Stamford Advocate

Block by block, Connecticut offices on the move

John Hannigan, principal of Norwalk-based Choyce Peterson, at the Norwalk offices of Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which occupies a full floor at 301 Merritt 7. The Hearst Connecticut Media move was one of several tracked by Choyce Peterson in a semiannual report on real estate vacancies in major southwestern Connecticut office buildings.

In Greenwich, expect one of Connecticut's most prestigious office buildings to fill again in a hurry after a recent, rare availability there; and possibly a slower go of it in Stamford to backfill the emptying offices of a former Fortune 500 company. In Shelton earlier this year, backhoes erased an office building years after its previous occupant moved employees to Danbury. In the latter city, the future of one of the state's largest office complexes, which is undergoing foreclosure, is anyone's guess.

In the first six months of 2017, multiple big blocks of space hit southwestern Connecticut's commercial real estate market, including most of the massive Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide headquarters in Stamford, the Norwalk building Xerox had shared as its headquarters alongside fellow tenants Aon and Bridgewater Associates, and the former corporate offices of Partner Rein Greenwich. There were a few outright subtractions as well, including the former General Electric headquarters in Fairfield acquired by Sacred Heart University and the demolished 35 Waterview office building in Shelton once used by Pitney Bowes, which was torn down this past spring in preparation for a residential development. A similar fate awaits the former Trumbull offices of Canon at 100 Oakview Drive. The PartnerRe space should get one or more takers quickly, according to John Hannigan, principal of Norwalk-based Choyce Peterson, which negotiates leases on behalf of tenants. Following its 2016 sale to fellow re insurance carrier Exor, PartnerRe abandoned its 1 Greenwich Plaza address in favor of 200 First Stamford Place in Stamford.

Choyce Peterson publishes semiannual posters depicting office space occupied or available on a floor-by-floor basis in about 145 major office buildings in southwestern Connecticut.  "There is leasing activity going on. It's just these big blocks of space that keep hitting the vacancy rates," Hannigan said. "We're bullish that the second half of the year will (produce) a lower vacancy rate."

Stamford is starting to see activity at the former 333 Ludlow St. headquarters of Starwood, which Marriott International is subleasing after acquiring Starwood 10 months ago. Among the early new tenants are Daymon Worldwide, a marketing services firm moving from 700 Fairfield Ave.; and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. The school previously received state incentives to create a genomics research center in Branford outside New Haven. Henkel is in the process of combining at 200 Elm St. in Stamford corporate functions from Wilton and Scottsdale, Ariz. In Norwalk, both Xerox and Aon moved their corporate offices a short distance to 201 Merritt 7. Bridgewater Associates also exited the building at 45 Glover Ave. it had shared with the two companies. If the former Starwood and Xerox headquarters represent attractive opportunities, Danbury's Matrix Corporate Center is receiving scant interest after a Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals consolidation to its adjacent corporate campus, and Praxair's headquarters move to Berkshire Corporate Park on the city's east side.

"All leasing throughout the Northeast ... is down because of the change of work culture," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton told Hearst Connecticut Media last week. "The major spaces in Danbury, with the exception of Matrix, are leased out."

Plenty of other movement was afoot in the past few months, including Remedy Partners. The firm chose Norwalk's River Park building at 800 Connecticut Ave. as its new main office, moving from Darien.

In Westport, work continues to strip down the former headquarters of Save the Children so it can be prepared for new tenants. In a Monday interview at Hearst Connecticut Media's new offices in Norwalk - which has filled space previously listed as vacant on the Choyce Peterson report - Hannigan said the market is being driven in part by companies looking for space that reflects emerging ideas for office space with an eye on reinvigorating workers and getting them to work collaboratively. "(Hearst Connecticut Media) is a perfect example -more and more tenants are looking to create an energetic office environment," Hannigan said Monday in an interview at 301 Merritt 7. "If I drop someone in this space they would never think they were in Merritt 7 - they would think they are in South Norwalk or some other 'retro' building."