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Sizable Plans For City Site

Leasing Possible Early In '07 At Insurance Complex

November 17, 2006
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer

The new owners of the historic Connecticut Mutual headquarters in Asylum Hill will pump as much as $30 million into the now vacant complex and plan to lease space to at least several office tenants, possibly signing the first deal early in 2007.

Presented Thursday at an open house for commercial brokers, the plans call for respecting the rich architectural past of the original building, erected in 1926, while meeting the demands of prospective corporate tenants for a workspace that is firmly planted in the 21st century.

"What the market was telling us was that it was all right to have a classical building, but once you get inside, they want a contemporary space," said William L. Manley, president of Hudson, Mass.-based Calare Properties Inc., one of two partners that bought the Garden Street building in May.

Plans call for preserving the architecture of the original building - now dwarfed by three later additions. Among the Georgian revival gems are the imposing façade with its Corinthian portico, and a lobby atrium adorned with soaring limestone pilasters and a marble floor.

But Calare and its partner - Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital Partners Inc. - also intend to turn a rear entry into the main entrance of the 450,000-square-foot structure, carving a modern, three-story lobby out of existing space added in 1971.

The lobby - which could cost $7 million, the amount the partners paid for the entire complex - will serve as a focal point for accessing other parts of the building. That's difficult now because the structure was expanded in stages. The new entrance also will be closer to where most of the parking is located on the 16-acre site.

"One of the problems is you need a grand entrance," Manley said. "The original entrance is at the edge of the site, and there is no parking there."

The lobby is being designed around original structural beams, which will be exposed during construction, enclosed in frosted glass and lighted from within. A similar motif will be repeated in a sculpture outside the entrance, according to the architect, Anthony J. Amenta, of Amenta/Emma in Hartford.

Construction on the new lobby is expected to start in the spring, Manley said.

In addition to work on the headquarters building, the owners hope to make the complex more attractive by turning Myrtle Street into a landscaped boulevard.

They also want to get permission to have Fraser Place, which runs through the complex, abandoned as a public road so it can be used for parking. That would be in addition to 1,425 existing spaces, 662 in a parking garage.

The most likely tenants would come from financial services, insurance and the legal profession. Back office, call centers and data processing operations also would be well suited to the space, Manley said.

Although the owners would prefer a few large tenants, the building could easily accommodate as many as 10. Manley wouldn't name the prospective tenant that it hopes to sign early next year, but said it was a company in the area that needed space to expand.

The owners are marketing the building with attractive terms. Although it is outside the central business district, it is within walking distance. The first tenants are expected to be offered annual leases with terms of $15 a square foot, including parking. That compares with an average of $22 a square foot downtown, often not including parking.

Even with such modest rents, Manley said the venture would recoup a return for their investors. No public money is being sought by the partners for the construction work, Manley said.

If Calare and Hackman are successful in fully leasing the building, as many as 1,600 workers could be added to the Asylum Hill area. The area lost 1,200 workers when the former owner, MassMutual, which acquired Connecticut Mutual in 1996, consolidated Connecticut operations in Enfield.

The partners will have competition, however, as landlords around the city seek to attract new tenants. For example, the owners of the Stilts Building on Church Street are renovating the tower and are marketing more than 300,000 square feet of available space.

The partners had considered converting the Garden Street property for residential use, but quickly concluded that the space wasn't right for it.

Calare and Hackman see potential in Hartford as a city on the rebound.

"There's a lot of work left to do," Manley said. "But it is going in the right direction."

Local brokers got their first look at the plans for the building Thursday at an open house that included guided tours. One stop was the former senior executive offices, each with a fireplace, and the old boardroom, with its 12-foot-high double entryway doors.

"Every time we tour with someone, we see something new," said Andy Filler, a broker with leasing agent CB Richard Ellis in Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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