April 26, 2008
By Ken Krayeske • 10:45 AM EST
Editor's Note: This column ran in print in March, 2006, and I am just getting around to posting it now. Luckily (or not, depending on your point of view), the city moves slowly, and the foreclosing precedings on the house are still in process, and this opinion still holds water.
Foreclosure proceedings on the historic Wright and Barnes houses at 140 Retreat Avenue have begun, according to Hartford tax collector Don LeFevre.
This is the first step for A Methadone Proposal. The next steps go like this:
• The Hartford Dispensary buys, renovates and expands the Wright and Barnes Greek Revivals.
• The Dispensary moves into a medical region where it belongs and sells its land on Main and Buckingham to a developer.
• The developer builds a mixed-use four-story brownstone to match the Linden, with a grocery on the first floor and apartments and offices above.
Seems simple and beneficial to everyone, but getting parties to agree is the problem.
The city initiated foreclosure on the Wright and Barnes houses last month, LeFevre said. The city seeks to recoup the $124,487.54 in back taxes owed by the two parties with ownership interests in the Retreat Avenue property: the mysterious Nevets, Inc., a New Jersey corporation, and the notorious Dr. Steven C. Brigham, a man banned from performing abortions in several states.
Nevets purchased the dilapidated properties, built in 1845 and 1851 and later connected by an "L," from the bankruptcy of the Greater Hartford Architecture Conservancy in August, 2003. Brigham bought $85,000 in tax liens shortly after. In July 2005, an attorney said Nevets and Brigham were pulling in the same direction.
Almost every month since we posted that piece, Abortionist Angling for Blighted Property, different pro-life activists have emailed me saying "Nevets is Steven backwards." I should have known that, but I do know that Hartford doesn’t need a curse like Brigham.
The foreclosure sale could be a year away, LeFevre said. Murtha-Cullina, the city's lawyers on the case, can't file the paperwork fast enough for me. In the meantime, let's consider A Methadone Proposal.
Regular doses of methadone cure the craving of opiate addiction without the euphoric, narcotic stupor. The Dispensary also offers psychosocial treatment to clients where it had stood at the corner of Main and Buckingham for 26 years.
The Dispensary has no intention of moving, said Executive Director Paul McLaughlin.
"I prefer not discussing our plans," McLaughlin said. "We have been very effective and convenient for patients at this location. We manage the property professionally."
Neighbors, however, would beg to differ. They don't like the loitering the clinic generates. McLaughlin invited them to contact him directly. Locals have complained, one neighbor said, to no avail.
These methadone patients are not Rush Limbaugh treating his oxycontin addiction. Perhaps it is snooty of neighbors not to want to deal with the poor people who get ensnared in heroin, not to want to deal with the fall-out of decades of wrong-headed drug prohibition.
Perhaps, though, these people trying to rebuild shattered lives through methadone maintenance treatment deserve privacy and dignity that Main Street doesn't afford.
A health care facility like methadone maintenance treatment would be right at home between the Institute of Living and Hartford Hospital. Plus, the area is well-served by public transit.
As City Councilor Dr. Bob Painter and Green Party gubernatorial hopeful Cliff Thornton lead a local effort to approach drug addiction as a public health problem and not a criminal issue, we may see an expansion of harm-reduction policies like methadone maintenance.
By creating more clinics outside of Hartford, we ease the burden this places on our infrastructure. People from Springfield, Willimantic and Torrington won't be traveling to Hartford to take their daily dose. This should lead to less addiction, less AIDS.
While the Wright and Barnes houses are 500 square feet smaller than the Dispensary's butt-ugly modernist structure at 347 Main, space shouldn't be a deal-stopper.
The Dispensary would likely reap a profit after its sale of its downtown resources. Local and state government should help fund the renovation of the Wright and Barnes houses, as well as the growth in services of the Dispensary.
Mayor Eddie Perez said he wouldn’t pay for this. Nor would he ask the Dispensary to move if it didn’t want to. Plus, those neighbors on Retreat Avenue would need to approve, Perez said.
"Projects like that have to be worked through," Perez said. “You have to balance the needs of the existing neighborhood of where it is going. On the surface, yes, it may be woven into the hospital zone.
“But you also don’t want to overwhelm a neighborhood,” Perez said. “I know some of the challenges that go into managing their facilities from a community and a public point of view.”
To allay those Retreat Avenue residents who fear that crime will follow the medical treatment of addiction to illegal drugs, Hartford Hospital could invite the Dispensary to utilize its private security detail to patrol the area.
Of course, Hartford Hospital is interested in the Wright and Barnes buildings, and not just for drug treatment, said David Polk, HH’s public relations director.
“The opportunity for occupancy in a 5,300 square foot space could cover a multitude of needs,” Polk said. “A methadone clinic could be one use.” Polk reeled off a dozen other services that Hartford Hospital could put there.
What makes moving the Dispensary so tempting is that the regeneration of downtown demands a better usage of the space at the corner of Main and Buckingham, like a structure that would enhance the residential and commercial potential of SoDo.
If nothing else, A Methadone Proposal should spur our thinking about where we want to plan for facilities like the Dispensary.