Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
East Hartford, East Windsor hoping for big-box stores

By Matthew Engelhardt
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:11 AM EST

The recent sale of vacant movie theaters in East Hartford and East Windsor has opened new retail possibilities for the towns, including whispers of a new department store off Silver Lane in East Hartford.

Summit Development, based in Southport, recently purchased four former movie theaters from National Amusements, which runs Showcase Cinemas.

The cost of the deal wasn’t disclosed for the properties in East Hartford, East Windsor, Milford, and Orange.

“These are prominent, high-quality, commercial locations,” Summit President Felix Charney said. “With the exception of the site in Orange, all are zoned for retail use and are ideally situated for major new retail development.”

A spokesperson for National Amusements said this fall that the company was in negotiations to sell the former 14-screen theater off Silver Lane in East Hartford. The building has been vacant since 2006 when National Amusements closed the theater. The company closed its 12-screen Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor this year.

National Amusements still operates large theaters in Manchester and Enfield.

East Hartford officials have been waiting for progress at the former cinema, which faces Interstate 84. The town is concentrating much of its development efforts on the Silver Lane corridor and hoped the vacant theater would find a retailer willing to open a department store.

“We look forward to retail development there,” Mayor Melody A. Currey said. “This is good news for East Hartford.”

The theater stands a little more than a mile from Rentschler Field, where efforts continue to develop businesses to complement Cabela’s, one of the largest outdoor retailers in the state.

But aside from Burlington Coat Factory, which is on Silver Lane near the former theater, East Hartford lacks a large department store.

Currey said the town has been in communication with Summit, but previously couldn’t disclose details as the private entities of Summit and National Amusements negotiated a deal.

The mayor added that Summit representatives were in New York on Tuesday speaking with retailers about the Silver Lane site.

Currey said a department store would be great for the town and said she was pleased with Summit’s prospects, especially in the midst of a difficult economy.

“We’d like a Target, a Wal-mart, a Kohl’s … a department store so East Hartford residents won’t have to go to the mall to shop,” Currey said.

Laurie P. Whitten, director of East Windsor planning and zoning, said today that no one has contacted her recently about the former Showcase Cinema’s in town.

“I spoke to the gentleman from Summit Development months ago and said they intended on purchasing all of the available Showcase Cinemas, including East Windsor’s. We would love to see it get all filled up,” she said.

Whitten added that if there were any different use planned for the site, such as retail shops, developers would have to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for a change of use permit, although the area is zoned for commercial use.

“My understanding is that Summit Development is supposed to be buying them,” Whitten said.

While retail sales have been down nationally, Wal-mart has managed to buck the trend and increase sales.

In May, a Wal-mart spokesperson confirmed the company was interested in seeking development opportunities in East Hartford. Wal-Mart conducted soil testing on another Silver Lane site in the summer of 2007.

East Hartford could face competition in trying to attract a Wal-mart, however. The company has a store and a Sam’s Club in the Buckland Hills area of Manchester. There have been indications in recent years that the company would like to expand in the area.

South Windsor officials met with company representatives near the beginning of 2008 about a possible Wal-mart and Sam’s Club near the town’s border with Manchester on Pleasant Valley Road.

In 2004, a proposed store was nixed in Vernon after residents expressed their concerns over a potential store.