The idea is pretty simple: Get landlords to work with city officials to make space available - at low or no cost - to entrepreneurs who might not be able to afford the traditional urban rental prices. If the business takes off in that location, everybody wins. In a worst case scenario, at least people walking by on the street see activity inside, and not just a "for lease" sign in the window. "We can use this Project Storefront model that's happening across the country, and engage the creative industry in this way to kind of enliven our empty storefronts in the downtown," said Kristina Newman- Scott, director of MECA, the marketing, events and cultural affairs department of the city.
In their plan, iConnect would use money from a $100,000 state grant program, plus $65,000 from a federal matching grant program to activate up to six downtown Hartford spaces in 2013. (Note: The plan included one space meant to feature occasional broadcasts by WNPR) Four of these were meant to be occupied by new, "creative, entrepreneurial" businesses. The finalists were chosen out of some 40 applicants. The big step was getting commitments from city landlords. "In terms of commitments from landlords, nearly 8,000 square feet of space at the market rate of $25 per foot," said Newman-Scott. "That's nearly $200,000 per month of in-kind rent. On top of that we give each of the people who are going into the space $2,000 to help with their outfit. It's a great program!"
But it's a program that's taken much longer than planned to roll out. Newman-Scott admits that there have been hang-ups in signing contracts and legal issues with the landlords. Hang-ups that pushed the start from early summer, to late summer and beyond.Sweet Acre Farm in Hampton. They were chosen as part of a group to start Farm Shop, an urban hub for farm-fresh products. The delays forced them to drop out of the iConnect project before ever opening up. "As it kind of dragged on a few weeks, then another few weeks, and then all of a sudden it's September," Janeway said. "And we didn't have a go-ahead on actually going in the store, and all the infrastructure that would go into that, would push the time all the way back, probably to October, which is an inconvenient time to start selling farm-fresh products in Connecticut."
Janeway says that he and his partners plan to pursue "Farm Shop" on their own terms, outside the iConnect project. And the city does hope to have some good news on the iConnect front next month. Hartford Prints, a letterpress studio making artisan stationary has confirmed that they have keys to their storefront space on Pratt St. and plan to open on October 11.