the president of local department store chain, G. Fox & Co.. This anchor space was later split.
The mall contained a number of unique and national specialty shops such as a Hartford Whalers Team Store, Sam Goody, Waldenbooks, Ann Taylor and Koenig Art Emporium. A third level contained about 65,000 square feet (6,000 m2) of office space, overlooking both the mall interior and the adjacent streets.
Architecturally, the mall reflected the brutalist and insular character of many early 1970s megastructure-type projects. The exterior of the L-shaped mall was constructed of prefabricated concrete panels and was surrounded by overscaled concrete landscape planter beds that cut off any facade to the sidewalk.
Built and operated by the Hartford-based insurance company Aetna, and called "the bunker" by its critics, the mall was, moderately successful in its early years, and was an economic catalyst that for a time stabilized the decline of the downtown retail district in Hartford. Its construction was also partially credited with kicking off the office building boom that began in the late 1970s and would eventually add nearly five million square feet of new office space in the area over the following decade.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the mall faced competition from the nearby newly constructed Westfarms and The Shops at Buckland Hills malls. Given its limited size, the accelerating decline in the downtown retail district and the severe recession in the regional economy by the early 1990s, many of the mall's tenants left or ceased operations and the mall fell into severe decline. By 1998 the project's viability was in doubt, and Aetna was stating that it had lost more than $56 million on the project since its opening.
In 2004 Investment Corporation, the State of Connecticut, the City of Hartford, and Aetna began working to redevelop the former Civic Center Mall complex. The project, called Hartford 21, replaced the aging retail, office and restaurant mall portion of the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum with a new, contemporary-styled residential, retail and entertainment complex. The mall was partially demolished and rebuilt starting in 2004 and the majority of the new development was completed in the summer of 2006.
The project included a new 36-story residential tower with 262 luxury apartments, 45,000 square feet (4,200 m2) of sidewalk-oriented retail space and 90,000 square feet (8,400 m2) of office space. The new residences and shops are located adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the home of the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, UConn Basketball, and about a dozen concerts and trade shows each year.
- James Lomuscio, "Hartford Civic Center's Hard Times", The New York Times, May 3, 1998.
- Tom Puleo, "36-floor Story: Hartford Getting A `24-hour Neighborhood'", Hartford Courant, June 24, 2004.
- "Hartford 21" in Boston and Beyond: CBT Architects, (Images Publishing, 2013), ISBN 978-1864704044, pp. 106ff. Excerpts available at Google Books.