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Parts of new construction at Hartford market are tossed, but key aspects remain

by Gordon M. Hochberg | August 03, 2009
HARTFORD, CT -- While the main aspects of several new projects for the Connecticut Regional Produce Market remain intact and are expected to eventually come to fruition, some aspects have apparently fallen victim to the economic downturn that has hurt all regions of the country, including the state of Connecticut.

The two key projects -- a new facility for one of the wholesale companies at the market and a new farmers market -- are still on track, although they will not be finished as quickly as everyone thought when the original plans were announced a few years ago.

Two parts of the original construction have been shelved. Michael's Market Restaurant has closed, and a new restaurant that was supposed to replace it will not be built. A truck stop and fueling station that were part of the original plans also will not be built.

As Robert Pellegrino, executive director of what is commonly called the Hartford market, told The Produce News July 21: "The restaurant and truck stop that were going to be built are no longer going to be built. They are looking to do other things with the property in the future." But a restaurant and truck stop are "no longer part of the picture."

However, "The main project is still" a new facility for M&M Produce Inc., one of the key wholesale produce companies at the market. "They've committed to the project," said Mr. Pellegrino. "They're paying money on the lease." M&M has until June 2010 to start its project, according to Mr. Pellegrino. "If it is not [begun] by that time, the land will be used for something else."

Mr. Pellegrino is equally enthusiastic about the other major project at the Hartford market: a new farmers market. "We got a grant from the federal government to get a design and plans for a new farmers market which will house both indoor and outdoor vendors," he said.

The market also seems to be in good health, despite the economic recession. There are two new tenants: a cheese company and a meat company. "There is now a waiting list for tenants who want to get in -- or tenants that are there that want to expand," he noted.

Those tenants were gearing up for the important local deal that was beginning to take shape in mid-July.

"The crops are a little bit behind," said Mr. Pellegrino, 68, who also serves as marketing director of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "Corn was maybe two weeks shy of what it should have been. Squash was OK but the rain [throughout the month of June] took its toll. But in general, the crops are all probably about 10 days to two weeks behind" what would be considered a normal year.

On one of the Nutmeg State's key items, Mr. Pellegrino said, "Tomatoes are in the same situation. We probably will see tomatoes in mid-August really start coming in. There are a few now but nothing to talk about. So I would say [that] if the weather stays warm, you'll probably see tomatoes [the] second week in August."

On the fruit side, Mr. Pellegrino said, "Our strawberry season was good. Our blueberry crop is excellent right now." As to other items, such as apples, peaches, plums and pears, he said that those crops "are just about on time, maybe a week behind."

Peaches should be in good volume from around mid-August to the end of August, he noted. He expected nectarines to start "probably the end of August." He added, "Some of our peach crop got hit by hail right after the Fourth of July." Damage is still being assessed, "but there was some damage to the peach crop."

Concerning apples, he said that "the early apples [Macintosh variety] will start probably in late August into early September -- and the rest of them will kick in" after that.

Finally, he noted the increased diversity of crops in the state recently. "Connecticut is growing a lot more ethnic crops than they usually do," he said, citing bok choy and "all the Chinese type" vegetables as examples of this diversity. "You're also seeing more broccoli grown in the state than you did before," although not in huge volumes, he concluded.

(For more on Connecticut produce, see the Aug. 3 issue of The Produce News.)