There's a stink to the Pfizer pullout, really

Eighty-one-year-old Paul Egan, a co-owner of Fort Trumbull Marina, separated from Pfizer's New London world research headquarters building by only a narrow little creek, claims the pharmaceutical giant has been a good neighbor.

"We've had a good relationship," said Egan, enjoying some of the bright November sun Monday, in a chair planted strategically alongside one of his docks.

"I go over from time to time, to borrow a cup of Viagra."

I went to see Egan just after the word began to leak out Monday morning that Pfizer, just eight years into New London, is pulling out.

Sure enough, I was the first to break the news at the marina, Pfizer's closest neighbor here, where the new landscaping across the creek has hardly grown in enough to obscure much of the big glass-walled office complex.

"Maybe they are studying us, looking down at us like the Cro-Magnon Man," Egan told me on another visit, when they were still getting accustomed at the marina to watching office workers bustle across the glass bridges that connect the Pfizer buildings.

"I think they're about as curious about us as we are about them."

Which is to say, not very much.

Egan and others at the marina, where the most prominent landmark is a big houseboat that looks like it was sunk in the mud long before Pfizer ever moved to the neighborhood, were as surprised Monday to hear about company's departure as the people who run the city.

"That's a shame. It's just pulling out another rug," Egan said, pointing across the street, to the long-lost Fort Trumbull neighborhood of homes, all taken in the name of luring Pfizer to town.

I couldn't help but wonder, looking around at the charm of Egan's deteriorating marina, with its collapsed sheds, slanted pilings and docks askew, how long it will take before an empty Pfizer complex starts to look a little ramshackle, too.

I'm sure no one ever dreamed, for instance, that there would one day be large trees growing through the windows of the administration building at Norwich Hospital.

The city might take some consolation in the news that Pfizer just recently sold the campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., that it shuttered two years ago.

The trouble is they sold it for $108 million to the University of Michigan and it went promptly off the tax rolls.

The Ann Arbor story should also be a little unsettling for those in New London who on Monday were comforting themselves with the thought that Pfizer will still be responsible for the property taxes, whether they occupy the buildings or not.

In Ann Arbor, the company filed an appeal of its tax assessments for 2008 and 2009, saying the value of the unused property should be half the city's real estate valuation of $238 million.

How long after the Pfizer New London buildings are emptied, will the company move to lower their city real estate taxes? And whose lawyers will win that one?

While I was visiting with Egan Monday I couldn't help but notice another good reason it's going to be hard for Pfizer to sell or lease the New London buildings.

The neighborhood stinks of sewage again.

Whatever they did eight years ago to modify the sewage treatment plant, to make it more acceptable for a corporate neighbor, seems to have come undone.

When I asked Egan about the smell, he acknowledged that, yes, it's back.

Egan, it turns out, has outlasted almost everyone on the peninsula, from the homeowners pushed out to the north to the retreating Pfizer to the south.

"I'm the stable one," he said.

When I asked if he might consider selling, if anyone were buying the Pfizer property, he corrected me.

"Maybe I'm going to buy them," he said.

He is, for sure, a Fort Trumbull survivor.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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