WFSB Goes Suburban
TV Station Breaks Agreement To Stay In Hartford
March 5, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
WFSB-TV, Channel 3, has abandoned
a 6-month-old deal to relocate its studios in Hartford and is looking for
a new home in the suburbs.
Elden A. Hale Jr., WFSB vice president and general manager, said the 3.2-acre
site offered by the city turned out to be too small for the station's needs.
"Had this been an item of negotiations, we would be building in Hartford," Hale
said Friday. "But it's an issue of space, and you can't change the size
of a piece of land."
The news shocked Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who took a personal hand in the negotiations
that led to the city's agreement with the station last summer.
"I'm surprised and a little bit taken aback, because we thought we had
a deal," Perez said. "I don't sign a deal unless I know I've got
it wrapped up."
Hale said WFSB's needs had changed since it made its deal with the city in
late August 2004. The new facility is now to be the broadcast headquarters
for its parent company, Meredith Corp., he said, and the station also needs
more room for its growing Hispanic programming initiatives.
"We just realized it didn't make sense to spend some $20 million on a
facility that was too small the day we opened it," Hale said.
But Perez was skeptical.
"You would imagine that if anyone was going to talk about the Hispanic
market in Connecticut they would talk to the highest elected Latino in the
state who's just two blocks away," Perez said. "I'm used to someone
giving me a challenge, and I rise up to that challenge.
"If they wanted to deal with those issues, we would have met them head-on," he
Under the terms of the August relocation agreement, the city was to sell a
3.2-acre redevelopment site known as 12B at Main and Trumbull streets to WFSB
for $800,000 and take ownership of the current facility on Constitution Plaza.
The city also offered roughly $1 million in tax abatements and seven years'
worth of paid city advertisements on the station.
Now that the deal is off, the Constitution Plaza studio will go on the market,
Hale said. He would not disclose the asking price.
The Constitution Plaza site is an attractive
one, he said, in part because of its proximity to the now-vacant Clarion
Hotel. "If someone owned both
of these pieces of property, that would be a huge footprint at the front door
of downtown Hartford," he said.
Hale did say the station would be willing
to work with the city should it be interested in purchasing the site. "It would have to be a reasonable
business deal, but it wouldn't have to be the best offer we got," he said.
City council majority leader John V. Bazzano, who once vowed that he would
lie down in front of WFSB's moving vans to prevent its departure, said he won't
be making the same pledge this time.
"If we hadn't done everything we could, I'd renew my statement," Bazzano
said. "But I think we did everything we possibly could to try to make
the deal work."
"They've been part of this city for such a long time, they're synonymous
with the capital city," Bazzano said. "I think everyone in the city
of Hartford should be disappointed. Hartford is where they belong, it's their
home, and it's sad to see them go."
The city council may consider whether to
try to purchase the current WFSB site, Bazzano said. "Now that it's on the table, we'll have to revisit
it," he said.
WFSB's current building was designed for television in 1960, Hale said, and
his company spent roughly a year in 2003 with architects exploring options
to refurbish it. When it became clear that a renovation wouldn't be feasible,
Hale and his team began to look in and out of the city for prospective new
The company needs 5 or 6 acres on which to build a two-story building, he
said - one floor for production, one floor for business.
"We need 5 to 6 acres, and there's virtually none of that downtown," he
said. Add to that the fact that the station needs immediate highway access,
and the options are slim, he said.
So it began to focus outside of the city, and was 98 percent of the way done
when the mayor entered the scene and offered the parcel, which is next to the
Crowne Plaza Hotel, he said. But what began with optimism ended this week with
disappointment, as the station's business needs changed, Hale said.
"We just realized it couldn't be done," he
Now, Perez said, life goes on. Other developers and businesses have shown
interest in the property, he said. As for the station site at Constitution
Plaza, Perez said he was hoping to assemble one large site by acquiring both
the station and the old Clarion Hotel.
The hotel is privately owned but is not in use. Asked whether he would have
considered eminent domain to acquire the hotel, Perez responded that all options
were on the table.
"We want to make sure we develop those sites to the maximum," Perez
said. "The highest and best use of that site is not a vacant hotel and
a broadcast house."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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