On track, out of sight

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Paul Schott

Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions says plans for its new head­quar­ters build­ing are on track, but a year af­ter the an­nounce­ment, there’s lit­tle vis­i­ble progress at the site.

A year af­ter it an­nounced an am­bi­tious plan to build a new head­quar­ters in down­town Stam­ford, Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions says the project is mov­ing ahead. But it is not say­ing much more at the mo­ment.

The telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions gi­ant’s plan calls for the con­struc­tion of a 15-story build­ing on top of an ex­ist­ing park­ing garage, which stands ad­ja­cent to the down­town Metro-North sta­tion and is owned by Stam­ford-based devel­oper Build­ing and Land Tech­nol­ogy. The un­der­tak­ing re­flects Char­ter’s marked growth in re­cent years and would re­shape the city’s of­fice mar­ket, which has seen few ad­di­tions to its build­ing in­ven­tory in re­cent years.

“Con­struc­tion has be­gun at the Gate­way Har­bor Point site, and we ex­pect the project to take ap­prox­i­mately two years to com­plete,” Char­ter and BLT of­fi­cials said in a joint state­ment.

The com­pa­nies de­clined to comment fur­ther and did not make any of­fi­cials avail­able for in­ter­views for this ar­ti­cle.

Build­ing at Gate­way

Char­ter an­nounced on Oct. 3, 2017, that it would re­lo­cate its head­quar­ters from its cur­rent home at 400 At­lantic St., to a new 500,000-square-foot build­ing at the Gate­way Har­bor Point com­plex, at 406 Wash­ing­ton Blvd. A sec­ond build­ing could even­tu­ally be built on the same site.

In May, the city’s Zon­ing Board ap­proved the project.

The project was orig­i­nally sched­uled to be com­pleted next year, com­pared with Char­ter and BLT’s new state­ment pro­ject­ing a 2020 fin­ish.

Con­struc­tion so far ap­pears to be fo­cused on foun­da­tional work, with no cranes de­ployed or build­ing skele­ton as­sem­bled.

A blue tarp-cov­ered chain-link fence runs along part of the east and south sides of the site. A sign posted on the fence, on Pu­laski Street, reads: “Au­tho­rized per­son­nel only. Hard hats re­quired. Watch for fall­ing ma­te­rial. Watch­ing for mov­ing equip­ment. Watch for un­even sur­faces.”

While a se­ries of new apart­ment build­ings have trans­formed the down­town land­scape in the past decade, struc­tures built in the 1970s and 1980s still dom­i­nate the pha­lanx of of­fice blocks in the city cen­ter.

Royal Bank of Scot­land’s ap­prox­i­mately 400,000-square-foot hub at 600 Wash­ing­ton Blvd. — fac­ing the Gate­way site, across In­ter­state 95 and the Metro-North lines — rep­re­sents the most re­cent of­fice ad­di­tion to down­town Stam­ford to ri­val the scope of Char­ter’s plan. Opened in 2009, RBS’ build­ing also houses lo­cal of­fices for UBS, Cit­i­zens Bank and Bank of Amer­ica.

Grow­ing in Stam­ford

The de­ci­sion to move re­flects Char­ter’s prodi­gious growth since it re­lo­cated in 2012 its head­quar­ters to its cur­rent base from St. Louis.

Since then, it has ex­panded from one floor to eight lev­els, be­com­ing the largest ten­ant in the ap­prox­i­mately 500,000square-foot struc­ture at 400 At­lantic.

Ac­qui­si­tions of Time Warner Ca­ble and Bright House Net­works for a com­bined $65 bil­lion in 2016 su­per­charged Char­ter’s growth.

The firm now serves about 28 mil­lion res­i­den­tial and busi­ness cus­tomers, rank­ing as the sec­ond-largest ca­ble com­pany in the coun­try, be­hind Philadel­phia-based Com­cast. It rep­re­sents the only For­tune 100 com­pany head­quar­tered in Stam­ford.

Char­ter em­ployed nearly 1,400 in Con­necti­cut, as of May 31, ac­cord­ing to the state De­part­ment of Eco­nomic and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment.

Fol­low­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pack­age of state sub­si­dies the com­pany re­ceived for mov­ing to Stam­ford, Char­ter has qual­i­fied for a $10 mil­lion loan and up to $15 mil­lion in tax cred­its to sup­port the new head­quar­ters. Char­ter would have the loan fully for­given and earn the max­i­mum tax cred­its if it were to hit cer­tain job tar­gets.

Mean­while, Char­ter con­tin­ues to op­er­ate at 400 At­lantic.

Late last year, Char­ter ac­quired the prop­erty’s dis­tressed mort­gage loan for $100 mil­lion, rep­re­sent­ing about 40 per­cent of the $265 mil­lion prin­ci­pal orig­i­nated in 2007.

Of­fi­cials at The Lan­dis Group — the owner and man­ager of 400 At­lantic and also the loan’s bor­rower, through an af­fil­i­ated sub­sidiary group — saw the pur­chase of the note as un­der­min­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two par­ties.

De­spite Char­ter’s an­nounce­ment of the move, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Lan­dis have said in the past year that the land­lord was still try­ing to keep the com­pany as a ten­ant.

“It’s ex­tremely un­usual, to put it mildly, for a mort­gage lender to sell a mort­gage loan to the ma­jor ten­ant of the build­ing,” Stephen Meis­ter, an at­tor­ney for Lan­dis and part­ner of the Man­hat­tan law firm Meis­ter Seelig & Fein, said in an in­ter­view last year. “It’s par­tic­u­larly un­usual — and, frankly, I think im­proper — when the lender knows that that sale is tak­ing place dur­ing sen­si­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the land­lord and the ten­ant.”

Last year, Lan­dis had been con­tem­plat­ing le­gal ac­tion against Char­ter, ac­cord­ing to Meis­ter.

Mes­sages left last week for Meis­ter were not re­turned.

Fill­ing space

Char­ter’s move would not solve the city’s preva­lence of va­can­cies, which com­prise about 30 per­cent of Stam­ford’s to­tal of­fice in­ven­tory, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral mea­sures.

Tem­po­rar­ily, the plan might ag­gra­vate the prob­lem be­cause 400 At­lantic would lose its largest ten­ant.

“By the num­bers, it will cer­tainly be a neg­a­tive im­pact on the Stam­ford of­fice mar­ket once Char­ter sur­ren­ders their cur­rent space at 400 At­lantic,” said Sean Cahill, prin­ci­pal and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for the Fair­field-Westch­ester County of­fice of com­mer­cial real es­tate firm Avi­son Young.

But Cahill added that Char­ter’s com­mit­ment to Stam­ford could still pro­duce a “quan­tifi­able pos­i­tive im­pact” on the area’s busi­ness cli­mate.

Mean­while, BLT needs to fill large tracts in its ex­ist­ing of­fice build­ings. Its ap­prox­i­mately 470,000-square-foot prop­erty at 1 Elm­croft Road, also known as Sil­i­con Har­bor, lies va­cant ex­cept for the devel­oper’s own of­fices there.

Now the city’s sec­ond-largest of­fice va­cancy, 1 Elm­croft for­merly housed the head­quar­ters of tech­nol­ogy com­pany Pit­ney Bowes, which re­lo­cated a cou­ple of years ago to 3001 Sum­mer St.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

The Gate­way Har­bor Point park­ing garage at 406 Wash­ing­ton Blvd. in Stam­ford is the planned site of Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ new head­quar­ters.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ head­quar­ters is lo­cated at 400 At­lantic St. in down­town Stam­ford. The com­pany is plan­ning to move its head­quar­ters to a new build­ing, a few blocks away.

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