The Construction Project

The site of the former Thomas Cadillac distributorship at the corner of Albany Avenue and Westbourne Parkway in Hartford has been transformed into a vibrant new center for performing arts education. The complex provides much-needed additional space for The Hartt School, while at the same time serves as an economic catalyst and cultural resource for Hartford's Upper Albany and Blue Hills neighborhoods. The project has preserved the unique exterior character of the building, which were designed in 1929 by pioneering industrial architect Albert Kahn.

Construction on the first phase of the project began in July, 2007 and was completed just a year later. It will open for collegiate and community dance and theatre students in the fall of 2008. The official dedication will be held on September 12, 2008. A festive construction kickoff ceremony attended by more than 200 people was held on June 18, 2007, when University of Hartford President Walter Harrison announced that the building will be named the Mort and Irma Handel Performing Arts Center.

"Mort and Irma Handel have shared our vision for this project from the beginning. Their $1.5 million commitment - the largest gift from individual donors to the Performing Arts Center - is just the latest chapter in their long history of support for the University of Hartford, The Hartt School, and the Hartford arts community," Harrison said.

Mort Handel, chairman of the board of Marvel Entertainment, has been a trustee of The Hartt School and a regent of the University of Hartford since 1990. Irma Handel is a trustee of the Hartford Art School, Inc.

When the Fuller Music Center opened its doors in 1962 on the University of Hartford campus, The Hartt School enrolled 250 college students and 1,000 Community Division students. Today, these figures have risen to 700 and 2,500 respectively, with added faculty and greatly expanded academic offerings. Hartt also hosts a schedule of over 400 concerts, recitals, dance performances, plays, master classes, and musical theatre productions in the aging Fuller Center.

"With the new Performing Arts Center, The Hartt School will finally have a home that matches the exceptional quality of its programs," said Hartt School Dean Malcolm Morrison.

The nationally recognized firm of Smith Edwards Architects of Hartford was the lead architect for the project. Smith Edwards collaborated with Howard Performance Architecture, L.L.C. of New Orleans, designers of some of American's top performing arts facilities.

The Downes Construction Company of New Britain, the lead construction management company, has experience in historic renovation and restoration markets, as well as new construction.

Capital Restoration in Hartford, a minority-owned construction company, provided assistance to Downes in managing the project and supervising the subcontractors.