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ING Set To Leave City

Angry Perez Says State Favored East Hartford

June 30, 2005
By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Courant Staff Writer

State economic development officials are prepared to subsidize a move by ING Group from Hartford to a campus that the financial-services company hopes to build in East Hartford, prompting Mayor Eddie A. Perez to accuse the state of undermining the city's efforts to retain about 2,000 jobs.

James Abromaitis, the state's economic development commissioner, confirmed Wednesday evening that his agency is preparing more than $10 million in state aid for the move, but only after trying and failing to find a suitable location in Hartford for the Amsterdam-based company.

"Our goal was and is to keep those 2,000 jobs in Hartford," Abromaitis said. "If it can't be Hartford, then we'd like to keep it in the Hartford area."

Perez wrote to legislative leaders Wednesday, asking that they convene public hearings into what he called an effort by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Abromaitis "to spend millions of state tax dollars to move ING and its 2,000 insurance jobs from Hartford to East Hartford."

Legislative approval is required for the state to provide more than $10 million to one company under these circumstances. Abromaitis would not say how much more than $10 million was being offered, but other Capitol sources put the figure at $20 million.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, would not commit to hearings, but he said he wanted to hear the state and ING explain why Hartford could not work as a site.

"Is Hartford potentially still in the game here?" Williams asked. "We've just invested a billion dollars in Hartford. To allow a great employer like ING to pack up and move hundreds off jobs out of Hartford is just not acceptable."

The state is concluding a series of Hartford investments arranged by the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland, including the recently opened Connecticut Convention Center and hotel.

The mayor accused the Rell administration of bad faith in its dealings with the city, saying the state manipulated negotiations to favor East Hartford. State officials refused to detail what Hartford had to do to be competitive, he said.

"It would have been nice to have the state on my side of the table," Perez said.

Abromaitis heatedly denied Perez's accusations, which clearly put a strain on the Democratic mayor's relationship with the Republican governor.

"By no means was it ever our intention to have the company leave Hartford," Abromaitis said. "I'm not sure he is being completely genuine in his comments."

M. Lisa Moody, the governor's chief of staff, issued a statement on behalf of Rell from a Republican Party fundraiser they were attending Wednesday night in Stamford, saying the governor was committed to keeping jobs in the city.

"She directed the state Department of Economic and Community Development to do all it could to keep ING in our capital city. And they did," Moody said. "But in the end ING told us Hartford was not an option. And as governor, her responsibility is to make sure ING and its jobs stay in Connecticut. And they will."

Perez said he was told Wednesday morning by ING that it had decided to leave for a site on the old Rentschler Field airstrip owned by United Technologies, ending months of previously undisclosed talks involving the city, state and ING.

ING refused to confirm or deny its interest in Rentschler Field, but it issued a statement confirming that the company had ruled out Hartford after studying the feasibility of a long-vacant redevelopment parcel, known as 12B, on the northern edge of downtown.

"Full consideration was given to staying in the city of Hartford. Regrettably, despite the best efforts and hard work by the city of Hartford, state of Connecticut and ING, we were unable to find a location that meets our needs in Hartford," the company said.

"We have now moved on to serious consideration of other relocation options in the Greater Hartford area. We hope to be able to announce a decision shortly."

ING announced a search for office space earlier this year. ING, which purchased the financial-services unit from Aetna, leases space from Aetna on Farmington Avenue. The lease expires in 2007.

Perez and Abromaitis said ING examined a possible site near Coltsville, but it was determined that the city land in question was technically part of Colt Park and could not be legally sold under the terms of a bequest by the legendary industrialist Sam Colt's widow, Elizabeth.

ING preferred a low-rise campus setting, rather than a more expensive office tower, Abromaitis said.

Perez suggested 12B, a site that WFSB-TV, Channel 3, considered as its future home before deciding the parcel was too small. To whet ING's appetite, the city hired urban planner Kenneth Greenberg to prepare a master plan showing how ING could be accommodated in a four- and five-story complex. The city would have closed Trumbull Street after it crosses Main Street on the north side of I-84, making the complex contiguous to a 2,500-space parking garage to be built on a privately owned, vacant parcel.

Greenberg and Perez saw the development as a potential catalyst for "Downtown North." The city already is planning construction nearby of a new public safety complex.

But the $45 million estimated cost of the parking garage proved the deal breaker. Perez proposed that the city pay $20 million and the state contribute $25 million for a garage that would be publicly owned but largely dedicated during the day for ING workers.

Abromaitis said the funding was not available, nor could the state justify an additional $25 million to retain 2,000 jobs.

Perez met Friday with Rell to pitch his idea. Unbeknownst to the mayor, an ING spokesman said, the company had ruled out Hartford the previous day.

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.
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