July 17, 2017

Hartford skyscraper pair chart separate paths toward full occupancy

PHOTO | HBJ File
PHOTO | HBJ File
Downtown's One Financial Plaza, the “Gold Building.”
PHOTO | Contributed
10 Columbus Blvd., the “Candy Cane Building.’’

As office buildings go, this pair of downtown Hartford skyscrapers could not be more different — yet in at least one way, they share a vital attribute.

One Financial Plaza — the "Gold Building" — is the older, bigger of the two, anchoring downtown's core at 755 Main St. It's name evokes echoes of the Capital City's waning epithet as the world's "insurance capital,'' home to such storied names as Aetna, Hartford Steam Boiler and gunmaker Colt's. Until last year, The Gold was headquarters to United Technologies Corp., a world leader in making jet engines, elevators and residential/commercial heating-cooling systems.

In contrast, Hartford Square North, 10 Columbus Blvd. — the "Candy Cane Building" — sits discreetly on downtown's southernmost edge, in the shadow of the Connecticut Convention Center and the Front Street office-retail-apartments development. It has been in the hands of a special servicer since the owner of the non-condominium portion of the 11-story tower a year ago fell behind on a 10-year, $17.5 million mortgage that matured on July 10. But by summer 2018, it is due to be fully entrenched as the new administrative headquarters for Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMC), whose main campus on Washington Street is within shouting distance.

Despite their disparity in ages, sizes, amenities and locations, owners, building managers and brokers familiar with both say each possesses the one feature in demand with current and future tenants — ample parking.

Parking, says CCMC President/CEO James E. Shmerling, was the deciding factor in choosing 10 Columbus Blvd. as future administrative headquarters for him and 400 or so other CCMC executives, administrators, physicians and support staff. The Candy Cane has several hundred slots of free surface and below-ground parking for tenants.

Parking, too, say officials for Talcott Realty, the Gold Building's owner since 2001, will be its ticket to drawing tenant prospects to the 23 percent of the 621,000-square-foot tower still vacant. That includes the three uppermost floors of the 26-story building that are available for lease for the first time since The Gold opened in 1974. UTC brass previously occupied those floors.

Travelers Cos., whose Hartford headquarters campus is opposite The Gold on Main Street and began occupying space there in 2007, is now the tower's largest tenant, said Talcott Senior Vice President Andrew T. Tedford.

Attached to The Gold next door is an eight-story, 1,141-space parking garage.

Aside from parking, Talcott Realty authorities boast of another element in their favor for luring and retaining commercial tenants: It's central downtown location.

Situated at the corner of Main and Pearl streets, the dark-metal, gold-glass sheathed edifice overlooks one of downtown's most bustling intersections. It is one of many stops for the CTtransit bus line. Restaurants, bars, shops, the XL Center, all are a short walk away. It's also equidistant from Front Street and Union Station, Talcott officials say.

But the best opportunity, they say, will arrive with the opening of UConn's downtown campus in late August, with some 2,100 instructors, staff and students there when classes are in session. Access to the riverfront, Dunkin' Donuts Park, Connecticut Science Center, The Atheneum and dozens of other office buildings and work sites, plus apartments, make for an inviting mix, they say.

"The building is right on the forefront of everything happening downtown with UConn and Front Street,'' Tedford said. "That's all right at our front door.''

A slick, 2-minute video, shot using camera-equipped drones, showcases The Gold and its proximity to various downtown landmarks.

"We've got to remind people just how centrally located The Gold is,'' Tedford said.

Gold's facelift

To shine The Gold, Talcott Realty this past year has invested an unspecified sum sprucing up the tower's interior and exterior common areas. In the lobby, new, brighter lighting and flooring, plus sleek, colorful, seating was installed, said Andrew Filler, principal with brokerage firm Avison Young, The Gold's leasing adviser.

In the lower level, the building's cafeteria was reworked with new seating, tables and other fixtures to encourage tenants to stay and dine rather than use it as a "get-it-and-go''depot, Filler said.

Outside, an underused patio was transformed into an outdoor work/play/networking space with wicker furniture, a foosball table, a corn-hole toss and an oversized Jenga wood playset because that is what tenants said their employees wanted, Tedford said.

A new gas-fired boiler was installed that has curtailed the building's energy bill, said David Fagone, president of R.M. Bradley Co., The Gold's manager. The building's gold-anodized glass panels that give the building its characteristic glow and energy efficiency are being replaced over time because panels only become available in small batches from time to time, Fagone said.

But it is the prospect of finding takers for the approximately 100,000 square feet UTC vacated with its move to Farmington that excites The Gold's owners and lease broker.

On a recent tour of The Gold's 26th and uppermost floor, there are faint clues that UTC's executives once occupied the space. Stripped of everything except the concrete floorplate and overhead lighting, sprinklers and air ducts, the floor outlines where office suites once lined the outer edges of the rectangular space.

The openness of the space is eyecatching. So is the 360-degree panoramic vistas of Hartford and beyond through the windows. Easels mounted with digitally generated interior mockups give tenant prospects an idea of what they might do with the space, Filler said.

"In today's world, with tenants wanting to have more open spaces," Tedford said, "these wide-open, column-less spaces are attractive.''

According to city tax records, The Gold's market value in the 2016 grand list revaluation was $64.1 million, almost unchanged from its previous valuation.

The Candy Cane, meanwhile, whose ground-floor space was previously sold off as office condominiums had $16 million remaining on its original mortgage, according to New York City commercial-mortgage tracker Trepp LLC.

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