And now, Pfizer campus is a marketing challenge

Joggers make their way past the main entrance of the Pfizer Global Research & Development headquarters in New London on Monday. The campus will be closed within two years and its operations consolidated across the Thames River in Groton.
Joggers make their way past the main entrance of the Pfizer Global Research & Development headquarters in New London on Monday. The campus will be closed within two years and its operations consolidated across the Thames River in Groton. Tim Cook/The Day

New London - Disposing of more than three-quarters of a million square feet of commercial space is no mean feat. Even if it is waterfront.

In fact, the marketing of Pfizer's global research-and-development facility could prove exceptionally challenging, commercial real estate brokers in the region said Monday following the pharmaceutical giant's announcement that it intends to consolidate its R&D operations in Groton.

"I hate to say it," said Susan Howard, a commercial broker for U.S. Properties in New London, "but it could be vacant for years."

In Monday's conference call, Martin Mackay, president of Pfizer's PharmaTherapeutics Research and Development division, said "very active discussions" on the disposition of the Fort Trumbull office complex have begun. Options include a sale or lease of the site, in part or in whole.

The 8-year-old facility, which cost nearly $300 million to build, dwarfs other commercial sites in the region and overwhelms the needs of local businesses looking for space, brokers said. On top of that, a fair amount of lesser commercial space already is available in the immediate vicinity.

Howard said she's been working with a company that wants to lease 20,000 square feet of space near Pfizer. The company, which she declined to name, considered 194 Howard St., which Pfizer used to occupy and where 50,000 square feet is available, as well as 1 Chelsea St., another Fort Trumbull site with available space.

Another 30,000 square feet is vacant in one of the buildings in the nearby Shaw's Cove complex, Howard said.

Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate services firm with a Hartford office, handles much of Pfizer's real estate transactions and could get the listing for the New London complex, according to Howard. A phone message left for a member of the firm was not returned.

Steve Percy, a broker with Pequot Commercial in New London and a former director of the New London Development Corp., the agency revitalized by the Pfizer project in the late 1990s, said Pfizer was wrong to leave New London.

"With the acquisitions they've made, sooner or later it was bound to happen, but I think they're making a mistake," he said. "I'm not on their board of directors, so it's just my view, but I think with all they've invested (in New London) they're making a mistake in not at least keeping some presence here."

He said the Pfizer complex could be configured for use as a traditional corporate headquarters. Its "three-tower design" could accommodate the headquarters of three companies that could share common spaces, he said.

While brokers suggested the city would need to lure another Fortune 500 company to the site, John Markowicz, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, said it's possible a few companies looking to relocate from Fairfield County to a more affordable area could be interested.

"The pending availability of the Pfizer complex in New London will certainly be a challenge," he said. "It's daunting to say the least."

Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, which occupies perhaps the next biggest chunk of square footage in the city, has long been rumored to have an interest in the Pfizer complex, a rumor a hospital executive sought to put to rest Monday.

"There's no truth to that whatsoever," said William Stanley, vice president of development and community relations. "The cost to retrofit that facility would be astronomical. … I think if you asked anyone from the city, the prospect of a not-for-profit organization taking it over would not be appealing to the city.

"It's not true that we're even remotely interested despite the persistence of the rumors."

Robert Hamilton, a General Dynamics spokesman, said that while the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton is constantly reviewing its space requirements, it is not looking for any specific amount of space or a location and has not considered the Pfizer site.

Percy recalled the euphoria that surrounded Pfizer's announcement in 1998 that it would build in New London.

"We were all on Cloud Nine back then," he said. He remembers George Milne, then executive vice president of Pfizer Global Research and Development, telling Claire Gaudiani, then the NLDC president, "If Pfizer locates here, will that make a difference for New London?"

"That's the way those two thought," Percy said.

"The challenge now is to find something to replace Pfizer that can take us forward."

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