HARTFORD, Connecticut: Soon after it opened in the late 1970s, downtown Hartford’s Bushnell on the Park honed a reputation as a power address for corporate executives, local television glitterati and players on the Hartford Whalers hockey team.
The days of Oriental rugs in the lobby and a doorman are long gone. And the slow decline in recent years at the 12-story, curved concrete building overlooking Bushnell Park accelerated after a rooftop water pipe burst in early 2018 damaging nearly two dozen units and hallways. More than a year later, the damage still has not been fully repaired.
“It’s like living in a tenement in downtown Hartford, you wouldn’t believe it,” Paul Mansour, a unit owner who lives in the building and works downtown, said. “The owner of the majority of units made a lot of promises and has done very little.”
The majority of the 180 residential condominium units in Bushnell on the Park – 129 – are controlled by a single owner, Gideon Asset Management LLC, of Brooklyn, New York, which bought them in late 2014 and rents them out. The remaining are owned by individuals who either live in them or have tenants.
The unusual ownership structure has given Gideon and its managing partner, Issac Klein, control of the property. Under a previous majority owner, individual owners fought for – and won – a seat on the condominium association’s board of directors, but the seat does not carry a vote in decisions affecting the property. The Wells Street building, constructed as apartments in 1978, was converted to condominiums soon after, but only 51 sold, with the rest remaining under the control of a string of single owners.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” Mansour said. “Now there are conditions in the garage that are dangerous. Conditions in the hallway that are dangerous. What we have is an out-of-state owner, an absentee landlord who is looking to improve his own properties with wanton disregard for the condition of the building and with no communication to any of the other minority owners.”
In February, when The Courant visited the building, there was little evidence of repair work. But this week, a Gideon spokesman, said repairs – some tied to the burst water pipe – are now underway, including tiling the floors in hallways and replacing damaged walls.
Aziz Syed, a Gideon portfolio manager, said he considered the long wait for repairs related to the water damage to be reasonable, given they were in the “high hundreds of thousands of dollars” and were being financed through a property insurance claim.
“I understand it from the tenants’ end,” Syed said. “If I had to deal with what they were dealt, I would be upset, too. I completely understand.”
Gideon got off to a rocky start as the majority owner. In early 2015 in frigid weather, just weeks after Gideon purchased the building, the city ordered the building be emptied of its residents.
A pipe supplying heat ruptured and another set of pipes bringing water to fire sprinklers burst.
At the time, Gideon and Klein promised that upgrades were on the way to return the building to a “Class A” asset, a pledge that Syed repeated, noting that an “elevator modernization” project is coming soon.
Residents of Hartford’s Bushnell on the Park allowed to return to their homes
In recent months, individual unit owners also have grown increasingly uneasy about the deterioration in the parking garage under the building. Chunks of concrete are falling down from the ceiling, and complaints to city drew a citation from housing inspectors in August.
According to an inspection report dated August 9, city officials noted that the ceiling on one level “has dropped approximately 1-1/2 to 2 (inches) at what appears to be the expansion joint”. “Other areas of the parking garage have water damage causing (concrete) to crack,” it stated.
John Collins, the city’s acting building official, said Gideon has been pursuing plans for repairing the garage, and Syed said the work is now beginning. Collins said he doesn’t consider a seven-month window unreasonable for getting underway for a job that is “a fairly substantial big fix with steel and stress concrete involved”.
Collins said Gideon has taken out permits to repair the units damaged by the burst water pipe, but the city does not have control over how quickly the work is done.
“Once they take out the permit as long as they continuously work on it, the permit can go on for years,” Collins said.
The city, Collins said, also does not have standing to put pressure on Gideon to move faster.
“If it was an apartment, we’d get housing involved, and it would be a different story,” Collins said. “Then, the landlord becomes liable.”
Even before the water pipe burst and problems intensified in the parking garage, tensions were running high between Gideon and the individual unit owners. The individual unit owners sued Gideon and its manager in 2016, alleging that Gideon ran Bushnell on the Park as though it owned the entire building, ignored maintenance complaints and misappropriated condominium association funds.
In late 2018, Gideon agreed to a settlement, including paying $50,000 to the condominium association, $40,000 in legal fees and other conditions, according to a copy of the settlement obtained by The Courant.
Longtime individual unit owners remember what it once was like to live in Bushnell on the Park. The tower was built as a companion to the adjacent Bushnell Tower – also built as apartments and converted to condominiums – and a third building, the Metropolitan District Commission headquarters. The three buildings share the raised Bushnell Plaza – conceived during the era of Urban Renewal – across Main Street from the Wadsworth Atheneum and Hartford City Hall, and backing up to Bushnell Park.
“It’s too bad, it was a nice building,” Kathy Fitzsimmons, a long-time unit owner and resident, said. “We had the Whalers living here, and all the TV people. My brother-in-law went crazy because he saw one of the Whalers in the elevator. If something was coming to The Bushnell for a long time, they would come here.
“When I first moved in, at night, there was a guy with black pants, white shirt, bow tie who would vacuum the hallways,” Fitzsimmons said. “I thought I was walking into the Waldorf. I had people who loved to come to visit me. Now, I won’t even ask people to come over.”
Rebecca Koladis, a real estate sales associate at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, said recent condominium unit sales at the Bushnell Tower are going for double for what a comparable unit at Bushnell on the Park would fetch in a sale. A one-bedroom at Bushnell Tower would likely sell for $150,000 to $180,000 compared with $85,000 at Bushnell on the Park.
“I feel bad for people who have bought here,” Koladis said. “I have sold a number of units since 2006, and those buyers have seen their values drop. Without the infusion of money into the building to make the building a more attractive place to live, I don’t see that changing too much.” AP