Disappointment, surprise hang thick in New London

New London - City leaders were disappointed to hear Monday that Pfizer Inc. was pulling out of New London, just eight years after it was welcomed with open arms and 10 years of tax abatements.

"I'm deflated, disheartened, all those adjectives, today," said City Councilor Rob Pero, who was a member of the council when Pfizer announced it was opening a world headquarters in New London.

When Pfizer opened for business in 2001 in a new office complex on 24 acres on Pequot Avenue, it immediately became the city's top taxpayer. During 10 years of tax abatements it has remained the highest taxpayer, now paying nearly $1.2 million annually - 50 percent more than the next highest taxpayer, the New London Mall.

Pfizer pays taxes on 20 percent of the property's assessed value of $239 million. The state pays taxes to the city on 40 percent of the assessed value. In 2011, Pfizer would assume 100 percent of the taxes.

Even with an empty building, Pfizer will remain the highest taxpayer in the city.

Pfizer said a daycare facility it owns across from the New London office space called PfizerKids will continue in business, operated by Bright Horizons with a capacity of 150 children.

Mayor Wade Hyslop, who met last month with a Pfizer official who assured him he would let him know when a major decision was coming, was also surprised Monday.

"I'm very sorry to hear they're closing. I wish there had been something we could have done to keep them here," he said. "I thought they would have given us a heads-up."

"I'm very disappointed ... and quite surprised,'' said Councilor Margaret Curtin, who drives a taxi for a company operated by her family. "I've been talking to people that I drive in my cab and they've all been concerned."

While most officials knew the pharmaceutical giant was contemplating a major decision, it still stung when Pfizer said it was relocating its workforce of 1,400 from New London to Groton.

"I want to talk to someone who has some decision-making policy,'' said Pero. "I want to understand the reason for the decision. I think we deserve a face-to-face.''

Councilor Adam Sprecace, who with Pero was recently contemplating what the city would do with an added $2 million in taxes from Pfizer when the tax abatements end in 2011, said at least now the city can plan ahead.

"It's going to be a hit for us, but probably over the long term,'' he said, adding that the good news is no layoffs were announced, so there will not be a mass exodus out of the area. About 165 Pfizer workers live in New London.

Not everyone was shocked by the news. Councilor Michael Buscetto III, a private developer, said companies throughout the country are adjusting and reacting to the economy.

"I'm not surprised,'' he said. "They're an organization that has been trying to downsize, trying to find their place in the world, buying companies, shifting focus."

The city now has an opportunity to market itself, he said.

"It's a good place to raise a family. It's filled with good housing and good volunteers,'' he said. "We have to influence people to come here not only to work, but to live."

The city's next goal will be getting a taxpaying entity into the complex. Pfizer has said the relocation could take up to two years and it is marketing the building.

Michael Joplin, president of the New London Development Corp., said the news is disappointing and unfortunate, but the value of Pfizer is in the number of high-paying jobs it brings to the region.

"If we have to choose between a major piece of real estate going dark on the one hand and the loss of a significant number of high-paying jobs on the other hand, we've actually made out better than other places," he said. "It's truly a disappointment, but we'll have to see what we can do."

Joplin added that when Pfizer opened and the NLDC took on the Fort Trumbull development project, it was a long-range plan stretched out over years.

"What everyone understands, but we also fail to remember, is that we're in this for the long haul,'' he said. "Economic development takes 30, 40 or 50 years. It's not about what happens on the second Monday in November.

"We can't measure successes day to day. We have to measure it in decades."


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