A giant in CT development dies at 67. His projects had major influence in reshaping downtown Hartford.

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HARTFORD — Martin J. Kenny, a visionary developer whose quietly confident but tenacious pursuit of often difficult projects that brought thousands of new apartments to downtown Hartford and far beyond, died early Saturday.

He was 67.

Kenny suffered a heart attack, according to Chris Reilly, president of Lexington Partners, the development and management company founded by Kenny.

“Marty was a visionary, there’s just no two ways about that,” Reilly said. “He had a knack and a talent with imagining real estate and what it could be and what it would mean to a community — how to provide something that was vital and needed in people’s lives: housing.”

In 2001, Kenny took on the redevelopment of prime property in downtown Hartford between Trumbull and Lewis streets facing Bushnell Park. The property was once targeted for a soaring office tower in the late 1980s, a deal that fell apart with a devastating recession that soon after. Kenny successfully built the nine-story Spectra on the Park apartment tower — then Trumbull on the Park.

The project illustrates the tough projects Kenny was willing to take on. The project included a parking garage and the renovation of historic properties on Lewis Street, plus the city’s requirement that the apartment tower not overwhelm Lewis Street, where some of the oldest structures in downtown Hartford still remain.

Some wondered whether there would be demand for apartments down. But Trumbull on the Park would set the stage for a new wave of apartment construction that gained momentum and is still unfolding amid high project occupancy.

“That was one of the first, iconic residential developments to happen in many, many years, and he started that wave,” said Alan Lazowski, founder of Hartford-based LAZ Parking and Kenny’s longtime friend and business partner.

In the last decade, downtown Hartford has added more than 3,000 apartments and Kenny was involved in nearly a dozen of the projects. Those include the recent rental conversions on Pratt Street and the renovation of former student housing into the Sage-Allen Apartments at Temple and Market streets, both now seeing 100% occupancy.

He saw the bigger picture for Pratt Street and how it could become a destination for entertainment and dining — an engine for restarting revitalization that suffered a setback in the pandemic.

In Connecticut, Kenny’s legacy extends well beyond Hartford to Glastonbury, Windsor, Cromwell, West Hartford and elsewhere. In West Hartford, Kenny was nearing completion of the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent into a massive apartment complex that also incorporated a chapel.

Two weeks ago, Kenny was part of a development team that outlined a massive, $850 million redevelopment along the Connecticut River in East Hartford.

Lazowski said Kenny often drew on his training as a lawyer and experience working in banking to not only see how developments would come together practically but how they could be financed, often through a variety of funding sources.

“He was an amazing visionary, someone that can take complex situations and really saw the way to make them work and develop,” Lazowski said.

Michael W. Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said Kenny’s impact on reshaping Hartford’s development with an emphasis on housing was “huge” and laid the groundwork for a stronger central business district.

“But it is a quiet huge,” Freimuth said. “He wasn’t one these guys with a lot of noise around him. He just did the projects, and he was extremely creative. He was always reasonable to negotiate with. Whenever there was a new way of approaching something, he was receptive to it.”

Freimuth said he had worked on a dozen projects with Kenny in the last decade “and I literally have several more on my desk,” observing that he spoke to Kenny less than 24 hours ago about them.

One of those, the apartment redevelopment of a vacant office building at 15 Lewis St. in downtown — in the same block as Kenny’s Spectra on the Park — is up for consideration for public funding Tuesday.

With his law degree and banking background, Kenny found his career calling in development when he joined with his father, Maurice, in the development business in the mid-1980s. His father had been an electrical contractor who built a real estate development company that evolved into what is now known as Lexington Partners, based in Hartford.

“He brought the lessons he learned from his dad into what we did every day,” Reilly said.

Kenny’s sons, Patrick and Kevin, have now come into business, continuing into a third generation.

Reilly said projects envisioned by Kenny and that are now planned will go forward, including 15 Lewis St.

“Our intent is to honor his legacy by continuing the company and finishing the projects that he started and hopefully many more, with the help of the next generation,” Reilly said.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Saturday.

Kenneth R. Gosselin can be reached at kgosselin@courant.com.