Need a break from the home office? Free WiFi may be coming to outdoor spaces on downtown Hartford’s Pratt Street

Kenneth R. Gosselin

Published On July 07, 2020

HARTFORD, CT — Looking for a break from working at home in the pandemic, your office is closed and you need WiFi?

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A plan to bring free wi-fi to downtown Hartford's Pratt Street in a 3-month pilot would benefit workers seeking a change from home offices and potentially bring customers to restaurants and other businesses in the area struggling in the coronavirus pandemic.

There could be a new option in the next month: outdoor space along downtown Hartford’s Pratt Street corridor.

Blue Haus Group, a Hartford-based real estate and economic development firm, is working to raise $30,000 for a 3-month pilot that would bring free WiFi to the street, beginning in August and running through late October.

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Pratt Street was filled with basketball fans before first round NCAA tournament games at XL Center in 2019, in times before social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic. (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)

Tim Moore, a principal at Blue Haus, said the goal is to bring people back downtown while maintaining social distancing, increase foot traffic and encourage visitors to patronize businesses that are open. Downtown businesses draw heavily on the support of downtown workers, now in short supply as offices remain largely closed in the pandemic.”

“If you can get people working down there during the day, they are more likely to go to the businesses and then hang out into the evening when Pratt Street is closed,” Moore said. “It provides a nice transition but it all starts with getting the confidence for people to come down here.”

The service is similar to how WiFi is provided at large conventions and events. Through a digital dashboard, technicians can use “heat maps” to track where people might not be practicing social distancing. It can also provide “touchless menus” for restaurants. The technicians also would be able to monitor to ensure that WiFi is being used for appropriate purposes, Moore said.

Moore said he got the idea a couple of weeks ago after he was seeking a break from working at home. He decided to work at his desk at PoP! Hartford, a table tennis and gathering venue on Pratt Street, that is another one of Blue Haus’ projects.

PoP! Hartford wasn’t open then, but Moore noticed there weren’t a lot of visitors on Pratt Street. Moore said he figured if he wanted a change from working at home, other people had to be feeling the same way.

Moore said he has approached Brooklyn-based Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC, a major downtown commercial landlord and owner of the majority of the south side of Pratt Street. Shelbourne is a partner in the redevelopment of the buildings its owns along the corridor into apartments and new retail and entertainment spaces.

“We absolutely love the idea,” Michael Seidenfeld, chief operating officer at Shelbourne, said Monday. “It’s exactly in line with our future plans and our vision for Pratt Street, which is to have a community-focused, welcoming, fun place to be. This idea captures the type of vibe, energy and programming that we are committed to helping to create in this historic district.”

As a owner of office space, Seidenfeld said Shelbourne is excited to partner with Blue Haus because “honestly people are looking to get out of their houses. In the beginning everyone was talking about working from home, long-distance working as the new normal. After two-three months of it, we’re seeing that people are thrilled to get out of the house.”

Moore said he is hoping Shelbourne will allow the necessary equipment to be mounted on the block it owns and perhaps, helping with providing the seating along the street.

The goal is to encourage visitors to stay on Pratt Street, after it is closed to traffic, at 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Moore said. The street’s closure is intended to encourage outdoor dining and, on some nights, there is entertainment.