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Bank's Move Creates Void In Downtown Hartford

By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN | Courant Staff Writer

August 26, 2008

There wasn't a lot of fanfare a couple of months ago when Bank of America closed its Windsor Street data processing center in Hartford and moved 630 workers across the river to East Hartford.

Nor was there much squawking from downtown boosters about the loss of revenue to nearby restaurants.

But the move certainly got Jeff Herrick's attention.

Herrick manages the Goodyear Auto Service Center around the corner on Market Street. He was accustomed to doing oil changes, brake jobs and other maintenance on an average of two or three vehicles each day from customers who worked at the processing center.

The number may seem modest, but Herrick sees it as a pretty big cut for a shop that had serviced about 15 vehicles a day an estimated loss of $125,000 a year.

"It adds up to quite a bit," Herrick said.

Bank of America says it had to transfer employees to Founders Plaza in East Hartford because its lease at 150 Windsor St. was expiring. The bank decided to consolidate all its data processing employees in one location, and it already had 160 workers at Founders Plaza.

East Hartford was also attractive because of the free parking there for employees, which wasn't the case in Hartford, said Nicole Nastacie, a Bank of America spokeswoman.

The bank invested about $30 million in Founders Plaza, qualifying it for state tax incentives. The move to East Hartford, about a mile away, was completed by the end of May, Nastacie said.

Bank of America retains a significant presence in downtown Hartford, with about 500 employees working in the city, most at 777 Main St., the bank's Connecticut headquarters.

The four-story Windsor Street building, constructed in 1971, encompasses about 193,000 square feet, plus an attached power generating house that can provide backup electricity for the entire building.

The building, mostly windowless except for a top floor, has been home to round-the-clock, seven-day data processing operations for a long line of banks, most recently Fleet and its successor in the market, Bank of America.

Commercial real estate brokers say the center's closing probably didn't have much of an effect on restaurants because the building had a large cafeteria for employees.

The building is in a bit of a no-man's land, separated from the rest of downtown by I-84. But the location was a blessing for Herrick because employees could drop off their cars and walk across the street to work.

Now, Herrick doesn't like the way the math works out. He figures the average repair tab at $200, times two cars a day, for a loss of about $2,400 over a six-day workweek and about $124,000 over the course of a year. So far, Herrick says he hasn't had to trim his 10-person staff of mechanics, but that might be coming.

Commercial real estate investor Irving Bork said he would want to see the building continue as a data processing center and has had some interest from potential tenants. He said he's also open to a sale.

Bork declined to disclose an asking price for the property, but the website for property manager Nutmeg Management Corp also owned by Bork prominently displays the words "price reduced" on an offering for the property.

According to city assessor records, Bork paid $6 million for the building and has owned it for almost five years.

Bork owns several properties in the Hartford area, including the former Fuller Brush Co. factory building on Main Street in Hartford, which has been converted for use by multiple tenants.

Though there is still a demand for regional data centers and the former Bank of America building would fit the bill the property faces a couple of challenges. It was last renovated in 2005, according to the website, and currently has no tenant.

Because there's no tenant in the building to guarantee a revenue stream, commercial real estate brokers were hesitant to speculate on what price the building might fetch.

"It is very challenging to price it without a tenant in hand," said Jonathan K. Putnam, a commercial real estate broker at Cushman & Wakefield in Hartford.

In the meantime, Herrick said he hopes a new tenant will be found soon.

"In this economy," Herrick said, "we don't need anything more to affect us than there already is."

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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