Bordonaro: Kenny’s influence on Hartford, Greater Hartford a lasting one

Oct 2, 2023 | News


Martin Kenny in October 2011 shows an HBJ reporter his vision for turning Flanagan Industries’ former Glastonbury home into a modern apartment complex that would eventually be called The Tannery.


By Greg Bordonaro, Hartford Business Journal 

I first met Martin “Marty” J. Kenny in the fall of 2011, at a rundown mill in Glastonbury. He was wearing a blue, long-sleeve patterned dress shirt with a brown suit and color-coordinated tie. Combined with his thin-framed glasses, Kenny conveyed an old-school, professorial look. That day, he was giving me a lesson on visual imagination — how to envision something great where it currently didn’t exist.

The site off the New London Turnpike was the former home of aerospace components manufacturer Flanagan Industries. The time-worn property was far from fancy. It had aged from more than a century of manufacturing use. Its history dated back to the 1800s, when it hosted a leather-making operation. The 31-acre property could have easily become another mothballed New England industrial site — a marker of Connecticut’s former economic glory days.

But Kenny, founder of Hartford-based Lexington Partners, had a vision for it that few others could have imagined. He wanted to turn it into a modern, market-rate apartment complex that would cater to young professionals and empty nesters. He eventually proposed a $50-million, 250-unit, highly amenitized apartment development. The project included redeveloping two existing mills on-site, converting a former pump house into a gym, and building five new buildings that would host studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The development wasn’t for the faint of heart. It required major cleanup and environmental remediation. It took about five years from the time I first wrote about the proposed development in October 2011, to when construction began in 2016.

Design plans changed several times during that period. Kenny even changed the property’s intended name, from Flanagan’s Landing to The Tannery, a nod to the property’s early leather-making days. Market research found the original name wasn’t resonating with potential renters.

To Kenny, small details mattered. The Tannery finally debuted in 2017 and saw a brisk lease up. It was a success. That’s not just my opinion. In the world of real estate development there’s an easy way to keep score. Occupancy rates, sale prices and cap rates (or return on investment) reflect a property’s success or failure.

Kenny sold The Tannery in 2021 for $71.7 million. The property currently boasts a 97.6% occupancy rate with rents ranging from $1,947 to $3,745, according to CoStar.

Randomly, I visited The Tannery this past summer for a quick lunch at The Beamhouse, an upscale New American restaurant that debuted on the property in 2018. It was the first time I had been on-site since I met Kenny there in 2011.

It’s impressive. The pool area was full that day, mainly with 20- and 30-something year-olds, a key demographic Kenny intended to target. The finished product, I think, turned out grander than even Kenny originally imagined. He was never one to over promise or underdeliver.

Kenny’s sudden and unexpected death on Sept. 16, at the age of 67, shocked much of the Hartford and region’s business community. Few developers achieve the status of business leader, but Kenny did.

If there was a Mount Rushmore of 21st-century Hartford business investors and boosters, Kenny would be on it. He built The Tannery in Glastonbury, but spent most of his time, energy and capital in Hartford, despite the significant struggles the city has faced in recent decades.

Lexington Partners, which Kenny grew over the years from six to 130 employees, is based in Hartford and currently owns more than 500 downtown apartment units. The early 2000s debut of his 100-unit Trumbull on the Park mixed-use residential development showed there was demand for Class-A, market-rate rentals in Hartford.

The project helped kick off the city’s multifamily development wave. “Marty was a believer in Hartford when others were not,” said his close friend and business partner Alan Lazowski, during Kenny’s Sept. 20 funeral.

Kenny and Lazowski partnered on every development. They also built projects with hundreds of units in Wethersfield, West Hartford and Windsor.

Even in his late 60s, Kenny showed no signs of slowing down with major developments in the pipeline. He and Lazowski were recently recruited into a development team planning an $841 million, 1,000-unit apartment and mixed-use redevelopment of Founders Plaza along the bank of the Connecticut River in East Hartford.

He was also working on a $100 million mixed-use redevelopment of a former Cromwell hotel site, among other projects.

Capital Region Development Authority Executive Director Michael Freimuth said he often consulted with Kenny over the past decade, using him as a “touchstone” on trends in financing, amenities and other development facets. Kenny had a knack for navigating difficult financing, as well as balancing project profitability with public interest, Freimuth said.

“There are very few guys who can match him in creativity and intuitiveness, what was working and what wasn’t working,” Freimuth said, noting Kenny stabilized several apartment projects in Hartford. “It’s a huge loss for the city and the region. He was just one of the good guys.”

A cheerleader for Hartford, Kenny also wasn’t afraid to speak publicly about the city’s challenges, including its high property taxes.

That was important. Blind boosterism does a city like Hartford no good. We can’t shy away from honest conversations about the city’s problems and ways to address them.

Kenny, of course, didn’t just promote the city, he invested significantly in it.

“He put his money where his mouth is,” his son Kevin Kenny said, eulogizing his father during the Sept. 20 funeral.

If Hartford is going to one day tap its full potential, it’s going to need a lot more Martin Kennys. They aren’t easy to find.

For Hartford’s sake, let’s hope they emerge.

Reporting from HBJ Staff Writer Michael Puffer contributed to this column.